The National Director of the Environment, Alejandro Nario, said that plastic is a "global pandemic", and remarked that "microplastic", that which decomposes, appears in microorganisms and what effects it generates are currently being studied.
Nario cited a study published in the scientific journal Science Advances which indicates that "90% of the water we drink globally contains microplastic", and remarked that it is still difficult to determine its effects on human health. "We are talking about mineral water and also drinking water, because the problem lies at the source."
Nario recalled that at the time lead was recognized many virtues until lead was discovered. With plastic a similar process occurs, it was a wonderful way out to replace glass, because it is light and moldable, but then all the problems that it entails were discovered.
On the other hand, he stressed that the idea of charging for plastic bags was to follow the European example, which gave good results. In Ireland, its use decreased by 90% and in other countries the decrease was between 50 and 70%.
He stressed that the proceeds from the sale of plastic bags will remain for merchants.
What are the main points of the plastic bag bill that was passed in Parliament?
-Enables the collection of the bags that the Executive Power will define, a price will be set. It is a decision that the government studied and it was understood that it was an effective mechanism. Another possibility was to go by the side of direct prohibition but it had drawbacks, one of them is that it was very difficult to control, we were talking about controlling all the businesses in the country. In addition, we believe that the national plastics industry must be given time to reconvert and adapt, we are talking about thousands of jobs, we cannot overnight that people are unemployed. Furthermore, in European countries, the mechanisms have been quite efficient. In Ireland, for example, the use of plastic bags fell by 90%, in other countries it fell between 50 and 70% in the first years. We find that the strategy that the European Union followed was very reasonable. In addition, the material, already in the Senate, had been incorporated to be biodegradable compostable. European standards go in that direction. It is already law in France. Other countries suggest that the material must be biodegradable by 2020.
What material is it?
-It is a material that passes a compostability biodegradability standard, which what it does is that instead of being hundreds of years in the environment it can undergo composting processes. In case there is no industrial composting, what it guarantees is that it decomposes in much less time. They are materials that could be reincorporated at the biological level. It is something that varies according to the conditions, humidity, temperature, sun exposure, natural conditions vary the decomposition time. Which is certain that it will not be around for hundreds of years. We say that a bag that “José Artigas” would have used is still going around in the environment. This example is to give you a timescale. On the one hand the decrease and on the other hand that the material used is of quality and finally that there is a standard certified by the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay (LATU). For us, LATU is an ideal body, it has the capacity to elaborate control mechanisms, it has a very good “plastic” laboratory, and at the same time it has the necessary technology to analyze “polymers”.
There is also a standard to establish the capacity, so that the bags are not those "finite" that are on the market today, but have a minimum capacity. We have been working along that line.
What will happen with the collection of the bags?
-We had defined, together with the Ministry of the Economy, to incorporate an “IMESI” that caused the surcharge to be charged, according to the cost of the bag and the price of the same is charged by the State. The senators did not agree with that vision and in order to unify criteria and for the law to come out, it was agreed that the "surcharge" will be left to the merchants who sell the bags.
How do you define this process since the project was presented in 2016?
-This arose from two initiatives, one belonged to the Colorado senator Pedro Bordaberry and on the other hand we (DINAMA) together with the Municipalities of Montevideo and Canelones, understood that it made no sense to go along parallel paths and that it was worth unifying the projects . We worked in the Senate Committee where Senator Bordaberry participated and I think we achieved a good project. Later, at the level of deputies, we "got together" with all the "actors", the Chamber of Plastic Industry, the LATU, CAMBADU, the representatives of the large surfaces, we advanced in the regulation and some modifications were proposed, that is why the project he has to go back to the Senate. It is a good project, which gives us tools to reduce the consumption of plastic in the country.
80% of the bags are imported and 20% produced in the country, how will this law impact?
-We will see how the market accommodates. My focus is on the environment, obviously, we were concerned that the national industry would not "collapse" and we were told that with this change there will be no significant news. It is a balanced project and is supported by society. When we were in the Explanada de la Intendencia (Montevideo), more than 5,000 people came to exchange the plastic bag for the “gossip”. We believe that Uruguayan society is ready for change.
In our country, what damage is plastic doing?
-First at the city level, the drains are blocked, and this causes a lot of problems, then they reach the water courses. In addition, when floods occur and when the water goes down, the trees are covered by plastic bags, that was in those "courses", we are talking about the Río Negro, the Río San José, all those that have quite a flood "valley" important and when the water goes down, it is covered with bags. And then in our own oceans and seas, every day of cleaning the coast, the first thing that is removed by "far" is plastic.
-The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Karumbé denounced "high mortality of sea turtles" as a result of having eaten plastic, those "microorganisms" that were found in the body of the turtles, have also appeared in the human body. Is that so?
-Today, science advanced and we can say that plastic is a "global pandemic", it has already been discovered that "microplastic" is the one that decomposes, microorganisms appear that show that plastic was incorporated into its process, what effects it generates what is currently being studied, we are on the frontier of knowledge. The effects of the plastic found in the human body are being studied. A study that appeared published in the scientific journal "Science Advances" indicated that "90% of the water that is taken globally contains microplastic" and that it generates in our body, it is still difficult to determine. Science is investing to find out that. The fact that it exists is already something that does not make us "funny" at all, we are talking about mineral water but also drinking water, the problem is that it comes from the source. Science advances and will continue to discover. It already happened to us with lead, many virtues were recognized until “lead” was discovered. A similar process occurred with plastic, it was a “wonderful” way out to replace glass, it was light, moldable and then all the problems it entailed were discovered.
The waters is a matter of debate. The water in plastic containers gained prestige and the water from the “tap” was known to have potability problems. In the collective imagination is that bottled water gives more guarantees. At the same time, we now know that water contains the "microorganisms" of plastic. Is that correct?
-We do not want to generate an alarm, microorganisms are present in both sources: bottled water and also in drinking water, it is beginning to be detected and there are still no contraindications but we know that it is present. We are defenders of OSE's water and it is what we drink. In terms of quality there are no differences.
-In Europe, progress is being made to eliminate other plastics, not only the bags that have already been practically eliminated, but also the plastic from bottles, "straws", "cotton swabs", among others. That is a process that does not stop.
-The world is in a fight against plastic, the UN came out with a strong campaign questioning the use of certain plastics, for example it asks: why do you have to use straws? It is suggested that we question ourselves in our own lives because we use certain implements that you use and throw away. The "straws" that we use once afterwards are left spinning in the environment. Let's change those habits because plastic is a problem. On the occasion of World Environment Day, we sent a waste bill, it is a general law that includes national planning and also departmental planning. It foresees a fund to support the municipalities of the interior so that they can develop capacities to manage everything that refers to waste. A fund to promote the “circular economy” that allows Uruguayan companies to use the materials that are recovered, since today the vast majority are sold abroad and that allows generating jobs and a formal economy in Uruguay. It is a law that contemplates classifiers, which rewards in the contracts made to those companies that have more classifiers on their staff, as a way to enter the formal market that has the concept of "the polluter pays" Because what is the problem with today's sorting plants, basically they are based on the sale of the material, the problem is that the material is sometimes worth it and sometimes it is not worth it, however, the environment is still polluted. If you are a company and as a result of your commercial activity, you destroy containers because they do not serve you, you will have to lift them, you will have to take care of that, it does not matter if it is worth or not, because for the environment it is always negative. Then the bottles that you throw away you will have to lift them, because that is a problem we have today. There is a company in Libertad (San José) that invested more than 10 million dollars to recycle PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and the material is not reaching it. Why does it not reach you, because the material is not worth enough for people to collect it. So we have an industry installed to recover PET but the materials do not reach it. It's a problem.
Will there be a national system for waste management?
-We do not get involved in departmental autonomy but in the bill, we encourage associativity. The idea is that there are regional solutions, but it will not be mandatory.
June 11, 2018