Although it is an organization with only seven years of existence, one and a half of them in its current location, the nonprofit group Vias Verdes (Green Ways) has already logged an impressive quota of achievements.
The high activity level is obvious when one visits its headquarters in a converted house on Avenida Chapultepec and sees it bursting with clients arriving to shop at its “Libreria de Vieja” (old book store) and with workers, most of them young volunteers, involved in projects such as separating waste for recycling, publicizing film showings and organizing talks at schools.
However, while Vias Verdes seems to have lodged in the local collective consciousness primarily as a recycling center — and, indeed, it was founded as such by an economist named Sofia Chavez who became frustrated with the lack of recycling in Colonia Seattle — its current leaders are keen to make an imaginative leap to a higher level.
“We invite people to see other realities in what is close at hand,” said the group’s environmental educator, Fernando Ortiz, in a calm, almost mystical tone. “We invite them to learn the facts about what supports our lifestyle. In big cities, we don’t have to worry about food and water. But there are people who have a terrible life so that we can have this lifestyle of convenience.”
So, while the organization’s Wednesday and Sunday recycling events will remain in effect indefinitely, Ortiz wants people to realize the importance of reducing their use of what eventually becomes waste. To help accomplish this, they are asked not to just dump their glass, plastic, paper, metal and electronic refuse at the center’s doorstep, but to help prepare it for pickup.
“If people spend a little time handling the waste, they eventually understand that they’re buying a lot of things they don’t need. And simply not buying something can be a very good thing,” Ortiz emphasized. “A better option than recycling is to reduce our use.”
When someone mentions the apparently high rate of cancer these days, Ortiz responds with a rhetorical question. “How can we be healthy when we live in an unhealthy environment, with animals, plants and rivers that are sick?”
In fact, topics such as cancer have spurred the focus at Vias Verdes on education.
“It’s impossible to have healthy people in an unhealthy environment and simply having the intention to get more information is an important step toward health. People can also support organizations that are demanding from governments and businesses changes that will create a healthier environment.”
Although many people may find the topic of the environment cause for tears, the atmosphere at Vias Verdes is decidedly cheerful.
“We’re so happy that at the moment we have a lot of high school volunteers helping out,” said Vias Verde Educational Coordinator Nayla Campos.
Nine people are currently salaried at the Vias Verdes office, with some projects funded by Mexican organizations and the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara. Another seven people are volunteers and an additional 25 are high school or college students doing social service work at the center.
“Now we have a full time, 18-year-old volunteer from Germany who will be with us for a year,” said Edith Román, who works in the used bookstore, adding that many foreigners are involved in Vias Verdes.
“We have collected more electronic devices for recycling than any other program in Mexico,” added Ortiz, noting that Vias Verdes works with the mayors of 62 cities on electronics recycling.
But he dives into gritty realities when he explains the reasons for recycling electronics.
“Around Guadalajara, there are a lot of pepenadores — people who work in dumps in very hazardous conditions without any protection. They are controlled by well known unions that are so powerful that the government can’t do anything to get the workers out of the dumps. People say the problem is as bad as the problem of narcotraficantes.”
On a happier note, Ortiz explains that Vias Verdes recycles electronics in the most responsible way.
“There are businesses that ‘recycle’ electronics by simply taking out the materials that can be resold and then throwing out all the dangerous stuff. We do it right, but the way we do it, you won’t get rich.”