FocusPlastic bag bans in Brazil spark debate

22 July 2011 23:24  [Source: ICIS news]

By Leo Siqueira

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (ICIS)--Brazil has no sustainable alternatives for plastic bags, a plastics industry organisation said on Friday.

Since the city of Sao Paulo approved a law banning the distribution of plastic bags, plastic industry groups, city councils and supermarket associations have been discussing alternatives.

Recently, however, a court in Sao Paulo suspended the bag ban law.

The Associacao Brasileira da Industria de Embalagens Plasticas (Abief), an organisation of plastic industry members, argues there is no viable substitute for plastic bags.

Abief president Alfredo Schmitt said, "Industry has never been called to discuss this matter. We want to be heard and show that plastic bags are more eco-efficient than other similar products."

He added, "What we need is education and responsible consumption", he said.

The topic has gained national attention and is being debated in other parts of the country.

Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, and the states of Rio de Janeiro and Mato Grosso do Sul have passed similar bag bans.

At least 24 cities are discussing the ban in the state of Minas Gerais, according to the local newspaper O Estado de Minas.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, the ban has been in effect for more than a year.

According to Associacao dos Supermercados do Rio de Janeiro (Asserj), 600m plastic bags have not been used since the ban was approved.

The reduction is 24% drop from the 2.4bn plastic bags that had been used each year in Rio de Janeiro.

Plastic Environmental Institute (Plastivida) president Miguel Bahiense said Brazil does not have sufficient alternatives to plastic, but the industry could make stronger plastic grocery bags to allow for their repeated use, thus cutting down on the number of bags used.

Earlier this month, a survey in Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil, showed that most residents there oppose such plastic bag bans.

The June survey, which was sought be the Associacao Gaucha de Supermercados - Agas (Gaucha Supermarket Association) included 400 Rio Grande do Sul consumers. According to the survey, 81.1% of the respondents still want to use supermarket plastic bags.

Antonio Cesa Lago, president of Agas, said, “Consumers are used to taking home their grocery bags. Besides that, plastic plays an important role in the destiny of recycled products. They're also used to protect products from rain, and may be used in different ways".

People who support the ban argue that environmental issues are paramount.

Plastic Environmental Institute (Plastivida) president Miguel Bahiense said the positive image of plastic bags in Rio Grande do Sul state reflects the quality of local plastic bags, which are made in that state, as well as programmes aimed at educating consumers regarding the proper use and disposal of plastic bags.

However, Agas’s Lago said, "The debate is too recent. We want to expand the discussion to all interested segments, avoiding a premature decision in Rio Grande do Sul."

Associacao Paulista de Supermercados - Apas (Paulista Supermarket Association) said the recycling of plastics and the use of plastics from renewable feedstocks could be a sustainable alternative to bag bans.

By: Leo Siqueira
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