Last month, the National Assembly approved a bill that seeks to reduce the use and trade of single-use plastic material such as bags, straws, containers for beverages and food. The bill now awaits the signature of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno for final approval.
The ‘Organic Law for the Rationalization, Reuse and Recycling of Single-Use Plastics in Commerce,’ includes fines for minor, serious and very serious infractions contemplated in the Organic Environmental Code, ranging from a unified basic salary to 200 unified basic salaries.
The Law also establishes a progressive reduction in the use of plastic over the next three years; however, citizens are free to decide whether to use plastic bags or containers, as long as they pay for their use.
Under the proposed law, within one year, the marketing and use of plastic bags and containers for beverages and food for human consumption will be prohibited. The use of single-use plastic bags or wrappers for the delivery of printed advertising, newspapers, magazines and other written press formats will also be prohibited.
Likewise, the manufacture and importation for internal consumption, distribution, marketing, delivery and use of single-use plastic straws will be prohibited.
In the second year, the Law will prohibit the manufacture and importation for internal consumption, distribution, commercialization, delivery and use of single-use plastic bags that do not contain the minimum percentage of post-consumer recycled material in their composition.
The manufacture and importation for internal consumption, distribution, marketing, delivery and use of containers and cups that come from polystyrene—be it expanded, extruded or foam—for food and beverages for human consumption and that do not contain the minimum percentage of post-consumer recycled material in their composition, will also be prohibited.
In the third year of the Law, the manufacture and import for internal consumption, distribution, commercialization, delivery and use under any modality, of bags, single-use plastic wrappers, whose manufacture does not contain the percentage of recycled raw material indicated in the approved Law, will be prohibited
Also, the manufacture and import for internal consumption, distribution, marketing, delivery and use of plates, cups and other utensils and single-use plastic tableware for food and beverages for human and animal consumption, which are not recyclable or reusable, and whose manufacture does not contain the percentage of recycled raw material indicated in this law, is prohibited.
During the transition periods and except in cases of a health emergency decreed by the National Government, it will also be prohibited (in the places of sale of goods or products, as well as in home delivery), to provide delivery bags, containers, tableware and utensils and other single-use plastic objects for free. The establishments or businesses will be required to charge the customer an amount not less than the unit cost or single-use plastic item that they provide to the consumer.
Prior to the delivery of single-use plastic items to the consumer, establishments or businesses have the obligation to check whether or not customers wish to receive these goods or products and, in turn, report their value.
Exceptions in the use of plastic
Excluded from the prohibitions established are plastic bags and packaging that constitute the primary packaging of foods in bulk or of animal origin, in addition to those that for aseptic reasons are used to contain food or wet ingredients prepared or pre-prepared, according to the regulation techniques issued by the governing ministry of public policy on the environment.
Also excluded are single-use bags and containers whose purposes or reasons are cleaning, hygiene, personal care or health, according to the technical standards issued by the governing body of the environment.
Polymeric-based straws attached to containers or products, which are marketed as a sales unit with a maximum capacity of 300 ml, and which can be recycled with the container, are also excluded.
In temporary exceptional health emergency conditions declared by executive decree, packages and containers that allow keeping healthy conditions and protect the population from viral and / or bacterial infections may be excluded, according to the conditions established by the governing body of public health.
Other products with plastic components such as wet towels, sanitary napkins, tampons, balloons, disposable products such as lighters, razors, supplies for printers and photocopiers, must within 6 months be labeled so that consumers are warned of the negative impact generated by the abandonment of these components in the environment or by not using adequate waste recycling systems.
The organizers of public events will be responsible for the collection and management of plastic waste generated due to the event, according to the provisions issued at different levels of government; they will be required to coordinate their final disposition with the corresponding municipal GAD.
Supermarkets, neighborhood stores, hardware stores, pharmacies and other commercial establishments will have, in visible places, reusable bags for sale.
Commercial establishments cannot prevent users from using reusable bags from other brands to carry their merchandise, nor may they refuse to pack the products in bags bearing the logos of another establishment; nor can they force users to buy reusable bags with their brand. Merchants must inform the user of the price at which they will sell the reusable bags. Biodegradable bags can be delivered as a free and last resort alternative to bulk, individual or drug products.
With this regulation, the reduction of waste generated by the use of plastic products that affect the environment and human health is declared of national interest.
The use of single-use plastics has become such a deeply rooted custom in the country, that during the Assembly’s debates on the issue it was decided that it was necessary to promote a gradual elimination of products, so that the public becomes aware of the Law and at the same time replaces disposable products for biodegradable or environmentally friendly options. This requires specific planning headed by the National Environmental Authority.
Given the analysis of the situation of the population, the request of manufacturers and marketers of plastic products and the general public, it was determined that the Assembly needed to adjust the deadlines established for the progressive reduction of the use of single-use plastics, considering that manufacturers, distributors, importers and marketers can adapt to the proposed changes.
Plastics industry supports increasing the rate of recycling
The proposed Law is already generating reactions from a variety of different productive sectors.
Jorge Mórtola, President of the Ecuadorian Association of Plastics (Aseplas), said the law will generate tranquility for the industry and allow investments to be made without fear of unexpected changes, levies or prohibitions.
He said that the position of the industry is to recognize that there is a problem with plastic waste caused, so they support a proposal to increase the rates of recycling of plastics, especially of a single use, to reincorporate them to the production processes.
Mórtola added that the new regulations give the guideline to start analyzing projects supported by the concepts of the circular economy, that seeks to extend the life of products and minimize the consumption of natural products, especially non-renewable ones.
“I think there will be a before and after this law, when planning waste management policy, valuing it and turning it into a source to generate wealth, work and progress,” says Mórtola, who despite the fact that the law has not yet been published, advances its criteria on the rate of gradual increase of recycled material in single-use plastics that are exempted from the prohibition that was approved in the regulations.
Mórtola added that as investments to reprocess waste are increased, there will be less waste in the streets, less damage to the environment and more work, savings in foreign exchange and even the possibility of exporting this waste either as raw material or as a finished product.
As the head of Aseplas, he asked the National Assembly, before the approval of the Law, to continue with the circular economy projects, which facilitate the classification in origin and destination so that the industry can access these residues and that they do not end up in rivers, seas, streams, landfills and garbage dumps.
In testimony to the Assembly’s plenary session, Mórtola said Ecuador imports around 600,000 tons of plastic resin each year for single-use plastics and that if 20% were saved by recovering the waste, the industry could stop bringing in about 120,000 tons of the material and would see savings in the equivalent of $144 million.
Aseplas is in talks with the Metropolitan Municipality of Quito to undertake (through public-private alliances) projects of this nature to help develop waste recovery processes. Mórtola added that the plastic industry is analyzing the investments needed to make quality products using recycled raw material, and he cited several examples of success in this area.
“Today if we compare a PET bottle with one from 5 years ago, today that PET bottle, apart from containing recycled material, weighs between 30% to 40% less, thanks to technology, the development of additives, and our own product development,” said Mórtola.
Pablo Arosemena, President of the Guayaquil Chamber of Commerce, said that while the Law will help fight the environmental problem of plastic waste, the regulations in it are likely to increase the costs of small businesses.
“It should be kept in mind that we are going through the worst year for trade. Forecasts indicate that in 2021 there will not yet be an absolute recovery,” says the leader, who believes that it is uncertain whether the productive sector will be able to adapt to the requirements of the regulations in a short period of time. He reiterated that the process towards a more sustainable productive environment must consider the economic conditions of the country so as not to affect small businesses.
Meanwhile, the Guayaquil Chamber of Industries reported that they will await the official publication of the document to analyze the law.
Environmental organizations ask for a partial veto of the law
More than 30 environmental organizations from all over the country, who are part of the Alianza Cero Basura Ecuador, raised their concerns with the proposed law, asking Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno to veto parts the version of the Law that was approved by the National Assembly.
They claim that “pressure from the plastics industry” prevailed over the “rights of nature, good living and the rights of organized and unorganized recyclers.”
“Faced with the evident and growing socio-sanitary crisis that our country is going through in the integral management of solid waste, expressed in the collapse of its final disposal systems, the burial of more than 95% of the collected waste, in the absence of legal guarantees and materials for the recycling movement and the very limited use of organic waste, the aforementioned Organic Law constitutes a setback for those of us who are committed to a transition to zero waste and sustainability models,” the document indicated.
The group also pointed out that the Law “is not the only effort to face the impacts that the handling and use of these plastics generate on the environment and the health of Ecuadorians, nor their management, whose direct responsibility is the decentralized autonomous governments and mainly the Municipal ones.”
It added that more than 100 mayors and prefects signed a memorandum of understanding to work on a model ordinance for the reduction of single-use plastics, and several have already done so.
Since 2018, some Decentralized Autonomous Governments (GAD) have had ordinances in place and whose provisions are in force. Guayaquil, Cuenca, Loja, Piñas and other municipalities have ordinances, and other municipalities are awaiting their approval after having passed the second debate and more than 3 years of discussion.
“We consider that the text of the law approved in the Congress (Assembly) shows a setback in the treatment of the issue, does not take advantage of the experience of national actors and the developed jurisprudence, establishing minimum, undemanding and even regressive standards for compliance with producers and marketers of this type of plastics and, above all, sets terrible precedents to achieve the objectives for which the standard is created,” said the Alianza Cero Basura Ecuadorian a November press release.
The alliance feels that approving the regulations, as proposed, is a “regression in the treatment of the issue in the country, so we urgently appeal for changes to be made so that the law seriously establishes precedents for the management of the GADs according to their competences and powers.”
The changes to the regulations that they propose are:
- Total ban on expanded polystyrene (also known as flex foam) within a maximum period of one year (12 months). It is a material that is not biodegradable or recyclable, therefore, it generates an unsustainable waste. It is used only for a few minutes to transport food while it remains in the environment for more than 500 years, constituting a serious problem in final disposal.
In addition, the use of this material poses risks to human health due to the transfer of chemicals from the container to food. Expanded polystyrene has been declared “possibly carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization and is prohibited for the transport of food in various parts of the world. The fact of still allowing its consumption with percentages of recycled material of up to 18% in 48 months is inadmissible.
- The measure requiring the gradual and progressive incorporation of recyclable material in single-use plastics is insufficient and inappropriate, since it does not reduce their generation or consumption. Many plastic waste materials cannot be recycled, and that the vast majority are not recovered, but end up in landfills, waterways, streams, etc. Contrary to this definition, the gradual and progressive transition for the elimination of the production, commercialization and distribution of single-use plastics should be promoted, reaching the elimination of at least 70% of these in the next 48 months.
- Legislation should be passed to ban single-use plastics from ending up in co-processing plants. It is well documented that the burning of plastics generates serious air pollution with dioxins, benzenes and furans which are carcinogenic and teratogenic substances.
- Prohibit the importation of plastic waste as raw material for the manufacture of single-use plastics.
- The current ordinances of the municipalities cannot be exceeded in the times established by national law; they must comply with the provisions of the law.
National supermarket group moves forward on recycling effort
Though the country waits to see if President Moreno will sign the ‘Organic Law for the Rationalization, Reuse and Recycling of Single-Use Plastics in Commerce,’ one of the country’s largest businesses has moved forward with its plan to become a central part of Ecuador’s recycling efforts.
With the idea of facilitating the recycling of PET packaging, caps, flexible and rigid plastic, flex foam, paper, cardboard, glass and cans for their responsible final disposal, the GIRA project has been born.
The initiative involves the entire value chain of Corporación Favorita (parent corporation of Supermaxi). It is a network of 80 points in company locations and shopping centers nationwide, which will receive recyclable packaging for proper treatment.
The location of the points, in parking areas and free access in stores and shopping centers, facilitates the delivery of recyclable packaging for customers and all citizens, who can take advantage of their visit to the supermarket to help the environment.
Each point has the presence of a “monitor” person, in charge of guiding the separation and delivering useful information to users.
“Environmental care begins at home, with the family, with the correct separation of waste,” says La Favorita in a statement.
GIRA has the support of ten promoter companies that will participate with ten of their brands: Alpina, Deja, D’Hoy, Flexiplast, Güitig, Juris, Nature’s Heart, Nestlé, Suavitel and Tetra Pak.
You can learn more about the initiative at www.gira.com.ec and on social media accounts. “The creation of GIRA relates to the Corporación Favorita policy of developing sustainable and responsible businesses. The company seeks economic and social balance and harmony in all its productive and commercial activities,” says the company.
Through its lines of action: Culture and Education, Research, Development and Innovation and Waste Management, GIRA wants to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) established by the United Nations.
GIRA is the first non-hazardous waste environmental manager to choose the System B path in Ecuador. It also has the certificates of the Technified Center for the Recycling of Non-Hazardous Waste and the Recycler of Raw Material, granted by the Ministries of Environment and Production, Trade, Investments and Fisheries.