Ecuador’s plastic bag tax takes effect April 1 despite lobbying efforts to push back the start date. Under a law passed late last year, single-use plastic bags will be taxed four cents each. “This is Ecuador’s first step to eliminate non-recyclable plastics and to protect our environment that suffers from plastic pollution,” says Environmental Minister Raul Redesma.
The government is rejecting efforts by business organizations, including the Ecuador Chamber of Commerce and international petro-chemical lobbies to delay or reverse the tax. The groups claim that reduction in the manufacture of plastic bags will result in unemployment for hundreds of workers. “We understand there will be an impact but we must consider the greater good,” Redesma says.
According to the environmental ministry, Ecuadorians use 1.5 billion plastic bags a year, or 93 per person. “Our rate of usage is lower than the international average but it is still far too high considering the amount of plastic that goes into landfills or worse, into waterways and the ocean,” he says.
In Cuenca, some stores are getting a jump on the campaign to eliminate plastic by offering reusable mesh bags made from recyclable plastic. “These are the bags that are used in Europe, which is far ahead of the rest of the world in reducing use of plastic bags,” says Roberto Ruiz, a tienda owner on Av. Ordonez Lasso. He sells the reusable bags for a dollar but still has non-recyclable bags if customers insist. “I’m charging 10 cents for those which encourages people to switch to the mesh bags,” he says.
In addition to business lobbies, some small business owners also object to the new tax. “My customers want the plastic bags and I think the tax is unfair,” says Gustavo Castro, a vender in the Diez de Agosto market. “This will hurt my business because I sell to people with limited incomes who cannot afford to pay it.”