Greening Mexico

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Downtown Recycling Campaign

Tepoztlan, Mexico — For decades Mexico’s beautiful rural countryside has been choked by plastic bottles and bags. Mexico has been slow to adopt municipal recycling programs because of the cost and lack of infrastructure. In one small town an hour south of Mexico City, however,  city leaders have started a recycling program to try and save money and help protect the environment.

The small town of Tepoztlan, population 33,000,  is fighting to keep it’s scenic mountains green and its waterways clear of plastic bottles and shopping bags.

Every weekend the population of the town nearly doubles with tourists visiting from nearby Mexico City. The trash generated by the growing city and its busy tourist trade brought the town’s landfill to the “brink of collapse in 2007″ said Efren Villamil Demesa, Tepoztlan’s mayor.

“We had to come up with a solution quickly because we were running out of room,” said Villamil. The town is nestled in a valley and surrounded by jagged mountains. “There wasn’t anywhere left to go,” he explained.

In 2007, the town started a recycling program. Villamil said the city has spent more than $4 million pesos (approximately $308,000 USD) from its treasury on the recycling program. They bought three trucks and designated a center for separating the trash to be recycled. The service is free, he said. The city has also invested at least $1 million pesos in educating the population about recycling.

“We’ve had people go door to door to show residents that they can recycle glass and plastic,” said the mayor. “The most difficult thing is convincing the older people to recycle because they are used to the old ways of just throwing the trash in a creek or river.”

Businesses that cater to tourists in Tepoztlan are also striving to be green. Norma Avedano, the manager of Cacao, a chocolate store, says her business only uses biodegradable to go containers. “The containers cost more but we are trying to make an effort to help the environment so it’s worth it,” she said. Avedano says her store also participates in the city’s recycling program.

Villamil said Tepoztlan and one other neighboring town are the only two cities in the entire state of Morelos that have recycling programs.  “So far we think it’s been a success,” he said. “We’ve reduced the amount of garbage going into the landfill by 40 percent.”

The millions of pesos generated by tourism are also on the line if Tepoztlan becomes another garbage strewn suburb of Mexico City. The world’s 3rd largest city of 23 million looms just on the other side of the scenic mountain peaks of Tepoztlan.

“We’re so close to Mexico City,” Villamil said. “So we are always reminded that we need to do all we can to protect the environment.”

Cacao Recycling

Norma Avedano, manager of a Tepoztlan cafe, says her business pays extra for biodegradable containers to help the environment.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.