Pi Attitude Zone: Ethics & Altruism

Turning Rubbish Into Salad

Mexico City came late to the notion of recycling its rubbish. 

Taking out the trash used to mean thirteen thousand evil-smelling tonnes a day being carted to a rubbish-dump the size of 450 football pitches.  Eventually the city closed down the landfill site, and told citizens they were going to have to learn that, far from “rubbish being rubbish”, it was in fact a recycling opportunity, and that city ordinances required them to separate out their waste. 

Then a clever carrot was introduced to accompany the stick of legal threats.  A monthly market was set up in Mexico City’s historic Chapultepec Park, where trash like glass, plastic, paper and old tin cans could now be exchanged for tokens with which to buy locally-grown vegetables, fruit and flowers.  Consumers flocked to the park, delighted to be getting something for nothing, and at the same time enjoying the warm feeling that they were taking action to better the environment. 

Farmers working among the “chinampas” of Xochimilco (the island-and-waterway “floating garden” network to the South of the Mexico City) were delighted with the resultant boost to their employment.  Recycling enterprises found themselves getting subsidized materials more easily.  And the city air already smells a little sweeter. 

The project was not designed to break even financially, since the resale value of the recovered waste materials is less than half the cost of the fresh produce being exchanged for it.  But what does that matter?  The point was not to make money but to save a little on trash disposal costs, and, crucially, to change Mexicans’ cynical and dismissive cultural attitudes to recycling. 

An inspired consumer insight really can “bear fruit”, it seems.

Zone: Ethics & Altruism Country: Latin America Product – Consumer Products