Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Bolsas, bottles, and mangos
My trip to Mexico was by no means "eco-friendly". I took a variety of planes, buses, cars, vans, boats, and taxis to get to and around the rainforest and ruins of Chiapas. Travel is becoming increasingly recognized as a huge contributor to global warming, for obvious reasons. And I'm sure this is what people say about their Hummers, but damnit, traveling makes me happy like nothing else. Visiting other cultures invigorates me, rejuvenates me, and enriches my perspective on the world. Isn't that important? If I'm good the rest of the year, can I please keep my one international trip a year? Please?! As much as I've been skeptical about carbon offsetting--(I'm still not convinced it does much more than assuage guilt about our privileged lifestyles--please, someone convince me that it's worth it!)--I'm going to look into it to, well, assuage my guilt about my travel pollution. The other thing I have to come clean about is that for the first time since October, I drank out of plastic water bottles. Unfortunately, there was really no other choice. We had no means to boil our water and I'm not sure if it would have been wise to drink iodine-enriched water all week long. But a couple of the places I stayed had water available for tourists, so I was able to refill my bottles several times. OK, now on to the good news. While I was feeling travelers' guilt, I was simultaneously heartened to see some local practices that we could learn a thing or two from. Mexico gets it right in a lot of ways. For your consideration:
THEY USE COMPACT FLUORESCENT LIGHTBULBS
Lots of them. I would constantly look up and see them in hotels, bathrooms, and in the most random places, like this fruit stand near a popular waterfall. That's my traveling companera Lori eating a glorious Mexican mango. Why is CFL usage so widespread down south? Because they last longer and undoubtedly save much-needed dinero. It just makes sense!
THEY HANG-DRY THEIR CLOTHES
Clothes dryers are extremely rare in Mexico, as in other countries. In fact, even well off families hang-dry their clothes. It's so much fresher and adds some color to the backyard.
THEY RETURN BEER BOTTLES TO GET REFILLED
This is a huge one. The bottles don't get recycled, they actually get REFILLED (yes, after extensive sterilization). Refilling beverage containers used to be a common practice in our country too (more on this soon), and still exists in other countries out of economic necessity. People place a deposit on the bottles at purchase, and must return the bottle to not lose the deposit. This exists in some states in the U.S., but none that I've ever lived in...Gee, when I think of fall the beer bottles, over all the years...I would feel better about my own amount of imbibing knowing they had been reused again and again, wouldn't you?
THEY SEPARATE THEIR TRASH
I saw this all over--trash separated into "organic" and "inorganic" or paper and plastic. Presumably they compost the organic matter (food and paper), instead of sending it to a landfill. I'm going to look into this further to see what this program is all about. That's the remains of a mango going into the organic side of an airport trash bin. (BTW, that wasn't even my last mango before leaving the country. I actually cut one open right on my tray table before we landed in L.A. The flight attendants thought I was a crazy person).
THEY BRING THEIR OWN BAGS
Perhaps my strongest memory of visiting Mexico as a child is of women carrying their colorful bolsas at the markets. And while I did notice a plastic ubiquity encroaching on the country this time, I was relieved to see that reusable bags are still alive and well. Women visit the market every morning, and fill their bolsas with some of the freshest produce in the world. The platanitos, nopales, and yes, mangos definitely wouldn't deign to rub skin with plastic.
Are any of these practices a huge inconvenience on people's lives? Would any of them catapult us back to the dark ages? I don't think so.