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HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

The potential for recycling


household waste:
a case study from
Mexicali, Mexico

Sara Ojeda-Benitez, Carolina Armijo de


Vega and Ma. Elizabeth Ramírez-Barreto

Dr. Sara Ojeda-Benitez is a full SUMMARY: This paper demonstrates the great potential for recycling and for
time researcher at the reducing waste volumes based on a study of household waste in a neighbourhood
Engineering Institute of the
Universidad Autónoma de Baja in Mexicali. The research recorded the weight of waste generated and analyzed its
California (UABC) in Mexicali, composition, drawing on 1,292 samples from 120 households. Most of the waste
Mexico and holds a Masters was recyclable or potentially recyclable and a recycling programme would bring
degree in system engineering
and a PhD in education benefits not only by reducing waste volumes and pollution but also by greatly
sciences. For more than five lengthening the life of the existing city dump. The paper also considers which other
years, she undertook field and neighbourhoods in Mexicali are likely to have comparable waste patterns and
laboratory work on residential discusses the measures needed to develop a recycling programme.
solid waste projects with an
emphasis on environmental
education and is, at present,
conducting two solid waste I. INTRODUCTION
projects as well as teaching in
the UABC Masters degree
programme in system SOLID WASTE PRESENTS a problem of disposal as well as a possible
engineering. useful resource. To understand these two possibilities, refuse must be
Ms Carolina Armijo de Vega
differentiated from waste. When wastes are disposed of in the same
trained as a biologist and has a container and mixed together, causing unpleasant odours, pollution and
Masters degree in coastal making it impossible to re-use some, this is called refuse.(1) On the other
oceanography. Before joining hand, when the disposed of objects are handled correctly, they can have
the Engineering Institute of
UABC, she worked as an value and are called waste. When kept separate, with a minimum of order
environmental consultant for and care, they do not become refuse, and wastes such as tins/cans, card-
privates firms and is currently board, glass and plastic containers can be re-used and/or recycled.
conducting a solid waste
management project for UABC. Different activities carried out in cities, such as manufacturing and the
use of motor vehicles, have become some of the main polluters, both
Ms Ma. Elizabeth Ramírez- locally and globally. Other important pollution problems arise as a conse-
Barreto is a planning engineer quence of inadequate waste disposal practices. Today, the biggest chal-
with a Masters degree in
system engineering and lenge is managing solid waste because the volume of such waste
currently works as a researcher generated daily surpasses the capacity of the installed facilities for its
at the Engineering Institute of collection and management by the municipalities. In Mexico, the volume
UABC. She has been involved
in solid waste projects, of solid waste varies from 0.68 to 1.33 kilogrammes per person per day.
focusing on waste tyres, and The lower figures apply mostly to rural areas while the higher figures
also teaches in the UABC correspond to metropolitan areas and Mexico City.(2)
Masters degree programme in
system engineering.
Worldwide, the proportion of population living in urban areas
increased from 14 to 43 per cent between 1900 and 1990. It also increased
Address: Instituto de in Mexico, and by 2000 close to three-quarters of the population lived in
Ingeniería, UABC, PO Box urban areas. The composition of waste also varies; for example, organic
3439, Calexico, CA 92232, USA;
e-mail: waste constitutes between 45 and 55 per cent of waste in urban areas
carmijo@faro.ens.uabc.mx. whereas in rural areas it varies between 60 and 70 per cent. This is due to
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Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000 163
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

1. Hernández, M and S
differences in people’s consumption habits and purchasing power.(3) Bonfil (1997), Educación
In 1997, refuse in Mexico was made up of 52.4 per cent food and yard ambiental, Santillana,
trimmings, 14 per cent cardboard and paper, 5.9 per cent glass, 4.4 per Mexico.
cent plastic, 1.5 per cent textiles, 2.9 per cent metals and 18.9 per cent other 2. Instituto Nacional de
waste. Changes in the composition of refuse between 1991 and 1997 Estadística, Geografía e
showed an increase in waste such as plastic, paper and glass, which can Informática y Secretaría del
be recycled and/or reused.(4) Medio Ambiente, Recursos
Humanos y Pesca (1998),
Human activities produce tonnes of refuse each day. As noted in Estadísticas del medio
various studies(5), the inadequate management of waste causes soil, water, ambiente, Mexico City.
air, and even food pollution. In the particular case of Mexicali’s dump site,
3. Ojeda Benítez, Sara
where summer temperatures can rise above 46o C (115o F), there have been (1999), “Niveles de
some uncontrolled fires, one of which began in 1998 and is still burning. conciencia ambiental en
This made the administrators of the site relocate the dump to another loca- una comunidad: un
tion, close by. There is a human settlement approximately 1.5 kilometres instrumento para diseñar
programas de educación
from the dump site, and it is common to find garbage being blown for ambiental”, unpublished
considerable distances by the wind. Furthermore, there is an unusually doctoral dissertation in
high concentration of flies, cockroaches and rodents which constitute a education, Universidad
Iberoaméricana-Noroeste,
potential health risk for the inhabitants. Tijuana, Baja California,
Increasing volumes of household waste are related to the number of Mexico.
people, their consumption habits and technological development. In
4. See reference 3.
Mexico, extension of the land under settlement, heterogeneity in
consumer patterns, uneven and rapid industrial growth, increases in 5. Bernache, Pérez B, M
refuse production, migration from rural to urban areas and the lack of Bazdresch Parada, J L
planning are also influential factors. Cuellar Garza and F
Moreno Parada (1998),
Figure 1 shows the regional differences of daily per capita waste gener- Basura y metrópoli,
ation in Mexico. Mexico City stands out as having the largest waste gener- Universidad de
ation per person, followed by the border region with the United States Guadalajara, México; also
Danteravanich, Somtip and
where Mexicali is located. Cherdchan Siriwong (1998),
Mexicali is the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California. It is “Solid waste management
in southern Thailand”,
Journal of Solid Waste
Figure 1: Daily per Capita Waste Generation in Mexico Technology and Management
Vol 25, No 1, February;
Sitarz, Daniel (1998),
Sustainable America,
America’s Environment,
1.006 Kg/person/day Economy and Society in the
21st Century, Earthpress,
USA; and Vásquez,Torre
and A M Guadalupe (1993),
Ecología y gestión ambiental,
McGraw
Hill/Interamericana
Editores, México.

0.935 Kg/person/day

1.314 Kg/person/day

0.828 Kg/person/day

0.894 Kg/person/day

SOURCE: Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática y Secretaría del Medio


Ambiente, Recursos Humanos y Pesca (1998), Estadísticas del medio ambiente, Mexico City.

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164 Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

6. A maquiladora is a
Mexican company located in north-west Mexico, 198 kilometres from the Pacific coast (see
operating under a special Figure 1). Because of its strategic location on the border of the state of Cali-
customs régime which fornia (USA), and because of trade agreements with many countries,
allows it to temporarily
import into Mexico on a
Mexicali has become an area of development, bringing opportunities for
duty free basis, machinery, the establishment of maquiladora industry(6) from around the world.
equipment, materials, parts Mexicali has 33 per cent of Baja California’s total population of 2.1
and components and other million inhabitants. Baja California’s population has been growing rapidly
items needed for the
assembly or manufacture of – averaging 3.6 per cent between 1980 and 1990, accelerating to 5.5 per
finished goods for cent in 1992 and down to 4.3 per cent in 1995. Population is doubling
subsequent export. Initially, every two decades, with in-migration being a key element in this growth.
maquiladoras could only be
established in the border This is in part because of its economic success and in part because of its
areas of northern Mexico, a proximity to the United States. Baja California also has one of the highest
strip of land 20 kilometres per capita incomes among all Mexican states.
wide along the US border Mexicali’s refuse production increases by 3.3 per cent annually. Total
and in the Baja California
free trade zone. The original refuse production currently stands at 169,546 tonnes a year in the urban
purpose of maquiladoras area and 10,526 tonnes a year in the rural area, producing an average
was to absorb excess labour refuse weight of 255.2 kilogrammes/cubic metre.(7) Considering this, there
in the border areas and to
encourage Mexican exports. is a recognition within the city of the need to seek alternatives for solid
It was also hoped that they domestic waste management.
would help develop the The colonia(8) where the waste study was undertaken is located to the
Mexican manufacturing
base and lead to the
south-east of the city in the area called Nuevo Mexicali (New Mexicali). It
transfer of technology to is characterized by rapid growth, in part because it is formed by recently
Mexico. Over time, the established legal colonias. Most of these colonias are inhabited by young
maquiladora concept families with babies or small children. Nuevo Mexicali land has been
evolved so that maquiladoras
could be established approved by the Cadastral Department for the development of industrial,
anywhere in Mexico, and commercial, housing and education buildings. Since Nuevo Mexicali is a
the sale of a proportion of legal growth area within the city, it has all the municipal services includ-
their production was
allowed in the Mexican ing a twice-weekly garbage collection. Residents of these colonias do not
domestic market upon have to pay directly for the garbage collection service as the municipality
payment of import duties uses local taxes for pay for it.
and other charges and taxes
on the imported materials,
parts and components used
in their manufacture. II. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
7. Ojeda Benitez, Sara and
Hugo Silva (1996), El THIS STUDY CONSISTED of two stages. The first involved sampling on
impacto de la contaminación a colonia and household level, and the second applying the sampling
por basura y sus efectos en la results to other colonias with similar characteristics. The colonia-level
ciudad de Mexicali,
Universidad Autónoma de
sampling was useful for determining the weekly volume of refuse produc-
Baja California, Instituto de tion in the colonia and the household sampling for determining the
Ingeniería, Mexicali, Baja volume of waste produced by a household as well as for gauging the
California, Mexico. composition of the waste.
8. A colonia is a settlement First stage: the colonia-level sampling was done in two phases, one in
formed by a group of June 1997 and the other in April 1998. The colonia’s garbage collection
families living in the same truck was weighed over a period of a month, after it had collected refuse
geographical city area; it is
the equivalent of a on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This provided data on the weekly volume
neighbourhood in the of refuse production. The household level sampling was done over 16
United States. weeks, eight in October and November of 1997 (Phase I) and eight in May
and June of 1998 (Phase II). The collection and classification of samples
was done on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The households were selected using random, non-probabilistic
sampling, working only with those who had agreed to participate at every
stage of the study. Based on the location of the lots and land use in the
colonia, 200 households were selected, half of whom were worked with in
Phase I and the other half in Phase II.
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HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

The selected sample consisted of 12.5 per cent of the total number of
households in the colonia. The ability to transport household waste to the
place where the classification was being undertaken and the capacity to
process samples restricted the number. To encourage participation, the
inhabitants were given a formal invitation in writing, which briefly
described the project. Once the selected families had agreed to participate
in the project, collection and classification of the community waste began.
Samples were collected in the morning and each household was given
three bags a week in which to place their refuse. Each sample was
weighed and its contents classified according to the categories established
in Table 1. During this classification stage, the study had the help of
students who had joined the project as part of their community service.

Table 1: Categories Used to Determine the


Composition of Household Waste

Organic components Recyclable Potentially Non-


recyclable recyclable
Food scraps: any kind of food wastes ●
Paper and corrugated cardboard: newspapers,
office paper, magazines, envelopes, notebooks, ●
boxes, etc.
Yard trimmings: leaves, tree branches, weeds, ●
roots, mowed grass, etc.
Textiles: cotton, curtains, nylon, used clothes, ●
fabric scraps, etc.
Wood: furniture, pencils, lollipop sticks, ●
brooms, etc.
Leather: purses, clothes, shoes, etc. ●
Miscellaneous: pet waste ●

Inorganic components
Plastics: yogurt containers, milk jugs, pens, ●
toys, etc.
Aluminium: beverage (beer, soda, tea) and ●
food containers
Glass: decorative articles, broken windows, ●
jars and bottles, etc.
Steel cans: cans from processed food and ●
beverages
Other metals: copper, iron, lead, etc. ●
Inert wastes: gravel, sand and rocks ●
Sanitary waste: disposable nappies/diapers ●
Miscellaneous: old electrical appliances, ●
batteries, car parts, etc.

During the sampling period, the number of samples was adjusted


because some of the families who had agreed to participate were not
consistent with their deliveries. If a family did not deliver a sample for
three consecutive days, it was dropped from the project, and those who
did not deliver a minimum of eight bags during the sampling period were
also dropped. The separation and classification of waste was done using
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166 Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

9. Cadastre Department
(Dirección de Catastro) is the a registration technique for each collected sample. The basic sampling unit
government office in charge was a 48-gallon capacity garbage bag which contained all the refuse
of controlling and generated by each household participating in the study.
distributing the city’s
infrastructure growth
Second stage: based on the catalogue of colonias from the Mexicali
according to land use. Cadastre Department(9) (Dirección de Catastro), colonias with similar social
and economic characteristics to the one under study were identified,
which allowed the researchers to infer refuse habits in these colonias. The
Mexicali Cadastre Department classifies the city’s colonias into 27 groups
based on the following characteristics: facilities (electric power, water,
drainage, public lighting, paved roads, infrastructure, telephone lines,
drainage); accessibility; municipal services; construction rate; population
ratio; visual image; construction quality; housing density; and social and
economic levels. This classification does not consider age although this is
important, as the composition of domestic solid waste for each household
varies according to the ages of the family members living there. Young
families with small children or without children generally occupy newer
colonias; by contrast, older families and their grown-up children can be
found in older colonias.
Colonias with similar characteristics to the one under study were
selected, following the Mexicali Cadastre Department’s classification.
10. Dirección de Catastro,
They also had to be located in the developing areas of the city as was the
Control Urbano y Ecología case with colonia under study. This was done using a recent map of the
(2000), Catálogo de colonias city (February 2000) and the catalogue of colonias from the Mexicali Offi-
del municipio de Mexicali, cial Cadastre Department.(10)
XVI ayuntamiento de
Mexicali, Baja California, The final criterion for selecting the colonias was the garbage truck collec-
Mexico. tion routes of Mexicali’s Sanitation Department. The person in charge of
the Sanitation Department was interviewed and previous studies describ-
ing equipment and city collecting routes were consulted; from this, the
routes used were located on the city map. When this was completed, the
colonias covered by the collection route that included the colonia under
study were identified and of these, only the ones classified according to
the aforementioned methodology were selected (Cadastre Department
classification and located in Nuevo Mexicali).

III. RESEARCH RESULTS

THE AMOUNT OF refuse generated by the colonia under study in one


week is 11,088 kilogrammes. The Wednesday collection is the greatest
(7,107 kilogrammes), the Saturday collection the least (3,980 kilogrammes)
– see Table 2. This is because Wednesday collections cover a four-day
period which includes the
Table 2: Refuse Generated in weekend, when families
the Colonia under Study
spend more time at home,
Day Sample no. Weight (kgs) and as a result of activities
Wednesday 1 7200 such as family and friends
Saturday 2 4170 gathering, and cleaning
Wednesday 3 7700 and maintaining the
Saturday 4 3915 house and garden, a
Wednesday 5 6710 greater amount of refuse
Saturday 6 3795 is generated. Less refuse
Wednesday 7 6820 is collected on Saturdays
Saturday 8 4040 because it includes waste
generated over three days
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HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

when family members spend more time at school or at work, reducing


the amount of refuse generated at home.
During Phase I of the household-level sampling, 36 households were
dropped from the project; during Phase II, a further 44 households were
dropped, leaving samples from 120 households to work with. Six hundred
and sixty-one samples were considered in Phase I and 631 in Phase II, a
total of 1,292. Table 3 shows the composition of refuse from the commu-
nity under study.

Table 3: Composition of Household Waste in the


Colonia under Study

Organics Weight % relative % relative % relative


(kgs) to organic to inorganic to total

Food scraps 2488.5 65.5 38.6


Paper and corrugated
cardboard 798.2 21.0 12.4
Yard trimmings 411 10.8 6.4
Wood 36.5 1.0 0.6
Leather 12.7 0.3 0.2
Miscellaneous 52.1 1.4 0.8

Organics total 3798.9 100 58.9

Inorganics
Plastic 460.5 17.4 7.11
Glass 272.3 10.3 4.2
Textiles 236.4 8.9 3.7
Steel cans 104.4 3.9 1.6
Aluminium 23.5 0.9 0.4
Other metals 67.1 2.5 1.0
Inert waste 90.4 3.4 1.4
Inorganic miscellaneous 681.2 25.7 10.6
Sanitary waste 715.9 27.0 11.1

Inorganics total 2651.8 100 41.1

Total 6450.6 100

From the above results, it is important to note that waste from house-
holds in this colonia was mainly organic (58.9 per cent of the total), most
of which was food scraps (65.5 per cent). With regard to inorganic waste,
it is important to mention that disposable nappies/diapers formed 27 per
cent of total inorganic waste. Analyzing waste composition as a whole
(organic and inorganic), food scraps formed the highest percentage (38.6
per cent), followed by paper and cardboard (12.4 per cent) and
nappies/diapers (11.1 per cent). Table 4 shows the total results from the
samples (n=1,292) considered in the community. To explain waste compo-
sition, the mean and standard deviation of each component were calcu-
lated.
With regard to organic waste, each bag contained approximately 2
kilogrammes of food scraps and only 0.62 kilogrammes of paper and card-
board. The least significant organic wastes were leather and wood, 0.010
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168 Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

Table 4: Central Trend Statistics of Total Sample


Composition
Sample components Mean kg Std. deviation

Organics
Food scraps 2.040 2.065
Paper and corrugated cardboard 0.624 1.069
Yard trimmings 0.342 1.558
Wood 0.032 0.183
Leather 0.010 0.105
Miscellaneous 0.042 0.285

Inorganics
Textiles 0.190 0.932
Plastic 0.300 0.568
Sanitary waste 0.573 1.075
Glass 0.149 0.398
Steel cans 0.093 0.141
Aluminium 0.012 0.047
Inert waste 0.030 0.347
Other metals 0.023 0.175
Miscellaneous 0.268 0.798

and 0.032 kilogrammes per bag, respectively. When interpreting these


results, it should be noted that standard deviations are high and that
average numbers must be interpreted as only representative in a proba-
bility rank and not as exact estimates.

IV. RE-USE AND RECYCLING POTENTIAL

BASED ON THE results presented above and on the classification in Table


1, it is evident that a large part of the refuse generated by the colonia under
study can be recycled or is potentially recyclable. This is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Recyclable, Potentially Recyclable and Non-


recyclable Refuse as Percentages of Total
Refuse

6.21% 12.37% Recyclable organic


Recyclable
inorganic

45.71%
Potentially
recyclable
organic
22.4%
Potentially
recyclable
inorganic

0.81%
Non recyclable organic 12.5% Non recyclable inorganic

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Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000 169
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

Organic wastes such as food scraps and yard trimmings are considered
as potentially recyclable. Paper and cardboard are considered as organic
recyclable waste, whilst all organic miscellaneous waste is considered as
organic non-recyclable waste. Glass, aluminium and tin cans are consid-
ered as inorganic recyclable waste, and plastic, textiles, other metals and
inorganic miscellaneous waste as potentially recyclable.
Of the sampled colonia’s total waste, 18.6 per cent can be recycled
locally, 68 per cent is potentially recyclable (but there are no recycling
industries in the area) and 13.3 per cent cannot be recycled. The percent-
age contributions from each type of recyclable refuse are presented in
Figure 3.

Figure 3: Percentage Composition of Recyclable Waste

2.29% Steel cans

17.51% Paper and


corrugated cardboard
54.59%
Food
scraps
10.10% Plastic

5.97% Glass

0.52% Aluminium

9.02% Yard trimmings

As Figure 3 shows, food scraps represent the largest amount and


aluminium the smallest amount of all recyclable refuse. Of all inorganic
waste, glass, tin, plastic and aluminium can be recycled even though there
are many types of plastic and glass, only some of which are potentially
recyclable. For Figure 3, it was taken that plastic and glass refuse in the
sampled colonia was 100 per cent potentially recyclable.

V. ESTIMATES OF RECYCLABLES FOR THE


COLONIAS WITH SIMILAR CHARACTERISTICS

IF THE REFUSE behaviour of a community is known, the resulting infer-


ences can be applied to similar communities. In this particular case, the
sampled colonia has a middle-low-income social status. It is recently settled
(ten years at the most) and is made up of young families with small chil- 11. Instituto Nacional de
dren or without children. It consists of 1,627 lots, 1,582 of which are consid- Estadística, Geografía e
ered habitable and, with a population density of 4.1 people per house,(11) it Informática (1995),
Population and Housing
comprises 6,644 inhabitants. Average daily refuse production is 0.640 kilo- National Census, Mexico.
grammes per person. In the Nuevo Mexicali area, there are 41 colonias with
similar social and economic characteristics to those of the sampled colonia
and with similar length of settlement. Their population is estimated at
109,043 inhabitants. Figures for recyclable volumes in the area, based on
the results from the sampled colonia, are presented in Table 5.
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170 Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

Table 5: Refuse Production by the Colonias with Similar


Characteristics to the Sampled Colonia
Kg/day Kg/week Kg/month

Potentially re-usable organic 40223.8 281566.5 1126265.9

Recyclable inorganic 9015.7 63109.7 252438.9

Non-recyclable 20111.9 140783.2 563132.9

Total 69351.4 485459.4 1941837.7

From these results, it is estimated that of the 327 colonias in Mexicali,


41 are producing 69 tonnes of refuse a day with 40.2 tonnes being recy-
clable organic refuse and 9.0 tonnes recyclable inorganic refuse.

VI. DISCUSSION

FROM VARIOUS NATIONAL studies, it has been determined that the


composition and volume of refuse varies from city to city. These varia-
tions are due to different consumer patterns, per capita waste generation,
population composition, social, economic and cultural status and the
influence of United States consumer patterns (which, in this particular
case due to Mexicali’s proximity to the border, are particularly marked).
Figure 1 shows how waste generation patterns in Mexico vary from
12. Gaxiola, Camacho E one geographic zone to another, with the border region having the highest
(1995), “Caracterización y per capita waste production after Mexico City. However, differences
comparación de los
patrones de consumo en between the different border cities have not been studied.
Mexicali”, Masters Gaxiola’s (12) study is the only one in the city of Mexicali which
dissertation in architecture, compares the composition of domestic solid waste from different social
Universidad Autónoma de and economic strata in the city. Even though the author found differences
Baja California, Mexicali,
Baja California, Mexico. between the refuse volumes produced by low, middle and high-income
populations, these differences were not statistically significant. The results
of the study show that a low-income person generates 0.434 kilogrammes
of refuse a day, a middle-income person 0.507 kilogrammes and a high-
income person 0.562 kilogrammes.
In our study, the average amount of refuse generated per person per
day was 0.640 kilogrammes, which is greater than that generated in the
three categories used by Gaxiola. The colonia in this study is classified as
middle-low-income and should have shown a refuse generated per
person figure closer to those for Gaxiola’s middle and low income cate-
gories. Two factors can explain the differences between these results. First,
Gaxiola’s sampling was done in 1995 in the middle of an economic crisis
which certainly reduced people’s purchasing power and which, as a
result, reduced consumption levels; this directly affected the amount of
domestic refuse produced daily. The second factor could have been the
criteria used in selecting the sampled colonias.
The results obtained from the sampled colonia were only representative
for the recently settled lower-middle-income status colonias (ten years or
less). But to obtain a refuse description of the entire city, all the other
statuses must be sampled with procedures similar to those used in the
sampled colonia, including the colonias settled more than ten years ago.
The time that a colonia has been settled is important because, as already
noted, the more recent colonias as a general rule are inhabited by young
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Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000 171
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

families with small children or babies, which definitely implies different


consumption patterns and, consequently, different domestic waste
production.
From the estimates for the 41 colonias with similar social and economic
characteristics to those of the sampled colonia, it can be seen that more
than 69 tonnes of refuse are produced daily, 80 per cent of which is recy-
clable or potentially recyclable waste and which is currently being
deposited at the city dump. This means a waste of economic and natural
resources which could be obtained through a recycling process.
In order to initiate a recovery programme for recyclable refuse, it is
necessary to have companies and organizations who are in charge of
collecting and processing separate refuse. It should also be noted that
there are between 80 and 120 waste pickers at Mexicali’s dump site who
collect glass, aluminium, paper and cardboard. They sell these materials
to recycling companies, but the volume sold is unknown. Some of these
waste pickers live entirely off the refuse, getting food, clothing and shelter
from what they collect.
There are recycling companies in Mexicali and also some businesses
that export recyclable materials, thus facilitating transactions for some
materials (glass, aluminium, paper and some types of plastic). With regard
to organic waste, which forms the greatest part of domestic waste, there
is the possibility of creating a compost programme for local nurseries.
The rapid growth of urban areas considerably limits the locations that
could be considered for use as city dumps. In addition, the building of a
city dump that closely observes good ecological, security and sanitation
standards would be very expensive in relation to Mexicali’s economic
resources. That is why the current city dump is simply a place where
refuse is dumped and buried with no ventilation pipes for avoiding fires 13. Blight, G E and C M
or explosions from accumulated methane gas produced during organic Mbande (1996), “Some
problems of waste
waste bio-degradation. Also, there is no lining to avoid leachate filtration. management in developing
However, it has been established(13) that whether or not a landfill will regu- countries”, Journal of Solid
larly generate leachate depends on the climate where the landfill is situ- Waste Technology and
ated, and that in cases where leachate is only occasionally produced Management Vol 23, No 1,
February.
(where there is a perennial water deficit), it is possible to reduce the stan-
dards required for the landfill.(14) In the case of Mexicali there is a peren- 14. See reference 13
nial water deficit, but a quantified water balance for the dump site is not
known. In addition, refuse is not being compacted in order to reduce its
volume, to exclude insects and small animals and to reduce odours.
Current national economic realities are not going to change in the short-
term, which makes it necessary to adopt consumption and refuse produc-
tion practices which reduce the amount of refuse destined for the city
dump. This will extend the dump’s life, thus reducing the pressure on
those areas needed for urban growth.

VII. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

IN MEXICO, AS in other low and middle-income nations, there is an


obvious need to reduce the volume of domestic solid waste destined for
city dumps. In Mexicali, there is a considerable environmental risk asso-
ciated with the management of domestic solid waste due to the fact that
refuse management is merely a collecting and burying system with no
proper sanitary city dump.
Creating specific working programmes appropriate to the characteris-
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172 Environment&Urbanization Vol 12 No 2 October 2000
HOUSEHOLD WASTE IN MEXICALI

tics of each community in order to promote refuse recycling, re-using and


reducing behaviours is very important in making people aware of the
benefits that these imply. But these programmes would not be effective
without concurrent community and municipal campaigns for the collec-
tion and sale of recyclable refuse.
Efforts directed towards applied research and investigation must
continue, especially regarding solid waste, because these investigations
will greatly support any decision taken by the municipal authorities. It is
necessary to sample all the other colonias with similar or different social
and income statuses to the one sampled in this project, using the same
techniques in order to compare results effectively.
As recyclable refuse separation programmes are created, they must be
accompanied by environmental education programmes. This is to create
a deeper sense of understanding in each individual regarding separation,
re-using and recycling activities so that they are not regarded simply as
tedious tasks imposed by bureaucratic, profit-making government author-
ities.

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