Mexico City trash

We’re back from our trip to Mexico City! Did you miss me? Eric and I got together with Sally and Amy (and about 15 of their closest friends) for an exotic birthday party there. I hadn’t met many of them before but they’re mostly working artists of some form or another from New York city although one came from Belgium and another from Germany.

Knowing me as you do, you can expect some strange entries and photos. I’m not exactly sure why but I seemed to have taken a lot of pictures of garbage. Literally. In my opinion, garbage says a lot about a culture and Mexico City was less littered than I expected. Maybe I should save the garbage posting for last? Oh what the heck, I promise more good stuff is forthcoming. Here’s a public receptacle. The public waste holds are very small, saying much about a society with greatly reduced (although increasing) packaging loads. This can is similar in size to cans I’ve seen elsewhere in Latin America. In the US, we dispense with formality and use 50 gallon drums in public, reflecting our prolifigate natures. The thing that’s also striking about the photo below (and which I also saw elsewhere) was that citizens took pains to contain the overflow of waste. This photo was taken on a weekend so city services were understandably limited.

By the way, Mexico City proper has a population of over 8 million. The metropolitan area has 28 million so (in part) garbage collection is no mean feat. Below is a picture of a garbage truck, taken yesterday (Monday).

The workers were happy to have their pictures taken. Maybe they thought I was as weird as Eric (and maybe you) thinks I am. They were certainly happy cheerful workers. I don’t know what the economy of Mexico City is like but I was pleased to see prominently displayed “Help Wanted” signs in many shop windows and even on billboards.

What I thought was cool about this truck was that it was outfitted to handle recycling, albeit haphazardly. I don’t know what the drum contained, but the large canvas bag held plastic bottles. We’re still not recycling plastic in Las Cruces!

On one side of the truck were three bags, each containing waste products. The red contained cardboard. The yellow one, paper and the clear bag, aluminum. Since these three items can be redeemed for cash, I’m not surprised these were the smallest collection of recyclables.

Speaking of Mexico City, artists and trash, here’s a performance piece that I found epoxied to a window sill. A neighbor sitting on a nearby stoop said the resident was a “modern boy” who gives flute lessons. I’m guessing he thinks computing can be a sort of vermin? Nonetheless, this is funny and you can interpret it on so many levels.

Oh and speaking of sustainability, this feature from our hotel room is cool. You have to put your room key in a receptacle by the door or the lights won’t come on. What a great way to reduce unnecessary electrical usage! If the US is so advanced, I don’t know why we’re not doing this yet.

Maybe my next post will be about smoking. Everybody smokes in Mexico City, old garmentos would love it here.

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  1. mamafitz says:

    the card receptacle by the door has been around in mexico for a long time. i know we had to do it in Monterrey when my oldest was a baby, and he’ll be 12 in may.

  2. Grace says:

    I have used those hotel room key/light things before. Once was in Japan. But I could have sworn I used it someplace in the US once. Can’t recall where.

  3. /anne... says:

    We have a separate bin for recyclables, that gets emptied every fortnight. When I was a kid, the garbage truck had a hessian sack hanging off the back that they put bottles in.

    I don’t think I’ve stayed in a hotel room in Australia that _doesn’t_ have the card thing. The thing I hate about it is if the power points are connected to it, the fridge defrosts and you have to reset the alarm clock every time!

    (Australian hotel rooms ALWAYS have a fridge and tea/coffee making things)

  4. My hotel in Italy last summer had one of those card recepticals for electricity. Also, if you opened the patio door in your room, the air conditioner automatically shut off. How efficient!


  5. The rooms in singapore also have that card slot too. Compared to the wasteful US hotels where not only do you not have to return the plastic card but the last really fancy place I went ( celebrity hangout) gives you a velvet pouch to hold you keycard in ( which I did keep )

  6. Eric H says:

    The city was full of weird opposites in juxtaposition. Despite a complete lack of reverence for traffic controls (people frequently blew off red lights, I saw cyclists going down the street against traffic, every single car in the city has at least one dent in it, just look at the jerry-rigged ropes holding those recycling sacks on the back of those trucks, etc.), I saw a cop stop a car and make a sign for the passenger to put her seatbelt on. Talk about rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!

    Sure, there was relatively little litter, but Mexico City has to be the filthiest city I have ever been in, worse even than Paris or New York. I think it’s mostly a result of the smells caused by a combination of the poor quality fuel sold by Pemex (the national oil company), the omnipresence of cigarette smoke, and the “ammonia aroma” in public spaces. Yet within a few hundred feet from each of the worst concentrations of that smell we found art to buy and beautiful little outdoor cafes with great food and service.

  7. Lisa Bloodgood in Portland says:

    The traffic stuff reminds me of when I was in Istanbul in July ’05. No one obeyed the signs, lights, or painted lines. If the lines made 3 lanes, they made it 6. It was crazy, but I never felt unsafe. Since they all drive crazy, they all know how to avoid accidents. When we were trying to cross a busy street, my friend just put out her hand and all the cars stopped.

    Also, the taxis are all compact 4 door cars, just big enough to get 3 or 4 people in plus suitcases. No one ever wore seatbelts. I don’t even remember if the cars had any. At one point, one driver didn’t want to take 5 of us crammed in one taxi and wanted us to take 2 cars, but got in a huge argument with another driver who agreed to take us. Fare was really cheap, but more expensive at night. Across town was the equivalent of around $5.

  8. Jasmin says:

    Welcome back :-)
    The card thing is pretty standard in Australasia, along with notices to let you know if you would like to reduce water usage and re-use your towel, just hang it up, the staff only take it for laundering if you leave it on the floor for them.
    Local recycling here is weekly – we get a special bin, and you can buy additional bins for about $10 US and the recycle staff leave your stuff (like polystyrene packing) if it can’t be recycled or doesn’t fit the guidelines. Actually, our re-cycling pick up guys are great and take the overflow anyway :-)

  9. Tom says:

    Dear Kathleen,
    Your post was great fun. We live in Mexico city, we have for the past 5 years. My wife is from here. We greatly enjoy your book as we are in the manufacturing business.

    That post by Eric, is downright false. Filthier than NY??? Smellier than Paris??? He must not visit these cities often enough!! And Mexico City smelly because of Pemex. Seriously, get down with your roots. It’s ok, to like Mexico City, just like Kathleen does.

    Viva Mexico!
    Come visit, we have a lovely, clean, cosmopolitan, fun city!

    By the way, Kathleen, how was the fashion here? Did you visit any designer stores?

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