What to do with all the polluting plastic bags in Bolivia?

A very important article that should make us rethink about our habits and to be more protective of our environment. Alexander Terrazas reports for El Dia:

The bags that invade us

Impact. Every day, we use 1.3 million plastic bags in Bolivia, according to a study by Lidema. 65% of the national population still uses these containers. Laws are needed and alternative proposals to regulate the use of plastics. [we as consumers MUST change our habits, if we care about our environment! we cannot rely on any government; change of habits MUST come from us!]

From the first hours of every morning, throughout the country, citizenship moves crowds into their neighborhood stores, markets or supermarkets to shop for their food. In plastic bags, they buy large quantities of bread, milk, eggs, biscuits and soft drinks for breakfast, as well as also carry grocery, vegetables and fruits for lunch or dinner. Actually, the bags are “vital” to the life of the human being, but at the same time are one of the most polluting residues in common use that exist on the planet.

Excessive use of these materials is not a habit per se, but a custom rooted in the country in the absence of laws governing its use or alternative proposals to replace them. According to a study of the League of Defense of the Environment (LIDEMA), a large amount of plastic bags are used each day throughout the national territory. According to Lidema’s National Training Coordinator, Edwin Alvarado, Bolivia uses 1.3 million plastic bags daily, only on purchases of the morning; as bread, eggs and other products of first necessity. As Alvarado says, 65% of the national population still uses these plastic containers. The data were disclosed in the framework of the meeting of the national network of environmental journalists, held in Cochabamba.

Change the material of the bags will generate millionaire savings. The same study indicates that the 1.3 million plastic bags are equivalent to 13,000 packages that have a cost of Bs65 thousand a day. If we make a simple equation we would be talking about an investment of Bs1,950,000 per month in plastic bags (bp) for bread, Bs23,725,000 a year in bp and Bs47.450.000 in two years in bp.

But this problem has a simple solution. According to Lidema’s proposal, 1,300,000 fabric bags (bt) for bread bags, equivalent to Bs7,800,000 in two years. Instead of the Bs47,450,000 in two years, the savings would be Bs39,650,000. This not only allows saving, but also generates employment and low levels of environmental pollution. “Alarming and at the same time worrying is the high number of bags that are used”, says Alvarado.

Use and abuse of plastic for any kind of activity. What says the national training coordinator of Lidema, Edwin Alvarado, is a stark reality at high school, for example, where the children consumes sweets, biscuits, juices and other edible products that come in plastic containers and wraps. Alvarado also notes that for a party, is convenient to use disposable. The cups are of all sizes and with the option of choosing colors, like there are plastic plates, spoons, forks and knives. And if you buy food, it safely comes in disposable plastic containers and many come in a large “plastic bag” with disposable cutlery grouped in small bags, also plastic, with dressings in disposable packaging. This is only a part of the consumerism that has been entered for some two decades ago, according to environmental specialists. The environmental authority of the Governor of Santa Cruz believes that this is part of the contemporary movement of the modernization of the city, but in a “shocking” manner. But the negative side is not only excessive use, the worst is at the disposal of plastics, to which is added the lack of education or, for many, the lack of dumps. [I’ve seen people throwing garbage in the streets, regardless of trash cans, also from buses to luxury cars, unfortunately it is in our society’s behavior, which could and MUST be changed]

In Santa Cruz, the Governor’s Office presents an alternative. Against excessive use, Manlio Roca, Secretary for Sustainable Development and Environment of the Governor’s Office, raised a proposal. The initiative consists of a gradual replacement of plastic bags for paper bags, cardboard or cloth. It has been demonstrated that plastic bags take between 100 and 500 years to disappear, generating pollution on natural sources of water and the death of thousands of animals, especially of the aquatic fauna, that ingested them as food. “The Governor’s Office, through this resolution, instructed the gradual replacement of plastic bags for biodegradable bags to 56 municipalities”, he said. The implementation of the resolution has several stages that must be met; supermarkets, hypermarkets and all production of massive sales and consumption chains have a maximum of 30 days to remit the amount of plastic bags that have used the year 2011; the second step is to give a term to the municipalities, from June 1 until December 2012, alongside the Governor coordinated the delivery of only two plastic bags per person at each point of sale; the third step is to make the delivery of only one plastic bag per customer from January until June 2013 and will definitely run with no delivery of plastic from end of the 2013 and 2014 early. Hypermarkets, supermarkets, shops in general and entities that perform tasks or commercial activities that should replace in the shortest possible time the oxibiodegradables bags or plastic, will get the “departmental green seal”, attesting to its contribution to the objectives of control of departmental environmental quality within the framework of sustainable development. [great initiative that must be also pushed into the informal commerce, if you go to the popular markets like Abasto or Ramada, you see more plastic bags than in formal businesses, and what is more damaging, polluting and disgusting is the plastic trash all around the streets… that needs to be changed!! if you go to rings eight and beyond, inserted on those sand streets, plastic garbage accumulated and torn-apart filling the streets, bushes and trees all over, it is really disgusting!]

Some reasons to limit the use of plastic bags. As already stated, the plastic bags are the cause of one of the biggest environmental problems. It is estimated that a person uses an average of 130 plastic bags annually, most of them goes straight to landfills, a tiny percentage is recycled. For this reason, it was raised why we should limit the use of plastic bags: they are made of oil, contain polyethylene, they take 1,000 years to decompose in the ground and 450 years to decompose in water. That is, that plastic bags are not biodegradable. In the case of countries that are adjacent to the oceans also generate negative effects [in Bolivian case, we can see how damaged is Lake Titicaca and our Amazonian rivers]. Many marine animals eat plastic bags, because they confuse them with food. It is estimated that more than 10,000 marine animals die every year in the North Pacific.

It is also known that there is a market for the recycling of plastic bags, although there are some supermarkets who receive for recycling the truth is that only a tiny percentage is actually recycled. According to studies, the environmental impact of plastic bags and the life cycle of plastic bags, recycled paper bags, biodegradable bags (made from cornstarch according to European regulations) and reusable bags showed that are the best alternative, from the environmental point of view, is the re-use of packaging more than 4 times. The use of a reusable bag prevents the use of at least 15 plastic bags on each purchase.

Another vision

Journalists in campaign for the environment

The environmental Bolivian journalists, gathered at the national workshop of update information in Cochabamba, made between October 18 and 19, by consensus, assumed various commitments. Among them, to work together on information campaigns and guidance to promote environmental conservation, using the press, television, radio, the Internet and social networks, contributing to non-formal education. Disseminate studies and socio-environmental research so that they are taken into account by representatives of social organizations, municipal, departmental and national authorities. Also socializing information based on the impacts and problems environmental of mining through the media. And disseminate the irregularities committed permanently in forest reserves, especially in the Chore.


I’m glad we started tackling this issue.

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

4 thoughts on “What to do with all the polluting plastic bags in Bolivia?

  1. I traveled across Bolivia last year 2018. I was so sad and hungry that the amount of plastic /aluminium rubbish disseminated along the country road is terrible. The often beautiful landscape is ruined by the large amount of old plastic rubbish spreading everywhere with the wind !!.
    Could local communities/schools/army do something about this ?.Like spending few hours a weekend like in some parts of the world. I intent to go back next year and start clearing that huge mess ; even if I have to do it just myself.
    anyone to join me? . please contact me : incapepe2003@yahoo.com

    1. It also infuriates me to see all that garbage along our roads and streets. I’ve seen Bolivians living abroad, complying with existing laws and not littering … upon arrival they magically change, I’ve seen garbage thrown out from luxurious cars as well as from buses … Bolivians simply are slow at taking care of our environment. Most of us simply think that the government should do this or that, and yet they don’t want to pay taxes and also think that someone else would do it. It is a serious problem and unless we don’t change from inside, within our households, it will be worse. Upon arrival, you could join groups that think alike you and then you can start helping, thank you.

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