Tag Archives: environement

Recycling in Mexico:One Person’s Garbage is …

By Julie Etra

This is not a typical discussion of recycling of aluminum, PET containers, cardboard, paper, foam, plastic, etc. For the basics on that, you can look back at my 2014 article in The Eye:
(https://theeyehuatulco.com/2014/04/01/recycling-in-huatulco/). In Huatulco, recycling of these items by the Federal government via FONATUR is standard and in our neighborhood, Conejos, we get pick up three times a week (although the garbage is no longer sorted).

Used plastic bottles
Look around town and the surrounding communities and you will see all types of flowers and herbs grown in re-used bleach and detergent bottles. Instead of a clay cazuela, shattered in the June earthquake, I now have an indestructible sawed-off plastic bottle birdbath, thanks to my buddies Mick and Maggie (the kiskadees also thank you). Hold on to your 5-gallon paint buckets, there is no Home Depot here, and you won’t find empty buckets to purchase at the paint stores.

Corn
Let’s start with recycled corn components, primarily used in folk art. Corn husks, known as totomoxtle in Nahuatl and hojas de maíz in Spanish, husks are used in handicrafts and furniture. They primarily come from one region of the State of Jalisco, Jala, and from a particular variety of corn named for the location (maíz de Jala). This variety of corn is well-known for the large size of the stalk as well as the cob and is, or at least has been, genetically distinct. It can grow up to five meters in height and prefers a very fertile soil and humid climate. Common handicrafts include dolls, flowers, and furniture. Look for the flowers at the organic market (MOH, or Mercado Orgánico de Huatulco) on Saturday in Santa Cruz. A cooking tip: I like to leave the husks on the cobs, sprinkling them with a little bit of chili powder, tying the husks, and steaming them over the grill.

Multi-Media
My friend Irais says that, due to COVID, she is home-schooling her 5-year-old daughter Sofia. Their current school project is to fill in a drawing of “Adelita” using recycled and/or natural products to instill appreciation of both materials in young children. What a concept! Adelita represents the women soldiers who participated in the Mexican Revolution, typically shown with a bandolier (bandolera or cartuchera in Spanish) across her chest (there is also a famous song or corrido “La Adelita”). So, Sofia is using totomoxtle for the skirt and part of the sombrero, the seed of the tabachin or flamboyan (royal poinciana) tree for the bullets, beans for her toes, petals for her blouse, and corn silks for the braids. Her skin is colored with the native red clay; this is a work in progress. And for Día de los Muertos, the children were similarly tasked with making a mask out of natural materials. Sofia (and her mom) chose the petals of marigolds, known as cempasúchil in Spanish (cempohualxochitl in Nahuatl), the flower of the dead, a Mexican endemic, thus teaching the children horticulture while instilling traditions.

Coconuts
In between the outer green shell of the coconut fruit and its hard internal shell is found a fibrous husk. This material is used in a variety of common products, including door mats, hanging planters, paint brushes, mattresses, furniture stuffing. It is also used in horticulture. I work in erosion control, and this material, also known as coir, is woven into nettings, blankets, and mats to help stabilize erodible soils, in combination with vegetation. Coir is an excellent byproduct of coconut cultivation, where the primary products are the coconut meat, milk, and oil. Coir has historically been produced in India and Sri Lanka. More recently Mexico has begun processing this versatile material in Cihuatlán, Jalisco, as Fibredust™, a growth medium that can substitute for peat moss, which is an extracted, non-sustainable, environmentally harmful resource. The Fibredust™ parent company produces the same product in Sri Lanka and India, but chose Cihuatlán due to the abundance of plantations in the vicinity, and convenience of container shipping from the nearby port of Manzanillo. The material is superior as a growth medium due to its water retention and associated slow-release properties.

The coconut shell, or concha de coco, can be sanded, carved, and polished and used as ornamental bowls, light fixtures, inlay, jewelry, etc.

Palm fronds

Let’s not forget these. If they fall off or are harvested, they are what makes a palapa a palapa, after all!

Garbology

By Randy Jackson

My father-in-law was one of those people who liked garbage dumps for the treasures they held. There is a family photo of him in a suit, checking things out at a dump while on his way to his daughter’s wedding. Garbage dumps have changed somewhat over the years, but I’m sure there is still a lot of good stuff that ends up in a landfill.

There are mountains of stuff going to landfills every day. Mexico, according to Wikipedia, sends 95% of its waste to landfills. For Canada, it’s 72% and the US 54%. Too much, way too much, as we all know – but is there anything good about piles of garbage besides the odd treasure? Well, there is Garbology and Archeology, or what we can learn about ourselves and our society from studying garbage.

A. J. Weberman has been credited with the invention of the term “Garbology.” Weberman billed himself as the world’s leading Dylanologist (also his invented term). In his intense study of Bob Dylan and his music, Weberman collected and studied Dylan’s garbage and labeled the study Garbology. He claimed Dylan’s garbage revealed real insights into Dylan as a human being, an artist, and a family man. Weberman goes so far as to claim his work led to Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature. However, knowing that Bob Dylan once beat up Weberman on the streets of New York, I’m not sure that Dylan sees Weberman as being that influential.

Weberman, an odd eccentric even to this day, was onto something; You can learn a lot about someone from their garbage. The term Garbology has since been taken up by a Harvard-trained anthropologist, William Rathje (1945-2012). Rathje’s work led to Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage (Harper Collins 2001), co-authored with Cullen Murphy. The book is based on Rathje’s ongoing Garbage Project with the University of Arizona.

Rathje saw the Garbage Project as a combined study of archeology and sociology. A 1992 New York Times review of the book was aptly titled “We are what we throw away.” The review essentially expresses what Weberman said about going through Bob Dylan’s trash. One example cited in Rathje’s book was that of alcohol consumption. Rathje found that people drank 40% – 60% more alcohol than they reported they consumed. Among numerous other findings, Rathje found that people from poorer neighbourhoods more often choose smaller portions of name brand merchandise rather than larger quantities of the less expensive no-name or generic brands.

Rathje’s garbage project has also done some myth-busting about what is actually in landfills – substantially more recyclable paper than fast food containers, for example. His study also found that landfills are dry and oxygen-starved places that tend to mummify rather than biodegrade material. One way Rathje’s team dated material in landfills was simply to read the perfectly preserved newspapers buried at the level they were studying. To this day, the Garbage Project studies landfills across the US (in Toronto and Mexico City as well) going back to trash levels from the 1950’s. Even trash layers from past decades show that organic material is only partially biodegraded.

Archeologists and anthropologists go farther back in time in their study of trash sites. In these disciplines, trash sites are called “middens” (the word comes from the ancient Danish for “dung heap”). Midden later became the scientific word used for a kitchen mound or shell heap. Middens are the cornerstones of how archeologists and anthropologists piece together their knowledge of ancient peoples.

As an example, at Yucu Dzaa, a late postclassic (ca. 12th to early 16th centuries) Mixtec capital on the coast of Oaxaca, excavations of middens revealed numerous aspects of cultural life including levels of prosperity between households – indicating socio economic classes. Materials from other parts of Mexico indicate distant trading. Non self-sufficiency in food preparation indicates existence of local markets for goods.

Worldwide, ancient trash heaps have been central in our understanding of our history. The East Chisenbury midden, for example, provided information on the transition between the Bronze and Iron ages in England. Ancient middens in Japan have demonstrated evidence of extensive trade networks. In Egypt, at a place called Oxyrhynchus, a substantial midden contained large quantities of papyrus texts. This site held so much important information that scholars have commented that this midden would have been comparable to finding the ancient library of Alexandria. Among the many texts excavated at Oxyrhynchus was the gospel of St Thomas, discovered in 1945.

One thing they don’t tell you at the dealership when you buy a pickup truck, is that you will be hauling something to the dump (just as surely as you will be moving someone’s couch with it). As a truck owner, I’ve learned that modern landfills are dramatic places to visit. There are swirling flocks of crying gulls or, as in Huatulco, charging troupes of zopilotes (vultures). Monster machines roam at high speeds with huge iron wheels crushing everything in their wake. There is a tapestry of colors from all manner of things discarded. And there’s that acrid smell. It’s that smell and the rush of the crushing machines, I think, that seems to evoke haste among us trash deliverers. I’ve always felt in a rush to empty out the back of the truck as quickly as possible, jump in the cab, and speed off – thus leaving behind some of the evidence of our lives for garbologists or archeologists to study one day – no time to look for treasures, as my father-in-law would have done.