Global Observer

Weighing what trash is worth at Mexico City 'Bartering Market'

Weighing what trash is worth at Mexico City 'Bartering Market'

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MEXICO CITY -- A new "Bartering Market" lets residents trade recyclable trash for fresh food in an effort to promote recycling in a city that tosses 13,000 tons of garbage daily.

MEXICO CITY – Sunday morning brings swarms of people to Chapultepec Park to walk, run, bike or just meander among the trees and the vendors of snacks and sweets.

But this Sunday brought crowds carrying as much recyclable garbage as they could haul in two hands.

Mexico City launched its first monthly "Bartering Market" in which residents can trade recyclables for fresh food, homemade goods and plants.

People handed over their bags of glass, paper and plastics to volunteers in white T-shirts and orange aprons who weighed the bundles. Shoppers received a ticket with the weight of their recyclables, proceeded to a checkout counter where another set of volunteers handed over 20-, 10- and 1-point "bills" to be spent at the open-air market.

I showed up with a bagful of newspapers, some plastic yogurt containers and a few beer bottles I had saved, plus three cardboard boxes I found on the side of the road on my walk over. The plastic was the wrong type and was duly rejected; everything else weighed in at just over six kilos. That earned me 34 points – which I soon discovered wouldn't go far among the stands selling leafy greens, cheese, herbs and houseplants.

The market is something of a marketing gimmick in a city that is pushing hard to get residents to recycle. Mexico City churns out some 13,000 tons of trash daily, and the city has stepped up its campaign to get residents to separate trash into two categories: organic and inorganic, making it easier for trash collectors and workers on site at landfills to separate out the recyclables.

Pablo Saldaña, a city worker, brought his two daughters and wife to the Bartering Market with eight kilos of glass and eight kilos of cardboard. The idea piqued his interest, he said. His family came away with a plant, some lettuce, mushrooms and green onions.

Rosa Fajardo and her daughter, Itzel Patricio, traded 15 kilos of recyclable material for four houseplants and two rounds of cheese.

"She has always like to save things and recycle," Fajardo said of her daughter. "She doesn't like to pollute."

With my reusable grocery bag in hand, I checked the prices – in points – of cauliflower, Swiss chard, cilantro, spinach, mushrooms. The 20 or so vendors had been paid by the city in advance for their produce, harvested in the few areas of the capital that remain agricultural: Xochimilco, Tláhuac and Milpa Alta.

Somewhat limited by the bills I had been accorded, I settled on a large bouquet of dark green Swiss chard and two handfuls of cilantro and left the market with a certain satisfaction for having bartered trash for food.

Photos: Lauren Villagran

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Lauren Villagran

Correspondent (Mexico City)

Lauren Villagran has written for the Associated Press, Dallas Morning News and Christian Science Monitor. She holds a degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure