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Mexico’s Most Popular Destinations Are Banning Single-Use Plastics Starting in 2020

By Juliana Shallcross

10.24.19

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Washed up plastics and other garbage litters a beach in Cancún, the popular resort city on Mexico’s Carribean coast that sits along the Yucatán Peninsula.

Photo by marako85/Shutterstock

Washed up plastics and other garbage litters a beach in Cancún, the popular resort city on Mexico’s Carribean coast that sits along the Yucatán Peninsula.

Here’s what to know about how hotels are responding to the new restrictions in some of the country’s most frequented places, including Cabo San Lucas, Playa del Carmen, and Mexico City.

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Earlier this year, the European Union approved a ban on single-use plastics that will go into effect across the its 28 countries starting in 2021. Similarly, many popular tourist spots in Mexico are also preparing for life without certain plastics, thanks to an increasing number of new laws aimed at reducing single-use consumption in the country. Since 2017, five municipalities and 22 states in Mexico have adopted laws or initiatives against single-use plastics, according to the environmental organization Greenpeace Mexico. (Most of these laws are being rolled out in stages to give businesses and residents time to square away alternatives.)

This May, Mexico City voted to ban plastic bags from the capital’s shops as soon as 2020, with a broadened restriction on other types of single-use plastics (including cutlery, straws, cups, and balloons) to begin in 2021. That same month, the state of Quintana Roo, located on the eastern side of the Yucatán Peninsula, passed its own legislation banning plastic bags, utensils, and other single-use plastic items within 12 months. (These new rules are being applied first to the islands of Holbox, Cozumel, and Isla Mujeres before rolling out to the rest of the Mexican state, which includes Cancún, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.) 

The Last Straw: How the Travel Industry Is Phasing Out Plastic

The number of Mexican beach destinations hopping on board with the bans extends from the country’s Carribean coast to its northwestern peninsula. Baja California Sur—which includes the towns of Cabo San Lucas, Todos Santos, and La Paz—led the charge in July 2018 when the Mexican state placed a strict limit on plastic bags, cups, straws, and polystyrene containers. (A full ban on those items will go into effect in the region in 2021.) 

Hotels across Mexico are complying with the new restrictions being implemented in various regions, but it will take some time before single-use plastics are phased out entirely in the country. So how will the growing number of single-use plastic bans affect travelers to Mexico? Here’s what to expect at hotels across these locations.

Baja California Sur

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The single-use plastics ban in Baja California Sur follows several previously enforced environmental initiatives in the Mexican state, including building height restrictions and limitations on cruise dockings in popular resort areas like Los Cabos. With the peninsula’s proximity to the Sea of Cortez, a UNESCO Marine World Heritage site that’s home to one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, these regulations make practical sense. “It’s been a part of the culture in the destination to care for the environment,” says Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of the Los Cabos Tourism Board. “The law is only part of what we’ve been doing for several years.”

On the southern tip of the peninsula, many resorts in Cabo San Lucas have moved to rid their properties of plastic straws within the past 18 months, among them Chileno Bay, Esperanza, Breathless Cabo San Lucas, and Grand Velas Los Cabos. In September, the latter property began offering guests refillable water bottles instead of plastic bottles, a move that the resort estimates will eliminate 100,000 plastic bottles per year. And the newly opened Four Seasons Resort Los Cabos at Costa Palmas will make the entire resort plastic free soon. “We are working toward using sustainable materials in place of plastic water bottles and to-go containers,” general manager Borja Manchado says. “And we will not use plastic straws or coffee stirrers in the resort.”

Hotels in some of Baja California Sur’s other beloved beach towns have put similar practices in place. In Todos Santos at Hotel San Cristóbal, general manager Gail DiBerardinis says that the hotel uses biodegradable take-out containers and glass water bottles. The CostaBaja Resort in La Paz, the state’s coastal capitalhas been plastic free in its restaurants since May 2018, opting for straws made from agave, forks made from cornstarch, and other products that are 100 percent compostable. “Some people may think that the use of these ecological products is more expensive,” says Arturo Pena, the chief executive officer of CostaBaja. “But if we consider that they decompose within 180 to 240 days instead of 100 years, then the cost-benefit is immeasurable.”

Quintana Roo

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On the opposite side of the country along Riviera Maya’s Carribean coastline, luxury resorts are preparing to comply with the state’s phasing out of single-use plastics. In Playa del Carmen, Hotel Xcaret Mexico marks Latin America’s first hotel to receive an EarthCheck Certification, an international award given to properties that adhere to strict sustainability standards. Also in the resort town, the Fairmont Mayakoba switched to using reusable straws and in-room products that are biodegradable and environmentally friendly; Banyan Tree Mayakoba eliminated disposable plastics from its property as part of a larger Banyan Tree resorts initiative; and Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Perla phased out single-use plastics entirely, even boasting its own sustainability manager onsite. Elsewhere in Quintana Roo, several luxury, all-inclusive resorts such as Zoëtry Paraiso de la Bonita Riviera Maya, south of Cancún, and Secrets Aura Resort (on Cozumel) have similar sustainability-minded set ups.

Mexico City

The bill banning plastic bags in Mexico City was passed just this May, but shops in the capital will be no longer be allowed to offer the carriers starting in 2020. Major hotels have already begun to address the legislation banning single-use items beyond plastic bags, which the Mexican government will enforce beginning in 2021. For example, Four Seasons Mexico City has removed all plastic bottles from its food and beverage outlets, vowing to begin using solely glass bottles throughout the property. (Disposable packaging such as straws and containers have been replaced with ones made with corn starch, wheat straw, and avocado.) 

Still, the strict single-use plastic rules might become most noticeable on the streets of Mexico City, where street food and take-away markets are central parts of city life. Mariana Soto, executive director of Plastic Oceans Mexico, advises that travelers to Mexico City bring refillable water bottles, tote bags (or backpacks), and even zero-waste cutlery kits on upcoming trips, especially when exploring outside of their hotels and resorts. “If you are going [out] for some street food,” she advises, “you can use your own reusable travel products.” 

As bans on single-use plastics are phased out incrementally across various states in Mexico, travelers can do their part to avoid using plastics, too. 

See an interactive map from Greenpeace Mexico, which tracks the states and municipalities across the country that are taking steps to enforce bans on single-use plastics.

>> Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Mexico

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