Environmental Challenges for Mexico - Part 2

by Regina Burdett

Compressor truck

Compressor truck

The Status Quo

Responsible waste management is just part of the big picture—to protect the environment—and, sadly, Padilla and like-minded advocates have seen reluctance to change by industry and government.

From state governors down to municipal leaders, the majority know nothing about the science of environmental protection and the significance of pollution. Their attitude is one of indifference and most have either opposed or put obstacles in the way of taking concrete steps to improve the environment, and that, of course, includes solving the so far unsolvable problem of BASURA.

In the city where Padilla resides, it was the residents—not the public sector—who created their own recycling collection center and to-date, they continue to successfully operate it autonomously.

As far as the sanitary waste deposit is concerned, the local authorities did set one up and it is still being used. However, because it violates code 083, it is, in effect, a health hazard!

RB: In your opinion, why isn’t the appropriate action being taken to protect Mexico’s resources and provide a better quality of life for its people.

CPM: We need public leaders that are elected to office because they’re capable, knowledgeable and honest, not because of the enormous amounts of money spent on political campaigns to gain votes at the ballot box.

Facilitating Change

As activists often do, Padilla and others have even done the hard work for the authorities and drawn up model by-laws based on years of studies and proven results.

The waste management service blueprint for townships to apply to their particular district is the result of four forums held from 1990 to 1992 and the consensus of opinions given by non-government organizations and people interested in environmental issues.

Recommendations for local officials to gain citizen support are also laid out separately and include some of the following.
  • education programs in schools and in the mass media
  • advising that basura will not be picked up unless it is separated into three group categories
  • six months into the education/awareness program, citizens will be charged for this service, according to volume, the same way they are charged for electricity and water consumption.
  • people caught throwing basura will be fined and required to do three days of community service, namely, picking up the trash that others have tossed.
  • there will be no bins in public areas, the only exception being sanitary refuse left in public toilets.
RB: Are there any other means available for carrying out this awareness program?

CPM: Change comes about by setting an example in the home. Children first learn from their parents and replicate what they do. And, learning at an early age is really the optimum time.

Packaging Norms

Back in 1987, these same environmentalists asked Mexico’s Secretary for the Environment to introduce packaging standards with a view to saving resources. They were treated rudely, with contempt and total indifference. As a result, they realized—again—that the only way to move forward was to create a blueprint themselves. They did so and in 1994, presented a carefully prepared document which, to this very day, has never been taken into consideration and was, most likely, left in some drawer, of some desk, in some bureaucrat’s office.

Mexico, the Country

Mexico must act now to reduce the amount of solid waste it generates and this means complying with Agenda 21 and the Rio de Janeiro Accord signed by Mexico and other nations in 1992 during the Earth Summit, an abbreviated name for the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

Agenda 21 sought to provide the framework of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally by organizations of the UN, governments, and major groups. The Rio Declaration established 27 principles intended to guide sustainable development around the world.

The ones of particular relevance to this article deal with a State’s obligations.
  • to protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth's ecosystem
  • to facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information on environmental issues widely available
  • to enact effective environmental legislation
  • that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation
  • that indigenous communities have a vital role in environmental management and their knowledge and traditional practices should be recognized and duly supported to enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development
RB: You have already said that Mexico isn’t doing enough. However, there must be other countries that signed the Accord that aren’t sufficiently committed to complying. Maybe your criticism is too harsh. How do you respond to that?

CPM: Now that you ask, I would mention the USA, which is the world’s number one producer of solid waste. It just looks cleaner than other countries like Mexico, where you can see it everywhere.

Mexico - The Stats

In Spanish it is known as “el Valle de México,” an area with a radius of 50 km from the Angel, or Independence Monument, located in the heart of Mexico City. Experts like Padilla state that this entire area reached its maximum growth limit back in the 50s, yet no-one has attempted to put a halt to its expansion. Currently, this part of Mexico produces around 3 million cubic meters of solid waste every month.

Mexico has a population of 110 million, a total area of 2 million sq km. (the USA has around 9.6 million sq km) and the entire country produces 10 million cubic meters of solid waste monthly.

RB: Do you have projections for population growth and solid waste increase for the next 20 years?

CPM: In 20 years’ time, Mexico will have around 120 million inhabitants. However, due to growing awareness, the production of solid waste is not expected to increase.

A Family Business - Perfiles Plásticos

In addition to the work done by Padilla described above, he also deserves credit for branching out with something different, although related, but totally tangible.

He invented, and subsequently patented, a process to take previously used high density plastic and convert it into a substance that is a wood substitute. In 1995, he launched Perfiles Plásticos, now run by his son, that manufactures a wide variety of articles such as shelving, furniture for schools and factories, outdoor shelters for picnic areas, counter tops, and so on. Padilla claims that for every ton of recycled plastic used, 20 trees are saved!

The plastic is of varying thickness and degree of resistance, no polishing is needed, it is weatherproof, waterproof, does not splinter or rust, is hygienic, and can tolerate considerable weight. It comes in a range of colors, can be cut to size, as well as be nailed and screwed and, unlike wood, no paint or chemicals need be applied to the surface.

The company has a full-time staff of five and uses contract workers for tasks not handled in-house.

You can check out their web site by going to www.perfilesplasticos.com.mx

A Certain Irony

It’s interesting to point out that Padilla does not charge a fee for giving a talk or preparing reports and recommendations but is reimbursed for travel expenses when he accepts an invitation to visit another region.

And, it may seem ironic to you as it does me that he has received a number of environmental awards from the very governments that have done so little to institute change for everyone’s benefit.

On To Part 3

Please stay with us and go to part 3 for a look at Grupedsac’s involvement, a one-year wonder, and more on what Mexico’s government isn’t doing.

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