The Rationalization, Reuse and Reduction of Single-Use Plastics Law or also known as the Plastics Law was an achievement that was completed thanks to the efforts of civil society.
The pandemic increased the demand for single-use plastic and for a time stalled the fight against plastic waste around the world. It is worth remembering that a significant portion of this waste ends up in landfills and millions of tons of plastic end up in the ocean.
“Both colleges, schools, civilians and the Círculo Verde and Mingas por el mar foundations pressured the National Assembly, through letters sent in 2018, to review the draft. That law has already been in force since 2020. I even went to the Assembly to present data on behalf of the Mingas por el Mar foundation, which is the only one that is currently cleaning beaches, rivers, mangroves and lagoons all year round. Those data were very clear: 85% of the pollution of natural areas is from disposable plastics. Hence the urgency to regulate these spaces”, says Cecilia Torres, director of the aforementioned foundation.
99% of the waste collected in Galapagos comes from Latin America and Asia, indicates the Minister of the Environment
This law is a great advance in terms of environmental protection. According to Torres, a fairly good product was achieved. “But not as we would have expected because there are some confusing technical issues. For example, he says he allows a plastic item to be sold if it contains a certain amount of recyclable material. But finally, where is that same tub going to end up? Well, to the same beach, river or open-air dumps”.
Not all plastic is reusable. “It depends on the plastic. If it is a PET bottle (100% recyclable plastic), we know that in Ecuador this type of container is recycled very well, that it did not travel by ocean but someone threw it away, it is intact, they accept it without problems in a collection center . But the tub that a tourist used to eat and the boot, that is not good for recycling. The recycling process is very delicate, very fragile because resins cannot be mixed, even less so if that tub has fat, for example. You say ‘I recycle’, but have you ever wondered how much of what you are delivering is really going to be recycled? It is said that since plastic began to be used, only 10% has been able to be recycled,” Torres highlights.
What we want to make clear is that not all the plastic that is used is biodegradable and from there comes the responsibility to use less and less of this polluting waste.
As a foundation, says the expert, they focused on what is causing the most problems, what is contaminating natural areas and what is not going to be able to be recycled. That is, disposable plastics or single-use plastics. “The law says that we must try to get Ecuador to reduce the use of this type of plastic. Obviously this is very difficult to achieve from one day to the next, but the current law and includes some prohibitions a year ago is one that we want to focus on, which is that in all the protected natural areas of Ecuador The marketing and use of food products in single-use plastic containers are strictly prohibited.
Tiwi Nunka Protected Area, in Zamora Chinchipe, is a victory for the Shuar people in their struggle to conserve water, flora and fauna
One of the products that is widely used to carry food are foam containers, a material that takes many years to degrade. Some think that burning it solves the problem, but not because when subjected to fire it produces highly toxic and polluting residues, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and hydrogen cyanide. “Foam foam is the same plastic (polystyrene), but it has an additive to make it spongy, which means that it has more chemicals than other types of plastic. What happens when I put, for example, a hot soup in a Styrofoam container and then I drink that soup, what chemical exchanges can there be in the food that I am eating? The same thing happens with the coffee that they serve me in one of those containers. I mean, what I’m eating is contaminated. There is a study that shows that cancer, infertility and other diseases are linked to the consumption of certain foods that are served in these plastics”.
Today more than ever this current law becomes more important thanks to the fact that, as of December 2021, the use of plastics in protected areas of Ecuador. Among the highlights are the following:
- The use of disposable plastic tableware and utensils for food consumption in catering establishments is prohibited.
- In this same period, the use of single-use plastic bags or wrappers for the delivery of printed advertising is prohibited, as well as receipts for public or private services, account statements and any information aimed at consumers in general.
- According to this law, to date, the manufacture and import for domestic consumption, distribution, marketing, delivery and the use of single-use plastic straws is prohibited.
In force Organic Law for the rationalization, reuse and reduction of single-use plastics
- An important point to mention about the law is the obligation established for distributors or manufacturers to initiate labeling warning consumers of the negative impact on the environment of not correctly disposing of products with plastic components such as wet wipes, sanitary towels, balloons; disposable products such as lighters, printer supplies, among others.
- In the case of places of sale of goods or products, as in the case of home orders, the free delivery of bags, containers, dishes, utensils and other single-use plastic objects is prohibited. These establishments must charge an amount no less than the unit cost of the single-use plastic item they provide to the consumer. And they must consult the consumer if they wish to receive these plastic items and inform their value before delivering them.
More than ten tons of waste collected by Mingas by the Sea on the beaches of Ecuador during 2019
Information is missing
But this has not been socialized. There are even many businesses within the same parks and ecological reserves that continue to use disposable plastics such as cups, covers, glasses, containers, spoons, knives, forks and straws. “All of this is a reflection of how we consume food and drink. And they are not only in protected areas. If there is poor waste management in a town, it ends up in the rivers and, in turn, in the ocean. Imagine that these can reach areas further from the coast such as islands that, in the case of Galapagos or Puná, already have beaches contaminated with single-use plastics. There are certain organisms that stick to that plastic and travel through the ocean to a beach. Then we found out that there is an invasive species that is destroying the natural habitat of those or other islands”, Torres highlights.
The law already exists, but when it comes into force, especially in protected areas, the issue becomes an opportunity to educate people. “Recently I was at the Lobería in Salinas (viewpoint located in the province of Santa Elena), which is a protected area, and I saw a person with a coconut and a straw. I asked him: excuse me, where did you buy that coconut, he told me ‘in that store’. I told him, sir, you know that there is a law that prohibits the use of disposable materials, he replied that he had not the slightest idea, “says Torres.
Great goal in the tourist reactivation: cleaner beaches!
Cecilia wonders “why the authorities are not acting with a law that cost a lot to get out.”
This month was celebrated worldwide, the International Day of the Beaches, on September 21. An opportunity for people, the community and the authorities to come together to protect the beaches and raise awareness about the improper use of single-use plastics.
To give you an idea, when this community work is carried out, the volunteers of Mingas por el Mar they collect between 10 and 50 bags of waste on the beaches. This foundation currently has more than 20 active groups (Costa, Sierra and Galapagos), more than 300 mingas and more than 300 volunteers.
“Contamination in natural areas is due to plastic materials, which also includes ropes and fishing nets, which are other contaminants, but we are already working with fishermen through a circular economy with the use of this material. It is assumed that there will be another regulation on this issue.”
If you want to collaborate in the mingas, want to know more about single-use waste or want to report on an environmental attack, you can go to https://www.mingasporelmar.org/, there is no cost. There you can see the calendar of dates and the places where the mingas are held on different beaches in the country.