By Daina Beth Solomon and Sharay Angulo
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico City's new ban on plastic bags has inspired visions of a journey back in time even as local makers of the packaging worry they could become obsolete.
The city's government this week banned single-use plastic bags to complement worldwide efforts to protect the environment, sparking protests from companies that produce them.
"We have to take plastic out of circulation," said Andree Lilian Guigue, the official overseeing the ban in Mexico City, one of the world's biggest metropolises. "Plastic and other waste products that damage the planet end up in the ravines, woods and public spaces of the city - and nobody cleans it up."
The ban that began Jan. 1 prohibits the sale or distribution of the bags pervasive everywhere from Walmart to corner shops.
Plastics industry association ANIPAC says the roughly 20 million people who live in Mexico City and its sprawl use about 68,000 tons of bags a year. Fines for plastic offenders could range from 42,000 pesos ($2,219) to 170,000 pesos.
Gabriel Sanchez, who hawks produce at a marketplace, said the ban was a return to 1960s packaging.
"Now we're going back to paper bags, sacks, baskets," he said. "I think it will take a while but people will get used to it."
Firms including Walmart's Mexico unit <WALMEX.MX>, breadmaker Bimbo <BIMBOA.MX> and conglomerate Femsa <FEMSAUBD.MX> agreed to offer free reusable bags this month and explore more ways to reduce plastic packaging.
Plastic producers say the plan will hurt an industry already struggling to adjust to a patchwork of reforms across Mexico, and are lobbying lawmakers to enact a federal law that would standardize rules and allow reusable, thicker bags.
"The solution should be regulating bags, not prohibiting them," said Aldimir Torres, president of ANIPAC, which registers 141 plastic bag producers in Mexico City.
Nationwide the industry generates about $30 billion a year, but it shrunk in 2019, partially due to plastic bans in various cities.
Mexico City thinks the solution could be compostable bags, which easily break down.
But Jose del Cueto, spokesman of Inboplast, an association of companies that make more environmentally-friendly bags, says that would require costly imported materials.
He wants the city to take after California, which banned single-use bags in 2014, but allows multiple-use plastic bags.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Sharay Angulo; Additional reporting by Josue Gonzalez; Editing by Dave Graham and Daniel Wallis)