December 20, 2011

Save a few Pesos… and the Environment

Laundry Detergent – 16 pesos
Garbage Bags – 23 pesos

San Jose del Cabo is where I am laying my head until the middle of January.  My Red Reel business partner Allie Bombach and I felt that if we’d be spending a winter editing, it might as well be somewhere warm.  I didn’t know what to expect before getting here.  I’d only been to Mexico a handful of times before this, but never Baja.

Just outside of Cabo San Lucas, I guess I pictured it to be full of tourists and resorts.  Both are very much here and apparent, but it hasn’t really bothered me.  I feel lucky to have already stumbled into a community of locals.  I’m hopeful that we’ll get a sense of the San Jose flavor because of this.

To be honest, I think I also expected to find trash on the beaches and street corners to be littered with garbage.  This was something I remembered from the few times I had visited the country.  I guess I assumed it to be true throughout.

I have been thinking a lot about waste in recent years.  How have we gotten to this point… this point of total disregard for what we consume?

I am editing a film right now that touches on this very theme.  A year ago I sailed across the South Atlantic with a group of nine other individuals to study plastic pollution.  I pointed my lens at each of these individuals, more so than the garbage that surrounded us, because I wanted to tell a hopeful story of what can be done.

Each person on the boat with me had an inspiring and unique perspective on the issue of plastic pollution – an artist using the material he finds washed ashore to create elaborate sculptures, a woman from the political sector focusing her passion for waste reduction into policy making, an ocean activist leaving her job to set out on the path of self-employment, inspired to engage her community through beach clean-ups.  As I edit, I hear each person’s story daily, pulling something new from their words that leaves me thinking.

I see this film as a piece about social change.  To make an environmental difference, we need to first change as a society.  This is what I believe.  Listening to these stories, I wonder: What is my role in it all?  Am I truly embodying the message of my film?  Am I a conscious consumer? Does all this change if I’m living in Mexico?

Laundry detergent and garbage bags.  That was my shopping list on Saturday.  Living on a tight budget, I am afraid “conscious consumer” refers more to the pesos in my wallet then it does environmental impact.  But alas, I peruse the detergent aisle trying to decipher what each Spanish word means while taking into account the price tag.  My jaw drops.  The cheapest detergent option is biodegradable!  The same is true as I look for garbage bags, and even more surprising, I learn that the produce bags are also biodegradable.

I’m not saying that my discovery of biodegradable bags in the grocery aisle gave me the sudden freedom of consciousness to think that I am single-handedly avoiding all environmental scrutiny just by choosing them. That’s a whole other can of worms about which I am no expert.  But, at a moment in my life when I am thinking a lot about my impact, it put a smile on my face to know that the people of San Jose del Cabo need not stand in an aisle for hours on end weighing out their options. Or play part of that excruciating internal dialogue: save a few pesos or save the environment?

It got me thinking about grocery aisles back home in the States.  If I wanted to find biodegradable or organic products, I would have to go another department, or quite possibly, a different store completely.  This automatically creates a divide, forcing the consumer to unwillingly make a statement about what they are willing to spend to help the environment.

But here, the cost effective choice is the environmental choice! Good to see, but I acknowledge these are early steps.

Walking down the beaches here, my bag fills up with litter in a matter of moments, just as it does when I’m combing the beaches back at home.  Obvious behaviors in our global society need to change.  For example, properly dispose of your plastic bottle rather than just toss it on the ground.  This means developing a respect for the material, and not leaving it to simply be taken “away.”  The “away” where it will find itself is getting larger and larger, and found throughout the oceans.

These behavior changes will come. They have to.  But until they do, I will allow myself to get excited over aisles filled with only biodegradable choices.  The decision of saving money verses saving the environment diminishes, and I like that.

Walking home later that evening, I stop by a small market near my apartment to pick up a few limes.  I hand the man my money and recite the new phrase I’ve learned, “no bulsa para mi, por favor.”  He looks up and smiles, saying in broken English, “Good.  The plastic bags hang on our cactus then go to sea.

“Right you are senor,” I tell him.  “Right you are.”


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