“Has anything happened while I was away?” I asked Mauricio. I’d had less than three hours sleep on an overnight flight, and really wasn’t interested in much beyond getting a caffeine hit before I fell asleep (and I do mean fell) in Buenos Tiempos cafe. But it was a simple question to keep a conversation going.
“It’s Tepoztlan,” he replied. “Nothing happens here.”
Ah, how wrong he was. We have smart new garbage cans all over the centre of the town!
Our sexy new black-and-white garbage bins.
Garbage has been a fascination of mine for years, since, as editor of a magazine for the plastics industry, I became involved in recycling initiatives and efforts to reduce solid waste. Not that I think it did much good, because people want either to ban packaging they dislike (which is about all of it), or refuse to believe that recapturing waste streams is complicated and costly.
A frequent question was, “Couldn’t we just use one type of plastic for everything?” Don’t you think that if we could, we would have done?
But if your fish is off, or your cheese looks mouldy, your high-mindedness disappears in 2.5 milliseconds. Packaging must first be designed to protect the food, before it’s designed for reprocessing.
In many countries, people don’t always grasp the connection between tossing a pop bottle or a chip bag into a ditch, and what ends up in the ocean. This attitude is shifting only slowly. The sight of garbage lying in a barranca, waiting for heavy rains to wash it into a stream, has always saddened me in this country, because it’s so common. There is a recycling truck that comes by my house every Wednesday, and the zocalo in the centre of town has a special rack for recyclable waste, but that’s been abandoned for years.
The fading signage says vidrio (glass), papel (paper) and metal. But no-one services this thing.
So, new garbage bins, with clear black and white lettering, got me excited. I don’t know what provision has been made for regular collection and maintenance, and they aren’t that huge, but they made my day.
Persuading people to sort their garbage for re-use is tough – I once nearly got in a fist-fight with a Toronto construction worker who was dumping fluorescent light-tubes in with glass bottles; the two types of glass are non-miscible (won’t mix), and if the batch gets contaminated, it’s all thrown out, because sorting the different items and fragments would cost a fortune. But with a basic garbage can, at least the waste is caught before it finds its way to a gutter, or one of the small streams that run down through town.
Tepoztlan gets thousands of visitors on most weekends, so they generate a lot of garbage. I realise the bins are very non-traditional-looking, and few other people will appreciate my enthusiasm. But they made my day, and while Mauricio doesn’t share my excitement, he at least gets my point.