Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Speak Zapotec

I've been on some adventures as I have tried to meet the goals of my new year's resolution to live more green.

The complete switch to cloth napkins and rags was nothing. They really work better and look better than their paper versions, anyway.

Recycling issues are another thing. There is no curbside recycling in Oaxaca. In fact, garbage is a whole different ballgame here. You do not leave cans out on the street for pickup. Instead, you wait for the lovely tinkle of a bell or, in our neighborhood, the blasting behemoth of a horn. Then, everyone in the vicinity runs out, most often holding old burlap dog food bags or buckets rather than full-on trash cans. They converge at the truck in one of those classic Mexican non-lines that everyone understands the logic of, except me. Some people pass folded cardboard boxes or bags filled with plastic bottles to the collectors, who sometimes hang it on the side of the truck and sometimes throw it into the back with the garbage. So that does not look like recycling to me.

I noticed that at the Casa de Cultura, a government building where the kids take art classes, signs about the environment. Soon, some receptacles showed up, labeled cardboard, plastic and tin. No one seems to use them. I started clearing out our kitchen cupboards so I could bring a load of recycling down. I sorted it all out and stuffed my things into the bins according to instructions. But, for some reason, I wonder...will they get recycled?

Which brings me to the great epiphany. I've begun asking the people at the street markets who sell yogurt, honey, juice and other liquid things if they want containers. Now, when I load my shopping bag with biodegradable plastic produce bags, I also pack in containers and lids of all sizes so I can give or return them to the various vendors. This act feels more powerful than the other green things I have done this year. It's only the cost of my time walking to the market, and it gives them something they need for free. It uses no energy, like recycling does, and it gets me embroiled in many conversations and situations with the vendors. I'm looking forward to trying to give back my honey container to the old woman in front of my neighborhood park who only speaks Zapotec and seems very suspicious of me. It's the re-use part of this cycle that's proving the most entertaining.

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