Tag Archives: Mexico City

Mexico City kicks off the new year with a ban on single-use plastics

Mexico’s capital, one of the largest cities in Latin America with over nine million people, has just introduced a ban on single-use plastics after a year-long preparation. The city follows many others around the world that are trying to address plastic pollution, one of the biggest and most challenging environmental problems the world is facing at this point.

Image credit: FLICKR / VV Nincic

The sale of plastic forks, knives, straws, single-use containers, cotton buds, and coffee capsules, among other single-use plastic products, is now officially banned in Mexico City. Lawmakers approved the ban in 2019 and since then the city has been working to adjust to the legislation. Plastic bags had already been banned, and now the full ban entered into force.

“Disposable plastics take many years to degrade. By saying goodbye to disposables we are giving our planet a breather and creating a sustainable city,” Mexico’s Environment Secretariat (SEDEMA) wrote on Twitter, encouraging citizens to follow the new rule. Mexicans use about six million tons of plastic per year, SEDEMA added.

The government won’t apply sanctions during the first few months and, on the contrary, it will seek to inform citizens regarding the new regulation to encourage compliance. Over 1,400 restaurants and food stands have already been visited in 2019 by SEDEMA officials to raise awareness over the problems created by single-use plastics.

Worldwide, over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year, half of which is used to design single-use items such as cups and straws. Around eight million tons are dumped into the ocean every year, killing marine life and entering the human food chain. According to a 2019 study, this passes up the food change up to humans, and the average person ingests up to 5 grams of plastic a week.

Speaking to EFE news agency, Greenpeace campaigner Ornela Garelli described the ban as “a good measure, even in times of the pandemic.” Still, to be effective, the measure will need the support of Mexican citizens, who will have to change their consumption habits and aim at more sustainable lifestyles, Garelli added. Introducing legislation is only the first step — compliance is sometimes a very different problem.

At least 20 of the 32 states that are part of Mexico have already agreed to limit the use of single-use plastics. Due to its size, Mexico City could now make a big difference by joining that list. Nevertheless, the move will likely be challenging, as vendors and market stalls currently use plastic all over the city for tamales and tacos, among other food products.

Representatives from the plastic industry have largely questioned the new rule, claiming that at least 50 companies could go bankrupt very soon leaving over 30,000 people without jobs. They said to be looking for new materials to replace plastic but described this as difficult because of coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

Aldimir Torres, head of the Plastic Industries Association, told Televisa that companies can’t travel to Europe, Asia, or the US to find new alternatives because of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Monica Conde, head of Ambiente Plastico, a local news site focused on plastics, said prices could go up in restaurants because of the new rule.

As Mexico along with other cities and countries around the world are gradually waking up to the scale of the plastic pollution problem, introducing bans on certain products will likely become the norm in many parts of the world. This has become highly necessary as only a small part of the plastic products manufactured are actually recycled. Instead, they are incinerated or thrown in landfills, where they are often mismanaged and end up in rivers and oceans.

Eight states across the US— California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont— have already banned single-use plastic bags. Nevertheless, seventeen other states have also said it’s illegal to ban plastic items, placing a ban on a ban, likely aided by the plastic industry.

The European Union has a goal to ensure all plastic packaging is reusable or recyclable by 2030. A ban on some disposable plastics such as cutlery, glasses, and plates will be implemented this year. That’s also the case in Canada, with a ban set to kick in 2021. The country uses 15 billion plastic bags per year and 57 million plastic straws per day.

Skull and crossbones.

Aztec tower of skulls unearthed in Mexico City

Ongoing excavation works in Mexico City have confirmed the existence of a legendary, and terrible, edifice: the Aztec tower of skulls.

Skull and crossbones.

Stock photo.
Image credits Peter Dargatz.

As Spanish soldiers first made their way to the sprawling Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521, they came upon a terrible and terrifying sight: the tzompantli. Our first recount of them come from the memoirs of one Andres de Tapia, a Spanish soldier, one of the first who came to the city under Hernan Cortez — he described an “edifice” covered in tens of thousands of skulls.

Although later described by other historians as well, the Aztec’s towers of skulls were never found, and many dismissed them as mere tales spun by soldiers boasting their glories. That is until today, as ongoing archeological digs in what is today Mexico City have revealed part of the Huey Tzompantli complex, inlaid with over 650 skulls.

The great wall of skulls

Reuters report that the ruins of the skull tower measure a staggering 6 meters in diameter, and once rose at the corner of Templo Mayor a massive temple dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec god associated with war, the sun, and (you’ll never guess) human sacrifice. The archeologists who discovered the structure say it was likely part of a larger structure known as Huey Tzompantli (believed to loosely translate as the great skull wall or banner) which many of de Tapia’s contemporaries also described.

Tzompantli were ceremonial wooden scaffolds that many ancient Mesoamerican cultures used to display the skulls of human sacrifices. Priests would take each skull and drill two holes in it, then string them along on a long chord like beads. Rows upon rows of skulls would then be stretched between two wooden posts, forming a sheer wall of skulls dangling on top of each other.

Tzompantli.

Depiction of a tzompantli taken from the 16th “Codex Duran.”

It’s not clear why the Aztecs constructed tzompantli. Maybe it was to honor their gods, or to scare away their enemies — the latter certainly happened with the Spanish conquistadores, who were very shaken by the gruesome sight. Many accounts describe the terror their authors felt when seeing Tenochtitlan’s tzompantli for the first time.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Raul Barrera, an archaeologist from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) told Reuters that “the skulls would have been set in the tower after they had stood on public display on the tzompantli.” Each was dipped in lime and then placed like bricks in the tower’s walls. The tzompantli, with the towers made from past sacrifices in the backdrop, must’ve been quite a terrible sight back in the day.

“In this context where there are many semi-detached skulls, and where you are also seeing a tower on each side made up of skulls, it must have been shocking for the people who saw it,” INAH archaeologist Lorena Vazquez told the BBC.

Archeologists report that the skulls came from men, women, and children alike, suggesting the sacrifices weren’t only soldiers — but rather, they were picked, captured, offered, maybe even volunteered, from whole populations.

“We were expecting just men, obviously young men, as warriors would be, and the thing about the women and children is that you’d think they wouldn’t be going to war,” Rodrigo Bolanos, a biological anthropologist investigating the find, told the New York Times.

“Something is happening that we have no record of, and this is really new, a first in the Huey Tzompantli.”

Right now, the archeologists are still working on excavating the full tower.

Paris, Madrid, Athens, Mexico City to ban all diesels by 2025, mayors announce

Four major cities are taking up the fight on air pollution by clamping down on diesel engines. The ban should come into full effect by the middle of the next decade.

Image from the Public Domain.

Diesel engines will be banned from Paris, Mexico City, Madrid, and Athens sometime in the next ten years to promote cleaner transport such as alternative vehicle use or old-fashioned walking and cycling. The announcement was made at the C40 conference in Mexico.

Diesels were originally promoted by governments as test runs showed they released lower levels of CO2 and other harmful emissions. But, this type of engine has (rightfully) come under a lot of flak recently, particularly in urban areas, after it became apparent that manufacturers faked the results (you can read about it here). They have been linked to nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions, which can build up in huge quantities in cities.

Fine PM, such as PM2.5, can pass into the bloodstream and contribute to heart or lung conditions (both acute and chronic), even death. At ground levels, NOx emissions can lead to ozone build-ups, causing breathing difficulties even for those without a history of respiratory problems. The WHO estimates that around three million people each year die due to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

In some cases, such as London, citizen groups have taken matters into their own hands. Environmental groups have championed their case and appealed to courts for clean air standards and regulations. Mayor Sadiq Khan has proposed an expansion of the planned Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, and campaigners are pushing for him to phase out all diesels from London by 2025.

“In the UK, London’s mayor is considering bolder action than his predecessor, proposing an expansion to the planned Ultra-Low Emission Zone. This is welcome but we want him to go further and faster,” said ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews.
“And it’s not just London that has this problem, we need a national network of clean air zones so that the problem is not simply pushed elsewhere.”

Keen on preventing such troubles at-home, mayors from four other cities with long-standing air pollution problems have pledged to use their executive power to limit the use of diesel engines. The four mayors declared that they would ban all diesel vehicles by 2025 and “commit to doing everything in their power to incentivize the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles”.

“It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic,” said the city’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera.

“By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs.”

Paris has already laid down some groundwork on the issue. Cars registered before 1997 are already banned from entering the city. The Champs-Élysées is closed to traffic once every month, and a 3-km long stretch on the Seine — once a two-lane motorway — has been recently pedestrianized. The city’s mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said that they will continue to “progressively ban the most polluting vehicles from the roads” of Paris.

“Our ambition is clear and we have started to roll it out: we want to ban diesel from our city, following the model of Tokyo, which has already done the same.”

Manuel Carmena, Madrid’s mayor, has spoken in support of cleaning city air saying it’s intimately tied with our efforts of tackling climate change. All in all, these four mayors seem to be set on cleaning the air, and they have their sights set on diesels.

Which is a big deal, because if major cities go down this road, they will set a powerful precedent for others to follow suit. Carmakers, too, are likely to understand this and push for the development of hybrid and electric cars even more than before. Hopefully, this time somebody will double-check their results before the WHO has to issue another grisly statistic.