Mexico City faces the chaos of garbage

Mexico City woke up confused on the morning of Saturday, July 8. It had not been the traffic, the latest political scandal, or football, but a new law of separation of garbage. Organic: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Recyclable and non-recyclable inorganic: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Voluminous: Sunday. New days of recollection and new divisions were established in a metropolis that had been accustomed to anarchy for decades: the one who wanted to separate, and the one who did not, simply disagreed. “The truth is very confusing, overnight they want you to do this and the other, but you go out into the street, and everything stays the same,” reproaches Ana María, a housewife.

Flyers, banners, TV commercials, videos on Youtube … the Government has upholstered the city to combat confusion. The workers of the public cleaning service recognize that within three weeks of the entry into force of norm 024 many doubts and resistances persist among the population. ” You ‘d think because it is a neighborhood well, the neighbors would separate the garbage, but not … quite the opposite, even angry if we ask, ” Samuel is sincere, driver of a garbage truck that covers the route in the Condesa neighborhood, One of the central areas of the capital.

– Do you respect the days of the organic and inorganic collection?

– Say yes and say no. If we do not get away with each other, the trash is thrown in the street, and it stinks. So, the truth, no.

“We are between the sword and the wall, we have to fight the people, and we do not really have what it takes to carry out this separation, but as it is obligatory, we have to find a way to fix it,” laments Jaime, A cleaner in the colony of the Valley. Jaime, who has been doing this for 17 years, rings the bell to warn that the truck has hit the streets.

There is a huge sack of recyclable materials from the vehicle you are driving, and for those who get money in return. The rest of his colleagues, all volunteers, open the bags and begin to separate (again) the garbage, although the citizen has respected the rule and classified the waste well. “We put the organic in the units of the sides [points], the cardboard and the plastic because they make a lot of lumps and all the inorganic here,” he explains. “To the smell, you get used to it.”

Garbage trucks usually have between three and five crew members, and in most cases, only one or two have a fixed salary, which does not exceed two minimum wages (around 100 pesos or five dollars), they say. The rest live off tips and recycling. On a good day every worker gets 200 pesos and in a bad one, less than 100 (between 11 and 5 dollars). “From there you have to pay for tickets, and if you fancy a cake [sandwich], you’re gone,” jokes Feliciano, who has been garbage for more than 40 years. Cleaners have separated the trash for years, not by public policy, but as a survival plan. “They tell us that it does not matter to them, that with organic and inorganic division they are enough,” says Olga,

There is also a significant backlog in infrastructure. Few public spaces have, for example, the three cubes of the new separation: green for organic, gray for recyclable inorganic and orange for non-recyclable. But the main obstacle, recognized by the workers and the authorities, are the trucks.

Elder Feliciano has circulated daily since 2000 and has no compartments for the basic separation between organic and inorganic, which was established since 2011. The same thing happens with Jaime and Samuel. “It had stopped investing in vehicles for several years, there were some from the seventies or eighties,” says Tanya Müller, secretary of the environment of the capital. Müller says that about 350 new trucks have been bought, of a vehicle park that is around 2,500.

The precarious conditions of the workers also open a field for corruption. “We have never received a report or a fine, although the people in the building where I work do not separate the garbage because the administration allocates a gratuity of 800 pesos ($ 40) a month to take it,” admits Roberto, A building in the Naples colony, south of the city. “That has been so before and after the new law,” he adds.

The situation becomes unsustainable when the focus of the problem is broadened. Mexico City generates 13,000 tons of garbage each day, enough to fill the Azteca Stadium, the largest in the country. Half of this waste is produced in homes, and almost 90% ended up in landfills, which implies an immense environmental liability and seriously affects the health of the surrounding communities, who do not even live in the capital. This is the challenge of meeting the needs of the cleaner service of the most populous megalopolis in Latin America.

Despite doubts, resistance and implementation problems, authorities are optimistic and have noticed a reduction of almost 2,000 tonnes of waste per day in landfills in the first weeks of the program. “We have to take the next step, although we know it is a process and it will take time,” says Müller.

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