SAO PAULO, April 6, 2021 (PPI Latin America) -Legislation restricting the use and distribution of single-use plastic is evolving in Latin America. After several countries banned items such as plastic bags and drinking straws, new laws are driving deeper changes and focusing on cutting several kinds of unnecessary plastics. Meanwhile, consumer goods companies and retailers still have a big challenge ahead to continue changing the way they think about packaging.
Chile has been the country in Latin America in which the discussion on single-use plastics has evolved the most. After becoming the first country in the region to ban plastic bags from retail, Chile is now going through the approval process for a law that will limit the delivery of single-use products in restaurants, coffee shops, hotels, and other outlets.
“The Chilean population really approved of the ban on plastic bags, it represented a real change in everybody’s mind,” said Javiera Calisto, Marine Pollution Campaigner at Oceana Chile. The organization is working together with legislators on the new plastic ban that was recently approved in the Chamber of Deputies and needs a final revision by the Senate.
Another country with a national law on plastic is Peru, where a progressive ban on single-use plastics was implemented and a tax was imposed on the distribution of plastic bags. In other Latin American markets such as Brazil and Mexico, key cities such as Sao Paulo and Mexico City have prohibited the distribution of several plastic items.
Restrictions imposed by law and changes in consumer habits are driving several companies to replace plastics in packaging. In some cases, those changes have already affected paper demand.
The ban on plastic bags and the growth in meal delivery led Chilean paper packaging producer CMPC to boost its paper bag business across the region. Another significant example in Latin America comes from the beverages industry: boxboard sales have increased recently as companies substitute the plastic wrapping on can packs with carrier board.
Despite the changes already in place, a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation pointed out that, by 2020, there was still limited evidence of businesses innovating to reduce single-use packaging at scale. In its latest study on the progress of the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, the Foundation highlights that “current efforts of plastic elimination remain focused on a relatively small set of materials and formats, and are being delivered primarily through substitution with other plastics or paper.”
Cutting down the weight of packaging, often by reducing thickness, is also an alternative that companies are finding. “Progress at scale in these areas requires more fundamental changes to packaging and delivery models,” the report concluded.
In Chile, the new law will force restaurants to choose reusable items for consumption on premise while substituting plastic in takeaway food. In Calisto’s opinion, the substitution of plastic for paper or other materials means that companies and consumers still have to work to allow the package to be recycled.
In the future, she said, companies and governments should work together to foster reusable packaging. The country is already addressing that topic in the beverages segment. The new law on discussion bans single-use plastic bottles and establishes that retail and convenience stores will have to offer an alternative that is either reusable or recycled.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the agenda of transformation is also a concern. When the first cases of the virus were confirmed in the continent back in 2020, there were reports of suspensions on regional laws banning single-use plastics, as many understood that the need for disposable containers increased.
A year later, however, authorities have continued to push ahead the sustainability agenda. It was the case in Mexico City, for example, were the pandemic did not stop the implementation of plastic bans by early 2021. Calisto expects the same to happen in Chile, as the new ban is expected to get a final approval soon.