OP/ED: Wasted in the third world

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
February 25th, 2011

At a time when our local region is considering yet another step in the recycling program to divert organic waste from our landfills, it is interesting to juxtaposition our efforts to be environmentally friendly with that of other countries. Having just returned from a couple of much needed weeks of R & R in Mexico, it is easy to be disheartened by how little is being done elsewhere.  We work hard, at least in my household, to separate our recycling, compost our vegetable and fruit scraps, and reduce our waste.  Yet here we were in Mexico, throwing our beer bottles, cans and water bottles into the garbage. It was difficult to do.  This is not the first time that I have wondered just how much headway a small population of about 35 million can make when the rest of the world is cranking out the trash. With Canada’s population at only 30 percent of that of Mexico which sits at about 107 million (2009 World Bank indicators) one wonders how we can have an impact.  Mexico is not alone in its struggles for environmental change. A visit to India in 2002 had me literally coughing out black phlegm for three weeks on my return. The layers of pollution were extreme amid the beauty and wonderful cultural landscape of that country. So, too, a visit to New York City, images of which we are all so familiar, had me questioning our efforts when just within Manhattan, garbage collection is daily to keep up with the volumes.  Yet do we give up? I guess one needs to remind oneself of the old adage: “if you think you’re too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” Each of us has a role to play in our world’s environment and if we were to all give up, just imagine the state the earth would be in.  For North American urbanites, municipal recycling efforts, complete with coloured trash bins and mandatory separation of materials, have become run-of-the-mill.  Not so in Mexico City, where even up until 2007 residents have to listen for the bell of a garbage truck before they dash down flights of stairs, out the door and down to the street corner where an aging truck and its crew await.  With trash collection at this stage, recycling to reduce the country’s approximately 90,000 tons of waste produced per day – 12,000 tons of which come from Mexico City alone – seems a far-off goal.  But the pressure from other countries and the examples we set are critical to change in every country. Incentives for stronger Mexican environmental policies include the NAFTA treaty, its membership in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its trade relationships with the U.S. and Europe, according to a 2006 report by Maryland-based Raymond Communications.  Even in my time in India I visited a non-profit group introducing recycling and garbage separation as well as worm composting to their area. They were working with school children and teaching recycling in the schools – sound familiar?

For me, in the meantime, I’m not ready to check out and pretend what I do doesn’t matter. Staying involved is important to holding our world accountable for our actions and the impact of the same.  

Categories: Op/Ed