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Single-use plastic containers and bags on their way out in Ecuador

Published on December 29, 2020

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Single-use plastics and polystyrene containers will soon become extinct in Ecuador. On November 4, 2020, the National Assembly approved the Organic Law for the Rationalization, Reuse and Reduction that prohibits the use of single-use plastics in commerce. The law went into effect in the country on Monday, December 21st, after it was published in the Official Registry.

The new law establishes a progressive reduction in the use of plastic that goes from one to three years, although citizens are left free to decide whether to use plastic bags or containers, provided they pay for their use.

The bill for this law was proposed by Esteban Albornoz, an assemblyman for Azuay, in 2018. Its main objective is to reduce plastic waste and progressively eliminate single-use plastics—sleeves, straws, containers. The law also proposes a policy of rationalization, reuse and recycling of all kinds of plastics to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The use and marketing of polystyrene containers-known as flex foam-were also prohibited.

According to the law, businesses will not be able to give users plastic bags for free. If people need a bag, they will have to pay for it — prices will be set by each autonomous local government (GAD). In addition, all plastic covers will have to carry a label in which it says how it can be reused or recycled, if it is biodegradable or compostable.

The law consists of 22 articles, five general provisions, five transitory provisions, a reform provision, a single repealing provision and a final provision. Comprehensive responsibility, best environmental practices, sustainable development, polluter fines, prevention and “in dubio pro natura” are the governing principles of the law.

According to article 4 of the law, the Ecuadorian State will implement programs, projects, policies and actions aimed at managing plastic waste, raising awareness about its responsible use, regulating its production and promoting its use based on the principles and practices of the circular economy.

It includes fines for minor, serious and very serious infractions contemplated in the Organic Code of the Environment. The economic sanctions—ranging from a unified basic salary to 200 unified basic salaries—will be weighted according to the economic capacity of the natural or legal persons, and the seriousness of the offense.

The governing body of the Environment will prepare the National Plan for the Reduction of Plastic Waste and the autonomous municipal governments and metropolitan districts will prepare the plan corresponding to their jurisdiction, in which they must take into account the creation, adaptation and operation of collection centers for recycling and composting, as well as informative campaigns and environmental awareness in educational institutions.

According to article 9 of the law, the commercialization and use of plastic bags and containers for drinks and food for human consumption on islands and islets, beaches, riverbanks, lakes and lagoons, protective forests, páramos and all those areas that are part of the National System of Protected Areas, will be prohibited within a period of one year.

The use of single-use plastic bags or wrappers for the delivery of printed advertising, newspapers, magazines and other written press formats, receipts for public or private services, account statements and all information directed to consumers, users or citizens in general, will also be prohibited.

Likewise, the manufacture and import for internal consumption, distribution, commercialization, delivery and use of single-use plastic straws will be prohibited.

As of the second year of the entry into force of the law, 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 composition will be prohibited in the country.

The manufacture and importation for internal consumption, distribution, marketing, delivery and use of containers or containers and glasses that come from polystyrene, be it expanded, extruded or foam, for food and beverages for human consumption that do not contain the minimum percentage of post-consumer recycled material, 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, glasses 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 will be prohibited.

There are some exceptions to the law

Excluded from the prohibitions established in article 9 are plastic bags and packaging that constitute the primary packaging of bulk foods or of animal origin, in addition to those that for aseptic reasons are used to contain processed or pre-prepared wet foods or inputs, according to the technical norms dictated 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 exceptional health emergency conditions declared by executive decree and temporarily, packaging and containers that allow keeping healthy conditions and protecting the population from viral and / or bacterial infections may be excluded, according to the conditions established by the governing body of public health.

In the case of other products with plastic components such as wet towels, sanitary towels, tampons, balloons, disposable products such as lighters, razors, supplies for printers and photocopiers, within 6 months they must be labeled so that consumers are warned of the negative impact generated by the abandonment of these components in the environment 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, and they will coordinate their final disposition with the corresponding municipal GAD.

Supermarkets, neighborhood stores, hardware stores, pharmacies and other commercial establishments must have reusable bags for sale in visible places.

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.

The reasoning behind the law

According to the United Nations (UN), 500 billion plastic bags are used annually in the world and a million plastic bottles are bought every minute. In Ecuador, the 2019 report from the environmental education organization Mingas por el Mar says that 86% of the garbage found on the beaches and rivers of the provinces of Imbabura, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Manabí and Santa Elena is plastic. In addition, 16 of the 20 items most found in mingas — such as lids, glasses, straws, covers, cutlery, and plastic bottles — are related to the way we consume food and beverages.

Most of the plastics that humans use are not biodegradable. Instead, they slowly decompose—some, like flex foam, take up to thousands of years to degrade—and pollute soils and waters. The UN estimates that by 2050 there will be more than 12 billion tons of plastic garbage in the world—enough to reach the moon and return more than 1,180 times—if consumption habits are not changed.

Erik Solheim, Director of UN Environment, says that the problem is not plastics, “the problem is what we do with it.” That is why it is important for Ecuador to continue taking actions to eliminate single use plastics and improve the handling of other types of plastics.

The new law approved by the Assembly will help meet the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations 2030 Agenda. The goals related to the environment and plastic pollution are: goal number 3 for health and wellness; number 6 that talks about clean water and sanitation; goal 11 of having sustainable cities and communities; 12 related to responsible production and consumption; the 13th for climate action; the 14th for the protection of marine life; the 15th for the life of terrestrial ecosystems, and the 17th for the promotion of alliances to achieve the objectives.

In 2018, Ecuador presented its compliance report, in which it showed the achievement of seven of the 17 objectives of the 2030 Agenda.


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