Recycled plastic boats for Xochimilco?

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Recycled plastic boats for Xochimilco?
Oct 092014

What will they think of next? Officials in Mexico City have plans to provide the tourist zone of the Xochimilco canals with environmentally friendly boats and barges and to gradually substitute the usual wooden ones, which have very high maintenance costs. The plan was unveiled a few weeks ago by Mauricio León, director of infrastructure, modernization and innovation for the Federal District.

Xochimilco (Wikipedia; creative commons)

Xochimilco (Wikipedia; creative commons)

Apparently, the traditional wooden vessels, known as trajineras, with their colorful arches, formerly used mostly to transport goods but now dedicated almost exclusively to tourism, require “an enormous expense” each year since they need to be renovated annually, in part due to “the deterioration in recent years” of the water quality in the canals. According to León, the water contains high levels of fungi that degrade the wood. (Q. In that case, why not clean the water, and keep the traditional designs made of wood?)

Mexico City officials have already launched a prototype of the new, plastic, ecologically-sound craft, and hope that the owners of the traditional gondola-like non-motorized boats will form a cooperative to gradually replace them. The design of the new “technoecological” vessels was created by scientists at the National University (UNAM) and preserves the typical characteristics that have made it a widely recognized symbol of tourism in Mexico.

The great advantage of the new boats, made of recycled PET plastic (some of it no doubt pulled from the canals), polyethylene and volcanic clay is their greater durability and stability. Proponents claim that since they are made of recycled material, unlike the traditional ones for which 20 trees have to be cut down to make each trajiinera, the new boats are much cheaper, require less maintenance and their durability is much greater, with the potential to last up to 120 years.

There is one slight problem: the cost of the machinery required to make them. Authorities hope to persuade the boatmen to form “a cooperative able to get financing for the machines,” which will require an investment of some 5 million pesos ($380,000).

This is a long-term plan, because even when the machines are installed, they can produce only about three or four boats a week, and there are an estimated 1500 trajineras currently plying the canals in Xochimilco.

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Mexicans drink more bottled water per person than anywhere else in the world

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexicans drink more bottled water per person than anywhere else in the world
May 032014

Mexicans are the world’s largest consumers of bottled water, both in individual small bottles (1.5 liters or less) and in garrafones (large, 20-liter bottles).

The main reason is a lack of confidence in the purity of public water supplies, resulting in part from perceived inefficiencies in how city water systems are managed and maintained. These concerns may be valid in some parts of Mexico, but are certainly not the case in all areas. Other factors resulting in a high acceptance of bottled water are the convenience, Mexico’s warm climate, and the vigorous publicity and advertising campaigns carried out by bottled water companies. It does not help that consumer groups repeatedly express concerns even about the quality of water in garrafones, claiming that some companies apparently take insufficient precautions to prevent its contamination.

For its part, the National Water Commission repeatedly claims that the problem of water quality is not due to the main distribution lines in Mexico, but to problems at a local level, in the final stages of the network between supply and consumers.


Typical 20-liter garrafon

According to Euromonitor International, bottled water consumption in Mexico in 2013 averaged 186.7 liters/person, well ahead of Italy (175.1 liters/person), Nigeria (163.1), Turkey (147.7) and Spain (143.2). [Note that an earlier estimate in 2010 by Beverage Marketing Corporation put per person consumption of bottled water in Mexico at 234 liters a year, with equivalent figures for Italy, Spain and the USA of 191 liters, 119 liters and 110 liters respectively; the difference from 2010 to 2013 is almost certainly due to methodological differences].

Mexico consumes about 13% of all bottled water sold in the world! The only countries consuming more bottled water (in total volume) than Mexico were the much more populous countries of the USA, China and Nigeria.

Bottling water is a highly profitable business. The cost of 1,000 liters from the tap is 25 pesos (about 2 dollars); the same water, sold in bottles, is worth between 6000 and 8500 pesos (450 to 650 dollars).

The bottled water market in Mexico has grown from 6.5 billion dollars in 2009 to 10.4 billion in 2013, according to Euromonitor.  It is dominated by three foreign firms: Danone (France), Coca-Cola (USA) and PepsiCo (USA). Between them, they supply 82% of the market, according to a Euromonitor report, with the three leading brands being Bonafont (Danone) which accounts for 38% of the market, followed by Ciel (Coca-Cola) which has a 25% share and Epura (PepsiCo) 19%.

The cost of bottled water in an average Mexican household is considerable. For instance, assuming an average consumption of 15.55 liters/month/person, and that all water is bought in 1-liter bottles (which cost about 8 pesos each), then the monthly cost per household would be close to 500 pesos (38 dollars).

An industry dominated by four multinationals

Inside the Bottle: An Exposé of the Bottled Water Industry, a book by Canadian activist Tony Clark, provides a vivid and disturbing portrayal of how, worldwide, four big companies – Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Danone – dominate the bottled water industry. As summarized by, the book examines several key issues of public concern about the operations of these companies, including how they:

  • pay little or nothing for the water they take from rural springs or public systems;
  • turn ‘water’ into ‘water’ through elaborate treatment processes;
  • produce a product that is not necessarily safer then, nor as regulated as, tap water;
  • package it in plastic bottles made of environmentally destructive toxic chemicals;
  • market it to an unsuspecting public as ‘pure, healthy, safe drinking water’; and
  • sell it at prices hundreds, even thousands of times more costly than ordinary tap water.

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Value-added from solid waste in Mexico

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Value-added from solid waste in Mexico
Dec 142011

In a previous post, we looked briefly at the role of plastics recycling in Mexico City’s waste separation program. In this post, we describe two other developments related to solid waste disposal.

Recycling finally reaches the take-off point in Mexico

Nationwide, it took an entire decade for the plastics recycling rate in Mexico to increase from 10 to 15%. Then, in 2010, as more companies sought part of a potentially very lucrative market, the rate shot up to 17%. Admittedly, though, Mexico still lags far behind the 22% rate boasted by the European Union members in this regard.

Mexican industry generates 3.8 million metric tons of plastic waste a year (36% of it in Mexico City). The nationwide recycling capacity for plastics (geared towards hard plastic or PET) currently stands at only 646,000 metric tons, so there is plenty of room for more companies and recycling plants.

Garbage-powered street lights

The World Bank is helping finance a new bio-energy project in Monterrery which will reduce emissions by the equivalent of a million tons of CO2. This is about the same quantity as the annual emissions of 90,000 vehicles, or the amount of CO2 that would be absorbed annually by a forest with an area of 970 hectares.

The project, run by Bioenergía de Nuevo León, uses methane gas given off by decomposing garbage in one of the city’s landfills, in Salinas Victoria, which receives 5000 tons of garbage a day. The power plant’s installed generation capacity of 17mW should be sufficient to supply 90% of the nighttime street lighting in the Monterrey metro area. During the day, power from the project is supplied to the city’s metro system. Any surplus is sold to the Federal Electricity Commission and fed into the national grid.

photo of garbage

Recycling has a long way to go...

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Updates on the geography of Mexico City (26 March 2011)

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Updates on the geography of Mexico City (26 March 2011)
Mar 262011

This is the second in our series of periodic round-ups of news items related to the geography of Mexico City. The link to our first update in the series is Updates on the geography of Mexico City (13 December 2010)

Water meters in Mexico City

Ooska News reports that the SACM (Sistema de Aguas de la Ciudad de México, Mexico City Water System) plans to replace, repair or install 600,000 water meters for Mexico City before the start of the rainy season. About 300,000 of the 600,000 meters will be repairs or replacements; the other half are new installations. The cost of new meters will be added to the property’s water bill. The city government is considering how to help low-income residents meet the necessary payments. Residents living in parts of the city which as yet have no meters pay a fixed annual charge for water irrespective of the amount they consume. Having meters installed, so flows and consumption can be monitored, is absolutely essential as the SACM tries to tackle the problem of leaks in the water pipes supplying homes in the city. Some analysts estimate that as much as 25% of the water entering the system is lost through leaky pipes before it reaches its intended end-user.

Plastics recycling in Mexico City

Plastics recycling is one component of Mexico City’s waste separation program, which was established in response to the Solid Waste Law passed in 2003. Members of Mexico’s National Association of the Plastics Industry (a nationwide grouping of plastics makers) are investing $150 million in a pilot project to boost plastics recycling in Mexico City. The project seeks to increase the volume of plastic waste collected and reused by at least 10%.

Currently in Mexico City, only 12% of the 13,000 tons of waste generated each day is plastic, even though, by volume, plastics account for between 30 and 40% of all the waste generated.

Assuming the pilot project proves to be a success, the plastics collection and reuse program could be extended to the remainder of the country, leading to the possibility of doubling current recycling rates to around 35% of the 6 million tons of all kinds of plastics used each year.

Nov 292010

According to the Environment Ministry, Mexico generates 94,800 tons of garbage a day, which equates to 34.6 million tons a year. Of this total, 53% is organic and 28% recyclable (paper and cardboard 14% of total garbage, glass 6%, plastics 4%, metals 3% and textiles 1%). The remaining 19% of total waste is comprised of non-recyclable construction waste, leather, rubber and miscellaneous other items.

Authorities claim that 87% of all wastes are now collected but, unfortunately, only about 60% ends up in authorized landfills.

Previous posts about garbage”

Mexico’s environmental trends and issues are examined in chapter 30 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Ask your library to buy a copy of this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography today! Better yet, purchase your own copy…

The pros and cons of bottled water

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The pros and cons of bottled water
May 252010

Mexico has overtaken Italy to become the world’s largest consumer of bottled water and now accounts for 13% of all the bottled water sold worldwide.

The latest report of the Beverage Marketing Corporation puts the per person consumption of bottled water in Mexico at 234 liters a year. The equivalent figures for Italy, Spain and the USA are 191 liters, 119 liters and 110 liters respectively.

Aided by massive advertising campaigns and concerns about drinking water quality, the consumption of bottled water in Mexico has risen 8.1 % a year since 2004.

The Environment Secretariat insists that 85% of public water supplies exceed the minimum standards for drinking water, but sales of bottled water now top 26.032 million liters a year, 70% in large bottles (known as garrafones) and 30% in individual plastic bottles.

This has dire consequences for household budgets and for the environment. In 2009, 21.3 million PET (hard plastic) bottles were discarded daily; only 20% of them are recycled.

The two major bottlers of water are Coca-Cola and Pepsi, whose combined concessions for water top 37 million cubic meters a year, equivalent to the combined capacity of Mexico’s four largest man-made reservoirs, or to more than four times the capacity of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest natural lake.

Water and water-related issues are discussed in chapters 6 and 7 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico.