The global production of plastics has skyrocketed in the last 50 years, and especially in the last decades, according to data published by the Greenpeace organization. The publication mentions that in the last ten years we have produced more plastic than in the entire history of mankind. According to a report by the United Nations, it is estimated that around 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide every year, which is equivalent to almost 10 million bags per minute.
Governments around the world are becoming increasingly aware of the magnitude of plastic pollution. So far, more than 60 countries have enacted official measures and dozens more are working on regulations and strategies to tackle one of the biggest environmental problems of our time, according to a report published by UN Environment. Fortunately, Paraguay is no exception.
As of July 1, 2021, the Government seeks to enforce the long-awaited, and several times postponed, Law 5414/2015 "That Promotes the Decrease in the Use of Polyethylene Plastic" (the "Law"), with its Regulatory Decree 5537/2016 (the "Decree"), which seeks to regulate the consumption of single-use polyethylene bags employed by supermarkets, self-service stores, food stores and stores in general for the transportation of products or merchandise, which must be progressively replaced by others reused or made with non-polluting and reusable alternative biodegradable materials.
The enforcement authority is the Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MIC), in coordination with the municipalities.
The Law establishes that the use of single-use polyethylene bags must be gradually replaced by reusable bags or bags made of alternative non-polluting and reusable, biodegradable materials, within twelve months in retail market (supermarkets and stores with predominance of food and beverage products) and twenty-four months in all other sectors, including wholesalers. Then, resolution 353/2017 set forth a gradual replacement schedule for single-use polyethylene bags, ranging from September 1, 2018 to September 1, 2023, establishing that, in September 2019, single-use polyethylene bags should no longer be distributed. This resolution was then amended by resolution 453/2019, which established a new schedule running from May 1, 2019 to February 1, 2024, stating that, as of February 1, 2020, single-use polyethylene bags should no longer be marketed.
However, by decree 3920/2020 and then by law 6636/2020, stores in general have been authorized to use polyethylene bags and other "conventional" plastic material while the pandemic emergency law 6524/2020 is in force, in accordance with the exception provided for in art. 9 of the Law, applicable when it is necessary to use polyethylene bags or other conventional plastic material for food safety or sanitary issues.
Recently, by means of Circular SSECS No. 01/2021 (the "Circular"), the MIC established that as from November 1, 2021 all businesses must offer reusable bags (made of virgin material or material with high recycled content). The same Circular also provides for a transition period from July 1 to October 31, 2021 so that all companies producing reusable bags may obtain the necessary certification before the INTN in order to meet the demand they are expected to face.
Another obligation imposed by the Law is that the obligated parties must display at least the following legend on the cash registers: "LET'S TAKE CARE OF THE ENVIRONMENT, REDUCE - REUSE - RECYCLE PLASTIC BAGS. WHEN SHOPPING, TAKE YOUR REUSABLE BAG WITH YOU".
Resolution 353/2017 establishes the minimum prices that stores must charge for single-use polyethylene bags used for transport of goods in order to encourage consumers to carry their own reusable bags or cardboard boxes or any container to avoid as much as possible the use of plastic bags.
The General Directorate of Internal Commerce of the MIC will be in charge of controlling stores comply with the regulation.
Failure to comply with the Law and its regulations may result in fines from 10 to 500 minimum daily wages, requiring prior administrative proceedings before the General Directorate of Legal Affairs of the MIC.
The Law provides that the products regulated by the Law must be certified by the National Institute of Technology, Standardization and Metrology (INTN), which must verify that the components and materials used in the manufacture of bags comply with the established criteria of non-polluting, alternative biodegradability. So far, the mandatory certification of reusable polyethylene plastic bags and reusable plastic bags with high recycled content has been established by resolution MIC 178/2021. This certification is carried out in accordance with the Conformity Assessment Regulation (Annex 1 of resolution 178/2021).
Resolution 353/2017 also creates the Register of Manufacturers and Importers of plastic bags (polyethylene, polypropylene, and other thermoplastics) and biodegradable bags (paper, biodegradable plastic) that will be managed by the General Directorate of Domestic Trade of the MIC. Interested parties must submit the registration applications by completing Annex II (Natural Person) or Annex III (Legal Entity), which are part of said resolution. It also establishes that the National Customs Directorate (DNA) will only grant import permits for plastic bags and biodegradable bags that have a previous import license issued by the MIC, the requirements of which are detailed in the same resolution.
Many call this Law "Antiplastics", when, in fact, the Law does not prohibit the use of plastics or polyethylene plastic bags at a general level, but rather requires that single-use plastic bags are no longer used by businesses and determines that those offered and used for the transportation of goods must be certified by the INTN and be of greater thickness in order to be reusable. In other words, the spirit of the Law is that consumers reuse their plastic bags or use biodegradable bags, so, at least for now, plastic bags will continue to be available at the cash registers of stores, but with an additional cost for the consumer. It is important to point out that this Law does not cover garbage bags. We can also say that it is perhaps a first step towards what other countries have achieved: the reduction or even prohibition of the use of plastic bags for the transportation of goods.
The reduction and improvement of the use of plastics is a global trend now being implemented for several years in many countries around the world, but coincidentally many of them have chosen 2021 as the year of #plasticfree, with numerous campaigns of millions of public and private organizations working to raise awareness not only with governments, but also with consumers for a world with less plastics. The main campaigns in July are precisely #JulyWithoutPlastic, “plastic free July” challenge, among others.
In Chile, for example, since July of this year, single-use plastics -such as cutlery, stirrers, straws, plumavit articles, containers and cups, among others- have been prohibited in all prepared food outlets, whether for consumption inside the premises or for delivery. Failure to comply with this rule results in fines for the benefit of the municipality.
Another example is Spain, where, in addition to measures taken years ago such as charging for bags in supermarkets and other businesses, there is now a draft Law on Waste and Contaminated Soil that for the first time limits the use of single-use plastics in certain areas, such as food, and incorporates restrictions on their sale. One of the key measures of this bill is a tax of €0.45 per kilogram on non-reusable plastic packaging. Since July 3, 2021, the introduction of a number of products on the market is prohibited: cotton swabs, allowed only in the sanitary area, cutlery, plates, straws and beverage stirrers, except those with industrial or professional uses.
Mexico City started 2021 with the ban on single-use plastics, therefore, as of January 1, 2021 "the commercialization, distribution and delivery of single-use plastic products is prohibited", according to the published rule. So far, 28 states have approved and published laws related to plastics, and there are 183 bills in Congress to ban, replace or reduce the consumption of plastics in Mexico.
Costa Rica, one of the world's leading examples in this area, has a mission to ban all single-use plastics by 2021. The country's ultimate goal is to become a carbon neutral nation by 2050. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have also set 2050 as the target to bring their net carbon emissions to zero. Germany, for its part, aims to eliminate the use of coal by 2038 at the latest and, in the meantime, continues to invest in renewable energies.
At the European Union level, an EU directive 2019/904 aims to ban the sale of single-use plastic products in all EU member countries. The deadline for member countries to adapt their legislation to this new directive has been set for July 3, 2021. This directive affects products made of plastic that are single-use or disposable. This is the case for: cotton swabs, plastic bags, straws, disposable plates, cups and cutlery, food containers or packaging.
If plastic bag bans are properly planned and enforced, they can effectively counteract one of the causes of excess and misuse of plastics. However, solving the problem at its roots requires changes in the habits of consumers, retailers and manufacturers, and the adoption of sound policies that promote a more circular model of plastics design and production.
In the meantime, all of us as consumers have a key role in the correct application of this new Law and as a first step we could join the #JulyWithoutPlastics challenge that is going around the world and that was promoted in Paraguay by @paraguaysinbasura. The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) determined that the average use of a plastic bag is 15 minutes while it takes many years to decompose.
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