Like many other countries around the world, Mexico has continued to struggle with establishing meaningful ways in which this nation can efficiently reduce air and plastic pollution. In an effort to reduce the public health impact that both air and plastic pollution have on Mexicans across the country, the Mexican government has recently adopted several promising policies.
Mexico’s Current Air Pollution State
Each year, approximately 33,000 Mexicans will die as a result of exposure to air pollution; 20,000 of these deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution levels, whereas the remaining 13,000 deaths are due to household air pollution that arises as a result of cooking with wood or other fuels. As the eighth largest cause of death in Mexico after obesity, high blood pressure, alcohol use, drug use and lack of exercise, air pollution in this nation is a serious issue that needs to be resolved.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has set the maximum outdoor ambient air pollution levels to 10 micrograms of PM2.5, which describes the size of particulate material that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers (µm), per cubic meter of air, Mexico’s major cities have fallen short of maintaining this level. Mexico City’s average PM2.5 concentrations have been estimated to be about 25 µg/m3, whereas other major Mexican cities including Puebla, Toluca and Monterrey measure in the range of 20-36 µg/m3.
Improving Household Air Pollution Exposure
As previously mentioned, one of the major causes of human exposure to dangerously high levels of air pollution in Mexico is household cooking that utilizes firewood or charcoal to achieve. The confined space of a home can cause pollution levels to reach up to 15 times greater than that which is found in urban settings. Furthermore, the individual cooking while exposed to these conditions can breathe in PM2.5 concentrations that exceed the WHO recommendation by up to 26 times.
One way in which Mexico has worked towards reducing household pollution exposure is by encouraging the replacement of traditional stoves with conventional stoves that are connected to a chimney that directs any released fumes out of the house. Furthermore, the incorporation of propane gas into household stoves can also reduce pollution levels significantly, thereby reducing the risk of death and disease by as much as 64%.
Mexico’s Methods to Tackle Outdoor Air Pollution
For over 20 years, Mexico City has experimented with several different ways in which urban pollution levels could be reduced. These methods ranged from “No-Drive Days,” a city-wide bike-share system and newly developed bus rapid transit lines. Despite these efforts, Mexico City has not been able to significantly reduce their pollution levels nor increase public utilization of alternative modes of transportation.
In late February of 2018, the Mexican government announced a new policy that was aimed towards reducing air pollution, improving public health and ultimately saving lives. This policy included the first soot-free standard adapted in Latin America, which required that all heavy-duty vehicles sold in Mexico meet the highest filter-based standards that are currently in place in other countries like the United States, Canada and much of the European Union.
Although the standards in Mexico have been raised for trucks and buses to be cleaner, these same standards have not yet been applied to passenger vehicles. Further progress must still be made by the Mexican government to hold passenger cars, which account for a greater number of vehicles that are driven each day as compared to heavy-duty vehicles, to the same standard.
Mexico’s War on Plastic Waste
Despite having an international reputation for recycling a considerable amount of food grade containers made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), Mexico has been found to only recycle approximately 17% of their total plastic waste. This is a considerable figure, as this nation’s capital of Mexico City alone generates an estimated 13,000 tons of waste each day.
More recently, however, Mexico has not only required businesses, industries and households to recycle, but has also implemented new legislation that will completely ban the distribution of single-use plastics throughout the nation. In fact, by 2021, the use of single-use utensils, straws, cups and balloons will be against the law in Mexico. This will therefore require small businesses like street food vendors to investigate alternative materials that will meet their needs.