Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sayulita Recicla

Photos of Sayulita Recycling

Just north of Puerto Vallarta sits a small surfing town named Sayulita. It's a mix of wealthy gringoes, tourists and local fishers, living off the sea.

It's a typical, lazy-yet-exciting, Mexican village with one very atypical characteristic.

The folks in Sayulita have a public recycling program.

At just over a year old and started by a few expats from around the globe, the program has a long way to go before it is used correctly.

Bins line the streets and on any given day in the morning, a gas guzzling truck can be seen careering through the cobbled streets, with shirtless and open-toed show wearing workers spilling the mix of garbage and recyclables into the back.

The program is funded in part by the Punta de Mita Foundation, but most of the operating funds are collected from the sweaty brows of volunteers.

A bodega to sort the recycling has recently been built just outside of town, and now a compactor and scale have been purchased.The program is gaining steam and is something we are very interested in.

When we arrived in Sayulita for a 10-day vacation/recycling research project, we were fortunate to get to know the organizers and workers and discuss ways to help.

Aaron spent a morning riding around picking up recycling with the crew, but the work he did was more for the experience then to help with his labour.

Ramon, the owner of the recycling company, has been very interested in switching his vehicles to bio-diesel, so we facilitated a meeting with our local bio-diesel guru and good friend, Brian, who went to Sayulita a few months later.

The discussion has begun on how we can help bring recycling and bio-diesel to the hamlets of Mexico. Hopefully we will figure something out soon.

Cowichan News Leader Column

This is Aaron's piece that was part of the Best in Environmental Writing win - our trip to Mexico was in December '08.

From where I’m sitting — a sun-soaked patio on a loping hillside dotted with banana trees and coconut palms, a siesta-shrouded town lazily swinging to my right while red-backed tourists frolic in a frenzy of holiday excitement on the pristine beach below — it’s easy to imagine a winter vacation to Mexico is nothing short of positive.

The town of Sayulita, sitting humbly on the Pacific coast just north of Puerto Vallarta seems a dream away from life in Canada, where my focus of late has been on trying to reduce my personal environmental impacts and contribute to a sustainable community to call home.

My partner, Katie Harris, and I spend our days riding our bicycles to pick up recycling from businesses in Cowichan, a service now keeping more than three tonnes of waste out of the landfill per month using emission-free transportation. Building on that success, we have recently begun servicing apartment complexes and stratas, businesses and residences to collect organic materials.

As individuals, a couple months back we joined Cowichan Carbon Busters to examine ways to reduce our personal environmental impacts even further, and have in eight short weeks managed to reduce our carbon footprint by 60 per cent.

Yet here we are in the middle of winter in Mexico, eating tamales off Styrofoam plates, and sipping cervesas from glass bottles we know are destined for the landfill. We’re so fresh off the plane the heavy weight of jet-fuel derived carbon emissions makes it hard for full relaxation to occur.
There’s an environmental cost to everything we do and flying puts us all in debt.

Travel was a big focus of Carbon Bustin’ discussions and no one could agree on what justified flying the friendly skies. Was it to visit a sick mother? Maybe it was a chance to skydive? Or does making your way around the world starting programs to combat climate change mean it’s OK to recline your seat and enjoy a pack or two of pretzels?

The answer, unless we want to get into some serious stone throwing from inside our glass greenhouses, is to leave that choice up to the individual.

It may seem like a conclusion of convenience coming from a sinner with sand between his toes, but laying charges from atop a holier-than-thou pedestal hurts the cause, making eco-novices turn red instead of green, embarrassed to be caught trying the wrong approach.

While there’s no doubt those who do nothing are in need of goading and engagement, pointing fingers is divisive and counter-productive.

In Sayulita, a small group of like-minded individuals have for the past year been introducing the concept of recycling, a tall order in a country where taco stands cover their plates with plastic bags to avoid washing them.

I had the chance to help out during one of the pickups and work alongside two extremely passionate guys — Ramon and Octavio — so eager to make a difference they tore open fly-riddled garbage bags to look for cardboard, plastic and aluminum among the dirty diapers and rotting food.

These two have no time to lay judgment or be indignant that storeowners don’t recycle — they are too busy trying to educate and explain the concept in general, something we at home take for granted.

In Canada, we sometimes find ourselves discouraged with the slow moving mechanism of change.

Octavio and Ramon deal with it by forgetting about the actions of others and getting down to action themselves.

If each us do a little bit, we’ll see a difference. It’s a million small accomplishments that will lead to the biggest change.

No, we weren't knocked off our bikes...

...nor lying in a ditch somewhere, nor lost in the blowing sands of Africa, trying to find the much-famed, much-sought after Bicycle Tube of Tutankhamun. (Legend says it was made from the molted skin of a magical serpent of the Nile and can never be punctured.)
Simply put — we've been busy.

And now we're back to bloggin', with reams to report.

To start:

Carbon Bustin':

The Cowichan Carbon Busters finished the course, each member reducing their carbon footprint substantially. Guy Dauncey then got to work revising the program to an eight-week course and has since been trying to gather ten more groups to pilot the new curriculum, with the intent of getting it to the masses after that.

On a side-note, Cowichan News Leader Pictorial reporter Peter Rusland, who had written a series of five stories on the successes and failures of the Carbon Busters was named a top-three finalist in Environmental Writing for his work at the BC Yukon Community Newspaper Association's Ma Murray Awards.
Rusland also entered the series, along with a year-end column on Carbon Bustin' written by reporter-cum-recyclist Aaron, in the national Canadian Community Newspaper Association annual awards and the duo won Gold for Best Environmental Writing.

Recycling, Mexico Style:

Towards the end of December the Recyclists hopped a plane and flew to Sayulita, Mexico, where we took part in the year-old recycling program. Aaron got the chance to cruise around with Ramon and Octavio, the two workers who picked up the recycling on a daily basis. Photos here.
It was a bit of a different experience but one we'd like to continue to be involved in.

We buried (err, crushed) a friend:

After 14 years of good, reliable (oh, how rosy memories can become) companionship, Katie's Jetta decided to pack it in. It is likely now numerous Japanese vaccuum cleaners or maybe a robot. That'd be kick-ass!

We own a B100-runnin', WVO-luvin' truck:

Finally, we have a place to hang our gun rack...oh, wait a second...
It may not be the newest vehicle, nor the quietest, and the way it fills the street with the smell of burnt fries when we fire it up can at times be embarrassing, but it can haul bikes, and organic waste, and gumboots.

Our trailer project landed us in Montreal:

For a whirlwind four-day getaway, we were flown to Montreal to talk Sustainable Transportation and met some incredible people, working on incredible projects. The syrup was flowing, the Habs were scoring, and we realized Duncan may just not be the centre of all things urban as we once thought. There's more to culture, apparently, then the bacteria we throw in our homemade yogurt...who knew?

Black Tie Affair:

In March the Recyclists were recognized in the Cowichan business community with a Black Tie Award for Best Home Based Business. We were shocked, and honoured, and extremely pleased to be involved. We were also proud to be recognized the same evening as our friends and commercial organics clients Lance and Liz of Craig St. Brew Pub who won Business Achievers. Needless to say the celebrations centred around local brew.

Solar Thermal Workshop:

The Carbon Busters organized an information workshop to get the word on Solar Thermal out to the masses. More than 200 people showed up to learn about the technology and 77 signed up to switch their homes to Solar hot water.

From now on, hopefully we will be able to keep a more regular update going.

Please stay tuned.