Team:TecMonterrey GDA/HP/Silver


For the silver medal requirements the following conditions have to be accomplished:

  • Identify and investigate one or more HP issue in the context of the project

  • Demonstrate that our work is safe, responsible and good for the world

  • Develop new creative approaches

We will now narrate how we’ve accomplished the requisites, but please visit our Integrated Human Practices page and our Project Justification.

Identify and investigate one or more HP issues in the context of the project:

Tequila: an economic and cultural heritage

Tequila is one of the biggest industries in México. It is an alcoholic beverage extracted from Agave Tequilana, with 558 places within states that dedicate fully on the Agave growth and production. It is a major source of employment and economic gain for many. The chain of value is not only limited to economic aspects but it is also important in several areas of the country as cultural, ethnical, social and environmental. Agave is also a vital species for indigenous populations and its growth also promotes development of medicine, fertilizers and food, as well as it helps eradicating poverty. (CIATEJ, 2016 ). Tequila is now exported to around 120 countries, and the production is about 300 liters/minute (El país, 2013).

The tourism industry in Mexico is also a major economic and development tool. A report from the National Chamber of Tequila Production states that, of the total products consumed in Mexico by foreigners, 57% accounts solely for Tequila, as it is a major attraction for tourism. Also the same report stated that 900 thousand tons of Tequila are produced annually, employing 300 thousand people across the country (Millenio, 2017).

But like any major industry, it produces tons of waste. The two major contaminants that result from Tequila production are bagasse and vinasse. By 2014, 240 thousand of bagasse were produced which is equivalent to 20 days of residue generated in the metropolitan zone of Guadalajara city and up to this date its has doubled. The problem with bagasse is that it is a fibrous organic material but when it is not managed correctly (which happens most of the time) it produces toxic leachates that pollutes soil and water changing their properties and causing bad odors and proliferation of damaging fauna such as mosquitos (Ramos, 2017).

To corroborate the issue and validate our project we have visited several Tequila producing industries including El tequileño, Camarena, Saro, Tequilera El Olvido and El triángulo, all of them producing Tequila in Jalisco, the state we live in. Jalisco has a lot of small Tequila producers that help to the economy of the towns and the country. They told us how bagasse was a problem for them: they had a lot of bagasse taking up a lot of volume, and it represented a contamination problem for the community due to toxic leakages and mosquito proliferation. Usually the disposal is problematic and they have to pay to get rid of the huge quantities.

We’ve also learned how Tequila is produced.

Plastics on the other hand:

Researchers have found 750,000 microplastic/km^2 in the garbage patch and marine life is plagued by them. Since plastic is not biodegraded it attracts toxins and heavy metals as it travel the seas.

It has also been found that 40% of the world’s oceans are “gyres”, which are formed when plastic is accumulated in powerful rotating spirals (Monks, 2016).

Compromising biodiversity in México...

Phocoena sinus (vaquita marina/marine cow) is an endemic mexican species. Fishing their nutrition source (shrimp and some fish species) is one of the main causes for their almost extinction (only 30 are left). The Mexican government is planning on making massive efforts for saving the species; however, after putting it on a sanctuary and achieving the population increase, releasing the species into a contaminated sea, and considering the large percentage of mammals with plastic components in the stomach (Center for Biological Diversity, n.d.), …might seem a bit counterproductive.

Annually 95% of the value of plastic packaging material worth $80-120 billion is lost to the economy. This is especially alarming considering that plastic packaging is, in it’s majority, a single-use product, and becomes even more alarming when the disposal is not properly made and ends up in large bodies of water, affecting the ecosystem. A report from 2016 made by the World Economic Forum predicts that, if we continue this way, by 2050 the oceans will contain more weight in plastic than in fish (WEC, 2016).

90% of plastics are made from virgin fossil stocks, taking up a whole 6% of the global oil consumption. Also, whole 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems, having economic costs by reducing productivity of vital natural cycles and systems and clogging urban infrastructures. Plastic also contain a blend of chemicals that makes some researchers raise concerns about potential adverse effects on human health and the environment (WEC, 2016).

Unfortunately… not all countries have as a priority the legalization of norms for plastic treatment, disposal and limiting of the production, as well as adopting and implementing norms for plastic disposal in the household. Actually, some governments are dealing with other problematics such as starvation, corruption, lack of education and unemployment, while other governments are just not interest enough to do so, as well as people might not be demanding it enough for it to happen. For one reason or another, it is not being done enough by all. As the World Economic Forum reports in 2016, only 14% of plastic packaging is collected for recycling and at least 8 million tons of plastics leak into the ocean annually (WEF, 2016).

Demonstrate that our work is safe, responsible and good for the world:

Our work takes advantage on the composition of the bagasse to create a bioplastic that is of easy degradation and biocompatible. As mentioned, it will take bagasse from the community to create bioplastic for the community, meaning that our supply will be for local and following a circular economy model in which a residue will serve us as primary matter without the carbon footprint of transport of other sources of glucose.

The value of the proposal is not only taking up a residue and eliminating the fact of consuming another source of glucose or sugars (whose transport and other activities produce carbon footprints) to produce bioplastic, but the fact that our proposal can be adapted for different vegetal residues to achieve a bioplastic production, in order to take advantage of “useless” fibers and make a circular supply.

We know there is no single solution to the plastic problem but, unfortunately, correct waste management and recycling is not done everywhere, and consequences are for everyone. Context is key in determining how long it will take for proper measures to be implemented in each country, and our problem prevails even with new wonderful ideas.

Proposals are often criticized for having a low impact at a large scale:

“Many innovations and improvement efforts show potential, but to date these have proved to be too fragmented and uncoordinated to have impact at scale.” (WEC, 2016).

But such a complex issue that englobes economic context, education and even a legal framework towards companies and infrastructure cannot be solved with only one “large scale proposal” or many. It would be really hard to solve a multifactorial issue with few proposals given the different contexts. Multiple proposals have to work together to ensure we do not reach this future, meaning that we can implement solutions around our context: a million small steps that sum up to a single effort to reduce the plastic in our oceans.

It would be ideal to reduce plastic production, if our global economy followed a circular model, but in our country it is not done yet. Tthere has been some few movements and actions, for example a law passed from 2010 that prohibited the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags but only in the biggest (and capital) city of Mexico. The effort is applauded, however the law has some leakages…

1. Consideration on what they contemplate and classify as degradable (could be up to 100 years, for example, and the problem also revolves on how much damage that plastic could be doing to the marine ecosystems) and the use of oxo-degradable plastics which have the same carbon footprint as regular plastics and are not environmentally friendly, since they just break apart into smaller pieces (America Retail, 2013). But, in an official study made by the SEMARNAT (Governamental organization for the Environment and Natural Resources) and INE (National Ecology Institute), it was shown how HDPE with oxodegradable properties was actually contributing to the greenhouse gases emission by 24% more than non-oxodegradable production in Mexico(SEMARNAT, 2009). Lastly there is a chart that states that only 1.2% of recycled wastes are plastics (SEMARNAT, 2011).

2. What the plastic industry and associations contribute to the economy. The plastic industry in Mexico contributes to the 3% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). They generate jobs for at least 150,000 people…

(Expansión, 2010).

How our solution is compatible with solution key points extracted from both UN’s page and World Economic Forum:

Enforce and strengthen legislation to stop marine litter (UN, 2017).- Invest in research to develop non-toxic material (UN, 2017).- PHA is biodegradable: it is used by bacteria as carbon storage so producers can eat it under food deprivation conditions.

Circular economy (WEF, 2016) - Two main proposals: the first using a waste from Tequila production (Agave bagasse) as carbon source. Agronomy is another consideration since there is not just one type of Agave in Mexico, and other types are used for production of different beverages. Our project can be easily adapted to fit them as well, having more national reach...

Not using fossil fuels for the production of plastic (WEF, 2016): since the source of our bioplastic does not come from fossil fuels, the carbon footprint is drastically reduced.

It is important to know that our solution applies to our context but our production processes can be modified to suit necessities of other countries, e.g. sugar bagasse or other residual vegetal sources. The important thing to notice is that our process is more environmentally friendly in several stages (please check our environmental analysis).

Engage with local, national and/or international communities:

  • We engaged and formed a collaboration with CIATEJ (Jalisco’s Center for Research and Assistance in Technology and Design) for the IGEM project.

  • We’ve made several visits to Tequila industries in Jalisco to discuss our project and their main concerns within bagasse disposals. These includes El tequileño, Camarena, Saro, Tequilera El Olvido, and El triángulo, all national producers within our state.

  • We’ve attended the COP8MOP13 from the UN Biodiversity Conferences in Cancún, México where we formed Youth Biotech and our cluster for the PHAgave iGEM Team Tec GDA.

  • Youth Biotech, an international association that focuses on science communication, science regulation and science development. Under the science development track we founded the PHAgave project and we have been carrying out our public engagement activities through this platform since then.

  • We’ve hosted Science Communication events such as #SynbioLIVE in collaboration with ISGP’s The Forum and supported by Cornell Alliance for Science, which was an all live-online event for the general public which discussed synthetic biology as a technology, applications and applications/potential, all from a fact-science based approach with experts from Princeton University (such as Dr Michael Hetch), Imperial College (Dr Richard Kitney) and a discussion panel at ITESM, which included experts from CIATEJ (Jalisco’s Center for Research and Assistance in Technology and Design), AMEXBIO (The Mexican Biosafety Association) and Juan Enriquez Cabot participating via Google Hangouts.

  • We’ve also participated in Tecno X, a community formed to aboard technologically approached solutions to Latin American communities where we presented the importance of Science Communication and arranged a dynamic activity to exemplify what misconceptions and misleading information can do to the perception on a technology.

  • We’ve also gave a Science Communication and Critical Thinking after taking MOC from Cornell Alliance for Science in Brújula, a local event held for different workshops for Universities’ communities.

  • In Campus Party, a technology based event in Guadalajara, Jalisco, we gave a conference on the Ghosts of Biotechnology and how the context has changed from its existence to the current times and public perceptions as well as how we can clear misconceptions and push as a community biotechnological solutions to environmental and modern-day problems.

  • In collaboration with other mexican iGEM teams we’ve created an Elementary School Science Practices Manual with non-harmful experiments for kids in public Elementary Schools in Mexico. This to promote interest in science development and expose more children to the world of research and science from an early stage.

  • Please visit our Team History and our Education and Public Engagement pages

Develop new creative approaches

  • We’ve formed an international community known as Youth Biotech to promote science communication, science development and the participation of the scientific community in the creation of regulatory frameworks.


Milenio. Tequila, principal razón de extranjeros para visitar México (2017). Retrieved from:

El tequila, un regalo de México para el mundo, de 300 litros por minuto (2013). EFE Economía. El país. Retrieved from:

Ramos, J. (2017) IMPACTO DE LOS RESIDUOS DE LA INDUSTRIA TEQUILERA. Casa Sauza. Retrieved from:

Entra en vigor este jueves la ley que prohíbe el uso de bolsas de plástico (2010). Expansión. Retrieved from:

Judith L. Fridovich-Keil (2017) Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from:

Polyhydroxy Alkonates (PHAs) (2014). Bioplastics Information. Retreived from:

Greene,J (2012) PLA and PHA Biodegradation in the Marine Environment. California State University. Retrieved from:

Recycling facts MrcPolymers (n.d.) MRC polymers. Retrieved from:


Packaging in Germany (2015) Umweltbundesamt

Fredén, J. (2017). The Swedish Recycling Revolution. Swedish Institute. Sweden Sverige. Retrieved from:

Chow, L. These 5 Countries Account for 60% of Plastic Pollution in Oceans (2015). EcoWatch. Retrieved from:

Valdivia, M. (2013). La verdad de los plásticos oxo-biodegradables. America Retail. Retrieved from:

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, (19 January 2016) More Plastic than Fish in the Ocean by 2050: Report Offers Blueprint for Change

UN (2017). UN’s mission to keep plastics out of oceans and marine life. Retrieved from: OCEAN PLASTICS POLLUTION (n.d.) Center for Biological Diversity. Retrieved from:

Estudio comparativo de bolsas de plástico degradables versus convencionales mediante la herramienta de Análisis de Ciclo de Vida (2009) SEMARNAT Retrieved from:

Informe de residuos sólidos urbanos (2011). SEMARNAT. Retrieved from:

Monks, K. (2016). Un 'océano de plástico' está acabando con la vida marina en el Pacífico. CNN. Retrieved from: