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In Tijuana, Plastic Bag Ban Goes Big

Plastic bags are seen through the window of a restaurant, May 24, 2012.
Associated Press
Plastic bags are seen through the window of a restaurant, May 24, 2012.
In Tijuana, Plastic Bag Ban Goes Big
In Tijuana, Plastic Bag Ban Goes Big GUEST: Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS News

By the end of the year a ban on plastic bags will become law in Tijuana making it the first city on the U.S. Mexico border to enact such a ban. Tijuana city leaders say they were inspired by the success of California's plastic bag ban which researchers say has cut the plastic trash in the 200 river valley by half. Businesses in Tijuana will have up to two years to comply with the new law but it may take some creativity by some food sellers in particular to overcome their reliance on plastic bags. Joining me is Jane Guerrero border reporter with PBS News and Jeanne welcome. Hey Maureen. Good to be here. The Tijuana ordinance banning plastic bags is actually a little tougher than the one we have here. Tell us what it does. That's right. So beyond just banning plastic bags in Tijuana they also banned the selling and the delivery and the use of reusable plastic bags so all plastic any kind of disposable bag. They are trying to rule out and just trying to encourage businesses and consumers to use to bring their own bags. What do you to want to officials say about why they decided to enact the ban. So for them it was in large part. Of course they want to clean up their own beaches their own environment. But but when they saw the success that the plastic bag ban from 2016 in California was having both in San Diego and then across the state and realizing that it was it was doable that consumers were able to adopt this new practice. That's when they decided that they could take this step in Tijuana as well when one official said that they were very much inspired by the success that California had with its own plastic bag ban. How is it expected that that he wanted plastic bag ban will affect San Diego communities like Imperial Beach or send you CGIAR for instance the Tijuana River Valley an Imperial Beach has long been choked by plastics most of them originating from Mexico. Because when the Tijuana River flows and comes across the border it carries with it a lot of trash and a trash characterization study one year found that in thirty five hundred tons of trash there were nine million plastics. So plastics is a huge problem in the river valley. There are a huge problem in the oceans. You see beach closures and all the clean the cleanliness of the beaches in San Diego is very much tied to two environmental problems in Tijuana. So it's expected to have a major impact in San Diego. This plastic bag ban in Tijuana. They're hoping that it will dramatically reduce the plastics that are being found in the river valley as well as as in the oceans off of our beaches. Now some business officials you spoke with said it might not be too hard actually for Tijuana residents to stop using plastic bags because bags those plastic bags are recent introduction to the area. Tell us about that. That's right. So they actually were telling me that they think it will be easier for people who live in Tijuana for Mexicans to adopt this plastic bag ban because of the fact that the use of plastics and disposable products really kind of saturated the area with with NAFTA in the 1990s. So prior to that a lot a lot of people use their own baskets they call them castoffs. So it was in the culture to bring their own bags until really the 1990s with the introduction of NAFTA which brought this big consumer culture to the area. But you ran into some food vendors in Tijuana who were not aware of the ban number one and they weren't too happy about it. Why not. Yeah I mean it's more than half of Mexico's workforce is part of the informal economy. So people who sell things on the street and very very poor people who work for very low wages. And so I spoke to one taco truck manager who was saying he didn't know how he was going to deal with this plastic bag ban. He uses plastic bags to give out his tacos and to wrap his salsas and his jalapenos. And pretty much for everything. And he was saying that he thinks that the government should provide some kind of alternative because he really doesn't know how he and many of the other people in Mexico the informal economy are going to be able to adopt this getting plastic bags out of the Tijuana River Valley will do a great deal has already done a great deal. But the environmental group Wild Coast says that's not the only problem with plastics in that area. That's right I spoke to Wild Coast and they were very much part of this process of getting Tijuana to implement its own plastic bag ban and that they were telling me that when you look at the debris that's found in the river valley and in the oceans here most of it is actually plastic bottles. And so they were saying that if we really want to address this issue Tijuana is going to have to have a citywide recycling program and currently Wild Coast is also working with Baja California officials to implement a statewide plastic bag ban. So it's really a layered issue. And while this plastic bag ban represents a major step forward there they're still working on other elements of the problem. I've been speaking with PBS reporter Jean Guerrero. Jeanne thank you. Thank you.

Six months from now, Tijuana's ban on any kind of plastic bag will take effect.

Tijuana is the first Mexican city on the border to pass such a ban.

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Related: Tijuana’s Plastic Bag Ban Expected To Help San Diego Beaches And River Valley

Passed by the Tijuana City Council in August, the ban caught the attention of Leo Heileman, UN Environment Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

"Every year the world uses around 5 billion plastic bags, and most of them end up in the oceans. Inclusive initiatives to reduce the use of bags, where government, private sector and civil society agree, as in the case of Tijuana, are crucial to protect our seas," he said in a recent statement.

The city council was inspired to act by California's ban, passed in 2016, which has been instrumental in reducing plastic trash in San Diego County, including in the Tijuana River Valley. A 2009 study of 3,500 tons of trash in the valley found about 9 million plastics in the marsh. That quantity was cut in half after California banned plastics in 2016.

California, however, still allows the sale of some plastic bags.

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In Tijuana, Plastic Bag Ban Goes Big
Tijuana has become the first Mexican city on border to ban plastic bags. The ban was inspired by the success of California's ban, but it goes much farther.