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City of São Paulo, Brazil Launches Ban on Traditional Pl...

City of São Paulo, Brazil Launches Ban on Traditional Plastic Bags

Traditional white plastic bags distributed in Brazilian supermarkets are now prohibited by law in São Paulo, Brazil. The new bags were inspired by international standards and could be replicated in other parts of the country. “Unlike the petrol based white bags, these bags are sourced from sugarcane ethanol. Both plastics release the same quantity of

The new green bags in use

Traditional white plastic bags distributed in Brazilian supermarkets are now prohibited by law in São Paulo, Brazil. The new bags were inspired by international standards and could be replicated in other parts of the country.

“Unlike the petrol based white bags, these bags are sourced from sugarcane ethanol. Both plastics release the same quantity of carbon when they are discarded and degraded. The difference is that the sugar cane, while it’s in the ground, withdraws carbon gas from the atmosphere and returns oxygen,” explains Marco-Aurelio De Paoli, Chemistry Professor at the State University of Campinas.

According to the Municipal Authority of Urban Cleaning (Amlurb), which is responsible for the regulation of the law, the new bags are based on rules from the EU, the US, Japan and Canada, who incentivize use of the more sustainable bioplastic. “We are at a more rigorous level than the American standard, for example, which considers bioplastic made from at least 44% renewable material. Our bag must have at least 51%, states Julia Morena Lara, Manager of the Amlurb plan.

She says that the City has been looking for possibilities to replicate the São Paulo model in other cities and states in the country. According to the Chief Economist of the Commercial Association of São Paulo, Marcel Solimeo, it is possible that this expansion could also occur as a private initiative. “ could begin to spread, because large supermarket networks have uniform practices across multiple locations and can end up multiplying this standard,” he said.

“This São Paulo initiative was a big step. It is much better that we have thought about an alternative solution, not simply a ban. Nonetheless, Brazil is still very late regarding resource use awareness,” states Paulo Roberta Moraes, Professor of Environmental Science at Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo.

Instructions for recycling

But sustainability has a price. According to the Federation of Trade in Goods, Services and Tourism of the State of São Paulo (Fecomercio-SP), the new bag could become three times more expensive than the traditional one.

Because of this, since the start of the prohibition, many supermarkets have passed a fee of about ten cents for each new bag. “I was taken by surprise,” says Josmy Santos, 22, who bought the new bag in a supermarket in the west zone of the city. “If it will improve the environment, it’s worth it,” he stated.

Many consumers like Josmy were unaware of the switch to the new standard. According to a survey by the Datafolha Institute, done by request of a representative from the plastics sector, 80% of consumers in São Paulo are against the fee for the bag. “I think it’s really bad to have to pay. I’ll end up bringing one from home,” said Josmy.

But not every consumer rejects the idea. The 21 year old model, Camila Oliveira, thinks that the price can inhibit waste. “When people have easy access, they end up accumulating or throwing away,” she said.

In addition to São Paulo, many Brazilian cities have specific laws on this subject, but judicial disputes end up stalling their implementation. In 2008, Belo Horizonte was the first capital to prohibit the bags. But the law only came to be enforced years later and was eventually invalidated by a state decision.

The São Paulo law, which prohibits the distribution of plastic bags in commercial establishments, was sanctioned in 2011 but remained suspended until 2014 due to suits filed in the Judicial Court. Only in 2015 was it considered constitutional and regulated.

Selective collection truck

The same thing occurs at the federal level. “The legislation goes back and forth innumerable times because there are diverse interests involved -- from the plastic industry, supermarkets, and the public will,” explains Maurício Boratto Viana, Legislative Consultant for the Environment in the Chamber of Deputies. According to him, there are dozens of bills on this topic being processed by the House, but none are close to getting approved.

The city also hopes that the new bags will aid in garbage collection. To this end, the bags contain instructions for disposal and come in green and gray colors. The former should be reused for dry waste and recycling and the latter for organic waste or non-recyclable material.

Commercial establishments that do not respect the rules are subject to a fine, as well as citizens who do not comply with the disposal procedure.

Solimeo highlights that the measure will only be fully effective when selective collection is extended to all of the neighborhoods. Currently, it serves 68% of homes. The city intends to universalize the selective collection by 2016.

Has a plastic bag ban been implemented where you live? Do you think it’s fair to charge a fee for bags? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments area below.

Original article, originally published in Portuguese, here.

Credits: Data and images linked to sources.

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Anna Petrone is a transportation engineering masters student at the University of Maryland, with a Bachelor in Math and Economics. Her interests lie in transportation projects located in developing countries, particularly in South America. She took a...

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