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… Being Green

webcoverIt’s fairly safe to say that, on a government/official level, Guatemala has yet to fully embrace the environmental movement.

While people in other countries are faithfully separating their paper and plastic and driving it down to the recycling center in their hybrid SmartCars, your average Guatemalan is throwing every piece of available trash out of the window of a chicken bus that is belching more diesel fumes than a small power plant.

And while other countries regularly tighten approved-usage protocols for their protected areas, Guatemala seems to have no qualms about carving little chunks off of theirs, making a highway here, drilling for oil there or simply selling them off to the highest bidder.

But (and I guess you sensed there was a “but” coming), it’s not an entirely grim picture. The reality is that Guatemalans are some of the best recyclers around. Sure, there’s no municipal collection, but in a way there doesn’t need to be. Just as in your country (where hybrid cars got popular when gas prices went up, and reusable shopping bags got popular when supermarkets started charging for disposable ones), the level of “environmental care” shown by the populace is directly related to market forces. Shocking but true. The concern about leaving a better world for the grandkids is not quite as great as the desire to make a few Q.

Concrete examples? Well, I could take my newspaper to one of the recycling depots around town. But really… why bother? Every week a woman stops by my house and buys it from me for 25 centavos a pound. Who knows what she does with it, but there’s obviously money in it, so it gets recycled. Same thing with plastic, glass, metal, old car batteries – I’ve stopped worrying about this stuff because the moment I take it out to the curb on trash day there are people there looking through the trash bags who practically rip it out of my hands.

And if they somehow miss it, they have colleagues out at the dump, sifting through the piles looking for something to resell.

Then there are a whole set of gray areas. Yeah, chicken buses are nasty. But they move alot of people, too. Would it really be a better solution to have all those 70 passengers sitting in their own cars, even if they were all terribly fuel efficient, burning “clean” gas, etc, etc?

So anyway. That’s the legacy I’ll be leaving for my grandkids – a mound of trash on the curb and a couple of tons of diesel emissions.

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