Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Farewell to recycling

When we moved to the ranch about seven years ago we took to recycling with the fervor of tree-huggers from Portland, San Francisco or Vancouver.

Of course, we set up a three-bin compost pile. And we also began to separate aluminum, cardboard, plastic, regular metal cans, and glass, which we took to a recycling center on the way to San Miguel. We even packed the segregated materials in used twenty-five-kilo bags of dog food to give that plastic an extra go-around.

Sit on my couch and let's talk about it. 
But hold your admiring ahhs and applause: Other than composting, which we use in our vegetable garden, we've giving up on recycling. Adiós.

Truth is that it hardly generated any cash for Félix, who used to take the stuff to recycling center. Last trip to the recycling center with a car full recyclables barely paid three dollars. Glass and cardboard in particular are nearly worthless.

Most of all, recycling in this corner of Mexico is a dispiriting Sisyphean boondoggle. Rather than making us feel like honorary Vancouverites or Californians, it left us feeling like a pair of old fools.

To appreciate the futility of it all you only need to drive on the Carretera a Jalpa, about a kilometer away from our place.

It could well be renamed El Boulevard de la Basura, bordered as it is on both sides not with just an occasional empty beer can or plastic soda bottle, but with an ever growing allée of all sorts of debris, including bags of household garbage, construction rubble, discarded televisions sets, tires, a decommissioned toilet, and even an abandoned couch, in case someone wants to sit and take in the view. Making the optics more depressing is that the road has been freshly paved and striped and equipped with shiny new traffic signs.

More scandalous is the overflow from the burgeoning municipal garbage dump encroaching on the highway that welcomes tourists to San Miguel from Querétaro and Mexico City. Why won't these fly-dumpers (as they used to be called in Chicago) drive a few extra meters and deposit the garbage in the dump, where there is a giant hole waiting for it? And why does the city allow this, the Municipal Office Building being located within clear sight of the dump? It's all a mystery.

Welcome to San Miguel (Municipal Building in the background)
Several years ago, shortly after our arrival and still innocent about the waste-disposal traditions of Mexico, we actually hired a couple of guys and gave them plastic bags to collect the trash on the five kilometers of Jalpa Road between our house and the main highway to San Miguel. We figured that unemployed guys who needed money and trash lying around were a good match.

But when I announced our intentions, their facial expressions hinted at the true nature of the problem: They thought we were nuts to worry about, much less hire someone, to pick up the trash along the road. Why would anyone worry about that except gringos with too much money and not enough sense? Doubts  aside, they went out and did it.

But the accumulation of roadside trash, if anything, resumed with renewed vigor. The obvious truth is that folks around here are not bothered by the sight of their villages—where they live—being surrounded by trash.

Being neither a sociologist nor a garbologist I have no definitive explanation for this indifference, but I'll take a stab at it.

Pit stop. 
Buckets of ink have been spent rhapsodizing about Mexicans' love of their homes and families. Indeed if you walk around San Miguel early in the morning you will see women armed with brooms and buckets of water meticulously scrubbing the sidewalks and curbs immediately outside their homes—but not an inch farther on either side.

There could be overturned bins of garbage just on the other side of the property line and no one will bother to pick it up. A community clean-up campaign would be considered as bizarre as a parade of people dressed  up in lederhosen.

That daily vignette, in addition to the continuing rain of garbage that falls on the land and roads around our ranch, suggests a lack of civic concern for the larger space outside their immediate homes and families.

It may be directly related to poverty and hardly unique to Mexico. I've seen the same thing in Latin American countries I've visited and in inner city neighborhoods in the U.S.

Maybe when you're poor clean streets are the last thing you worry about. Or perhaps it's a function of the sense of alienation rural Mexicans feel from the larger project called the country of Mexico.

Compared that to the new fitness craze Swedes have developed called "plogging". Who said Scandinavians don't have a sense of humor?

Hear this: Swedish joggers have taken to carrying plastic bags and picking up bits of debris along their routes. They are said to be concerned about "saving the planet" or some such loony behavior.

Maybe the Swedes indeed have too much money and don't know what to do with their time. Whatever it is, don't wait for that fad to catch on in Mexico.

Without realizing it, Stew and I were plogging around before the Swedes. We've taken garbage bags along our walks on the countryside around our house to collect empty plastic soda bottles. Our job is that much easier because we tend to walk or amble along rather than jog, never mind attempt anything as accelerated as a hundred-yard dash.

But our clean-ups only seem to make room for more trash and empty bottles, so we've abandoned them. Our frustration was compounded by the occasional passerby looking at us quizzically as if we were Martians collecting flying saucer fuel for the trip home.

Just outside our gate, we've set up a little test for Félix, which he has failed. One of those ubiquitous  two-liter plastic Coke bottles lies on the road beyond, waiting to be collected. We've waited for a few weeks and I'm sure it hasn't even occurred to him to bend down, pick it up and put in one of our trash cans.
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