Mexico’s battle for plastic waste

We were there

Guadalajara, Mexico was host of a large regional trade show in the plastic industry: Expo Plasticos. The event took place at Expo Guadalajara exhibition center, in a large and modern building with amenities and service for both exhibitors and visitors. The show is comparable in size to other important trade shows in the same industry, occupying over 234,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space. The show grew 25%, compared to the last edition (the show runs every 18 months), with a total of 342 companies, including 27 U. S. companies confirming thus, the significance this region is gaining for the plastic industry. While we were there, we had the opportunity to identify manufacturers and exporters concerns regarding three major topics: Mexico’s ban to single-use plastic products, the new trade agreement, and the urge to sourcing and processing of plastic waste.

Ban to single-use plastics

During the last six years, there has been a trend in a great majority of states in Mexico to ban single-use plastics, including bags, straws, glasses, cutlery and even some packaging products. The ban does not include products with at least 30% content of recycled and degradable materials. The ban has not been approved as a law, it is a regulation and it is managed differently in every state; no escape from this though. The ban has fostered the proliferation of new compostable and alternative products which compromise the survival of many small and medium size manufacturers which depend of recycled plastics.

Industrial groups and associations are struggling to convince state governments that prohibition is not the solution; instead, an integrated plan for disposal shall be created involving government, industry and end-users. One week before the show, ANIPAC, the National Association of the Plastic Industry, announced their integration to ONU’s PACE, Platform for Accelerating Circular Economies, a program that intends to attract more companies into creating solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle of plastic products. With this three steps program, manufactures of single-use products may be in better position to survive the ban.

The new trade agreement and plastics

The updated and renamed trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico has no provisions that affect neither U.S. exports of plastics to Mexico nor imports of plastics from Mexico. However, Mexico may be lightly affected by new content and labor requirements set forth for the automotive industry, a large end-user of plastic products and advanced plastic materials. The provisions for regional content in the automotive demand that materials are sourced from higher wage regions.

Sourcing of plastic waste

We perceived a lot of interest from small and medium size manufacturers of packaging and agricultural products to sourcing plastic waste from the U.S. Their need of polyethylene bag and agricultural waste is no surprise to us for we know Mexico does not have a good recycling program in place for that type of waste; and although, some waste pickers conform the supply chain of recycling, they are still very few to maintain a sustained production. Large recyclers, on the other hand, have concentrated in post-industrial waste and have developed their own collection networks. At Expo Plasticos, we found four of these recyclers seeking to purchase post-industrial plastic scrap and offering their variety of recycled products, predominately HDPE and PP, among a large variety of different pelletized products. One small producer stops by our booth stating their need for 40,000 lbs. of PE bag per week to maintain their customer demand of poly-pipe and hose. He said, “I am only one of the many in this region looking to source from the U.S.” A large producer of bags is currently recycling and processing 2,000 tons of PE per month and targeting to reach the 3,700 ton goal by next year.

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