Environmental Challenges for Mexico - Part 3

by Regina Burdett

A short-lived success story, a 1-year wonder and reinventing the wheel

A short-lived success story, a 1-year wonder and reinventing the wheel

Huixquilucan, an Encouraging Start

Huixquilucan is a town and municipality in Mexico State. It lies adjacent to the west side of the Federal District, part of Greater Mexico City, but is independent of it. It is also where Grupedsac (Group to Promote Education and Sustainable Development) has its administrative offices and rural training center.

In June of 1998, the town introduced its Recycling Program which mandated the separation of all solid waste into four categories, following a fixed schedule of daily and monthly pick ups. And, if it was not separated, then it would not be picked up at all.

One month later, mandatory separation was introduced into 17 suburbs. At that time 80 tons of solid waste were being produced every day, and 95% of its citizens of its 15,000 households were reported to be cooperating with this new program.

Its initial success was due to the fact that Grupedsac’s founder, Margarita Barney Almeida, and Carlos Padilla Massieu worked jointly to hold a number of orientation sessions for residents explaining how this initiative would work and the benefits their community would derive from it.

This was an encouraging beginning that could have become a turning point for the region, and even the nation. Sadly, it only had a duration of 12 months and to ascertain why, I asked Barney.

RB: You were off to what looked like an encouraging start. What happened to change that?

MBA: Well, one municipal president supported the initiative during the final 12 months of his three-year tenure. However, the person who succeeded him dropped the program and despite numerous efforts to get it reintroduced, the authorities remained indifferent.

Barney points out that back then, the government of Mexico State had also drawn up a plan to establish nine specially controlled sites for sanitary waste in different parts of the state. That, however, never came to fruition, and still hasn’t, even to this very day.

Citizen Enthusiasm Turns to Apathy

When the local government withdrew its support of the program, the local population was disappointed and gradually the initial enthusiasm dwindled to apathy, matching the indifference of their elected public officials to protect their environment.

Collection Center Ceases

It was disconcerting to hear that Grupedsac was unable to maintain its collection center in Tecamachalco for recycling waste for longer than seven years. This is where the non-profit has its administrative office and is a predominantly affluent neighborhood just outside the Federal District city limits.

RB: Why did you have to cease this operation?

MBA: Basically, we ran out of funds for this particular aspect of our work. In addition, it was hard to find a recycler willing to come to us and pick up the materials and, financially, we were not in a position to acquire a truck and have it delivered. So, we had no choice but to close the center.

Sadly, no business or individual has since stepped in to assist and fill the gap.

Wake Up, Mr. President!

Some might say that ignoring the problems created by solid waste and its disposal is irresponsible enough. But when solutions are proposed, put into effect and then abandoned, it is even more so.

With a lack of transparency, we are all left guessing why this is so since explanations are never forthcoming.

For 71 years, one party had dominated Mexican politics, the PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party. Then, in 2000 Vicente Fox of the PAN, or National Action Party, won the presidential election. When his six-year term concluded, PAN candidate Felipe Calderón took office. And, now the PRI is back in power under the leadership of the former governor of the State of Mexico, Enrique Peña.

RB: On a Federal level, in the last 15 years, what exactly has Mexico’s government accomplished with regard to this topic?

MBA: Under President Fox there was an initiative called “Mexico Limpio,” or “A Clean Mexico.” It was an idea that never got past the investigative phase. President Calderón did very little. About three or four years ago, the government of Mexico’s Federal District introduced a law that mandated separating waste but that law has never been enforced.
In some municipalities, very few, residents do separate organic and inorganic waste, but they are not obligated to do so.
I did hear of a former Mexico State politician who started a program to convert organic waste into compost, in Toluca, I believe, but I don’t know if this is still in effect.

Reinventing the Wheel

While writing this, it has just been announced that Mexico City’s Mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera, will make waste separation mandatory, into five categories, not just organic and inorganic, which is how it is meant to be done now. But it won’t go into effect until the end of 2015.

We have also heard that some administrators of apartment buildings have been setting their own rules concerning separation and collection. Most confusing for residents.

The lack of a coordinated effort is evident. Barney commented that in many neighborhoods, people are supposed to separate organic from inorganic but just don’t bother, yet the collection service still picks it up. So, how people will manage to successfully separate into five groups, is anybody’s guess!

Some Stats to Contemplate

  • Mexico generates around 20 million tons of waste every year, more than the total amount of corn it produces.

  • 20 million tons amounts to 60 million cubic meters of uncompacted waste.

  • Approximately one-third of the total comes from Mexico City’s Greater Metropolitan Area.

  • One-tenth of the total is tossed in the streets, empty lots, drains, public parks, hillsides, rivers, lakes and oceans.

  • We do not yet have stats on the number of inhabitants who do not separate and recycle, but it is…HUGE!

Source: Manual del Manejo de la Basura,
Editorial Trillas, Reprint 2010.

Coming Soon

For our next topic I’ll be discussing Grupedsac’s two eco-technologies training centers where they teach the poorest, most deprived Mexicans living in rural areas how to become self-sufficient. Not only that, thanks to the Kellogg Foundation, they train people from other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to replicate these technologies back home.

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