I was at Durham Uni when I grasped the concept of the damage of plastic bags to the environment – I was studying (“reading”, as we say in Durham) Economics, and paying even a penny for a bag was a disincentive that worked wonders (these were the days when you had to queue to use the computer room, remember?). Nearly 20 years later (we do take our time in this region), Uruguay has started charging for plastic bags. Hurray.
The whole debate, I admit, has driven me insane. Is it that difficult to understand we should minimise the use of single-use plastic because it’s polluting our environment, in particular, our oceans (and we have the most beautiful unspoilt coast you can imagine)? Is it that difficult to take a reusable bag with you all the time just in case?
One to shy away from moaning, I decided to extract some lessons from this frustrating process and share with you some lessons:
1- Things take time in the region – 19-20 years, you see, it’s all very despacito here.
2- We can argue and discuss anything – from a plastic bag to a penalty – emotions run high here.
3- Environmental issues are not a priority – if you read people’s comments on social media, they almost always seem to miss this crucial point – they are slowly becoming more mainstream but it’s hard work (see point 1) – in this sense, my admiration to the British Embassy in Uruguay for pushing the agenda.
4- Regulations are almost always so badly written – my pet-hate for this one in particular is to ask for “biodegradable” bags with a total lack of definition of what that means (does it degrade in 3 hours or 300 years…?), which takes us to the following point…
5- Implementation is our Achilles tendon – in the case of Uruguay, it is the same for cannabis, for example – we discuss and discuss and discuss all these marvellous pieces of legislation and we write dubious texts and ok, we’re nearly there and then… we can’t implement what we write, so businesses and consumers get all very confused (do we start charging now? can we have the logo on the bag? does it apply to the butcher’s as well as the supermarket? what happens if I just give away bags and don’t charge, who will punish me?) – and, as ever, there’s no clear fines or (dis)incentives so after a while, people give up and we’re back to square one.
6- We need everything in writing – unlike the UK, where there’s a lot more use of custom and common-sense (pre-Brexit, at least), we need everything to be clearly written (there’s good historical reasons for this), we seem to be plagued with literalness (there’s also very good reasons for this), so we get stuck in a lot of detail.
7- We are so good at politicising absolutely everything and losing focus – let’s just get on with it, people, and discuss our security situation, the decaying educational standards or the free trade agreements we so badly need, please!
All the above, by the way, applies basically to all of Latin America. So I hope you get an idea of what you face when you decide to do business with us! (pack some chamomile tea, is my final recommendation – and bring some for me, too).
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