09 October 2007


Irapuato, the city in Mexico where I live, is a city of approximately one half million people. It seems much smaller than that because it is very compact and the majority of the population don't earn enough to own an automobile. They either walk or take a bus or taxi or ride a bicycle. Nevertheless, the city generates about four hundred tons of trash per day from all sources. That is about a pound and a half of trash per day per person. About forty tons of that four hundred tons consists of recyclable material of all types but mainly cardboard, paper, aluminum, and plastic. Of that forty tons per day of recyclable material, about four tons per day or 10 percent consists of plastic containers. Some of this material is High Density Polyethylene or HDPE which comes from things like plastic milk bottles but a large part of the recyclable plastic is what normal people call "PET". Why? Because only nerds like me can remember "Poly Ethylene Terephthalate". Most clear plastic bottles such as soft drink bottles are made from PET. In order to help reduce its land fill requirements and also to let the poor earn some type of living the City of Irapuato lets people pick recyclables from the land fill. The trash pickers are called "pepenadores". The word “pepenador” means “gleaner” or “scavenger”. Some people collect paper, some collect cardboard, some collect aluminum, and some collect PET. The work is very competitive. When the trash trucks arrive the pepenadores climb all over the trash like vultures poking and picking through it like they are looking for treasure.

At the present time the scrap dealers are paying one peso per kilo (2.2 pounds) for PET and 58 of the popular 600ml (20oz.) soft drink bottles weigh one kilo. So, in order to earn the equivalent of three U.S. dollars per DAY from collecting plastic bottles they need to collect about 2000 bottles. This is very difficult because there are so many pepenadores. It is even worse in Guatemala where there might be one thousand people living at the trash dump in huts made of cardboard and plastic and little children scramble for trash right alongside their elders. It is my understanding that Mexico City has about 15,000 pepenadores in total. They live in little neighborhoods of huts that surround the dumps. People are born, live, have children and grandchildren, and then die as pepenadores.

Now, here is the kicker! What happens to the PET that the pepenadores collect? It goes to China where they turn it into polyester cloth and also use it to make the fill for many insulated winter coats and jackets and to make carpets and other stuff that you (and me) buy at Walmart. Some of the people who pick plastic bottles fr
om the trash in Mexico formerly made huaraches for a living. Huaraches are sandals made of leather that have a piece of tire tread for a sole. I have a pair and they are very comfortable. They cost about 50 pesos ($4.50) per pair. People don't make them very much any more, however, because they can't sell them. Why not? Because the shops are flooded with cheap plastic sandals that come from China and cost only half as much. And where does the plastic come from to make the sandals? You guessed it! It comes from the plastic bottles that the Mexicans and the Guatemalans collect from the trash dumps. What a nightmare!

In all fairness to other poor people in the world, there are millions of people in Africa, China, and India who would give anything to be able to pick trash in the Irapuato trash dump. It would be a big leap forward for them. Millions and millions of people in live on about one dollar a day or LESS. They don't need millions of dollars to be comfortable and happy either. They could do very well for themselves with just a little practical help and something to hope for. I remember the old political slogan, "A chicken in every pot". For people who live on nothing more than tortillas, beans, and chili peppers, even a scrawny chicken would seem like Thanksgiving dinner. Trashpicking...it’s a sorry business. That’s about all I can say except…"there but for the grace of God go I".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mexico Bob,

I ran accross youur blog from your comments at Spanish Sense.

You have many excellent comments there and your blog is quite good also.

I too am from Chicago, but born in Macomb, Il. I have been living in Guadalajara since December of '99, and loving it.

Keep up the good work,

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.