By Dr. Pedro Villegas

“You never change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete!” –Buckminster Fuller–
As in the rest of the world, there have been several attempts in Central America to ban the use of plastic products. For example, in October 2018, a law initiative was presented in El Salvador to Congress establishing a one-year deadline for companies to replace the use of plastic bags with articles made of other materials.
Other countries have progressed more in this area, such as Panama, where as of January 19th of this year, supermarkets, pharmacies and retailers were granted a period of 18 months to stop using plastic bags, and warehouses and wholesalers, a period of 24 months.
In Costa Rica there is a law for wastes management since 2010. Under this rule, the government has developed a national strategy for single-use plastics. Currently 15% of plastics are recycled in Costa Rica with a growing trend year by year.
In Guatemala, steps have also been taken in this regard. At the end of 2017, a law was presented to Congress, already approved by a legislative commission, which proposes to ban the use of plastic bags in the country. In the case of Belize, the Cabinet approved a law that ban the use of Styrofoam containers by April 2019.
In this context, companies in the sector seek to innovate in the creation of alternative products less contaminant and more biodegradable. But the sad reality is that the purchase of plastics in Central America went up by 6% in 2017. Last year, the region bought $3.874 billion worth of plastic and manufactured goods from abroad, it is 6% more than in 2016. It was also found that 35% of these imports came from the United States. In 2017, the main importer of plastic and its manufactures in Central America was Costa Rica, with $1.215 billion, followed by Guatemala, with $840 million, El Salvador, with $622 million, Honduras, with $502 million, Panama, with $458 million, Nicaragua, with $237 million and Belize with $100 million.
Between 2016 and 2017, the value imported into the region grew by 6%, increasing from $3.667 billion to $3.874 billion. The increase recorded in 2017 represents a resumption of growth in plastics use, since for the years 2015 and 2016, no significant changes were recorded. Over the past year, 35% of the value imported by Central America came from the USA, 16.9% from China, 9% from Mexico, 4% from Taiwan and 3% from Colombia. China is the market of origin of purchases that has grown the most in the last six years, as in 2012 it represented only 5% of the total value of regional purchases, and last year that proportion rose to 17%.
To illustrate the current status of plastics in the region we created the Plastic Consumption Index (PCI) as an indicator of the average amount of plastic that every single citizen consumes per year. This index is obtained by dividing the country population by the amount of plastic imported during the whole year. It surprisingly shows that Belize has by far the highest PCI in the region of 267 U$ per person per year, similar to Costa Rica, with 248. If we analyze the Human Development Index (HDI) for the region, Belize’s one is similar to El Salvador, Honduras Nicaragua and Guatemala, all countries that consume 5 times less plastics than Belize, so our current situation is contradictory worrisome!
Our Country is suffering from poverty, joblessness, high crime rate, mass institutionalized corruption, a dying economy, high risk of losing half of our country, no clear strategies about plastics elimination and a government that allocated more than half million for Christmas celebration only in constituencies headed by UDP’s. These monies will be used to buy thousands of cheap plastic toys that will only last till New Years before they become garbage and add to the accumulating solid waste problems we are facing today. Just imagine what can be done with these moneys for example:
• Build a good paved road for the people of Arenal Village in Cayo West;
• Invest in the upgrade of the Western Regional Hospital and the emergency service in Benque Viejo Clinic;
• Procure some fire trucks for San Pedro and Belize City;
• Establish soft credit alternatives for smalls business, among other possible 100+ alternatives.
You can reach your own conclusions.
God bless Belize.