Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t the only Latina fighting for a greener planet. Over in Mexico, Sandra Pascoe created a biodegradable, natural plastic that can make our shopping experiences a lot more eco-friendly. The key: The juice of the nopal cactus.
“The plastic is basically made out of the sugars of nopal juice, the monosaccharides and polysaccharides it contains,” Pascoe, a researcher at the University of the Valley of Atemajac, told EFE.
So far, the Guadalajara, Jalisco-based scientist has used the most popular type of edible nopal, the opuntia ficus-indica and the opuntia megacantha. According to her, the sugars, pectin and organic acids in the juice give it a thick, gummy consistency. This is then mixed with with Glycerol, natural waxes, proteins and colorants, which is dried on a hot plate to produce thin sheets of plastic.
Currently, the plastic can be used to make greener alternatives to shopping bags, cosmetic containers, accessories and toys. However, she is currently studying how much weight the plastic can hold to determine other possible uses for it. She also teamed up with the University of Guadalajara Center for Biological and Agricultural Sciences to test how quickly and in which cases the plastic will decompose.
“We’ve done very simple degradation tests in the laboratory; for example, we’ve put it in water and we’ve seen that it does break down [but] we still have to do a chemical test to see if it really did completely disintegrate. We’ve also done tests in moist compost-like soil and the material also breaks down,” Pascoe said.
In 2014, the process was registered with the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), where Pascoe is now seeking a patent. When the innovation is patented, her process could be commercialized, offering companies a greener alternative to plastic.
Like most countries that depend heavily on coal energy and on manufacturing to keep its productive wheels running, Mexico is deeply affected by the environmental damage that many industries cause. Added to local production, Mexico has also been the site of maquilas, factories set up by foreign investors who are lured by cheaper labour and by lax tax regimes, as well as by looser rules when it comes to environmental impact. Both industry and public opinion need to be better informed of the toxic hot spots in the country.
Mexico sits at an strategic political and commercial position, and industrial powerhouses such as the United States and Canada, whose companies have set shop in the other member of NAFTA, by far the most disadvantaged.
The toxi-tour caravan will travel the country for ten days in total, December 2-11.
Participants include environmentalists and scientists from both Mexico and overseas. The objective is to raise awareness and to denounce the companies that cause most damage. Perhaps shaming is the first step towards change. Besides Mexicans, there are representatives from the United States, Europe and other Latin American Countries.
The journey began in El Salto, Jalisco, where a polluted river has led to cancer and death.
In this site industrial pollution of the Santiago river has caused the death of more than a thousand people due to cancer and kidney failure. People from cities in the United States affected by pollution in places like Flint, Michigan, can surely relate. A river is generally a propeller for economic development and productive activity, as well as a source of an increasingly scarce commodity: water. However, this river is basically poisonous now and has brought death to those who live nearby.
The caravan will visit sites were more than three million people have seen their health diminished by pollution.
The rest of the Toxi-tour stops include Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato; Apaxco, México state; Atonilco de Tula, Hidalgo; Tlaxcala; Puebla; and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. The journey will conclude in Mexico City on December 11. As you may lmow, Mexico City is deeply affected by high levels of pollution. Its high altitude and the fact that it is nested in a valley make it prone to elevated pollution levels that have damaged the upper respiratory tract in millions of its inhabitants.
In the photo we can see the cement manufacturing plant of Apaxco, which releases fine particles that have caused upper respiratory tract issues for both the workers and the people living near the factory. Imagine breathing grainy, minuscule cement dust day in, day out. Another big issue is the unlawful disposal of waste in landfills which end up pumping chemicals into the soil and rendering it sterile.
The organizers have a pretty clear idea of who is to blame for the environmental crisis in these places.
As Mexico Daily News reports: “The Toxi-Tour will “denounce United States, Canadian, German, French, Spanish and Mexican companies” that cause environmental damage, said Andrés Barreda, a representative of the National Assembly of Environmental Victims, which organized the caravan.”
Yes, Mexican companies share the blame, but the fact that Global North companies have caused physical damage to the land and people of a previously colonized nation brings back memories of colonial times and trauma. So for these companies the lives of Global South countries are less valuable? It would appear that is the case. This is afforded of course, by corrupt authorities. The caravan will also get political and will engage local community leaders and people that have been affected or displaced by industry.
As Mexico News Daily reports: “In Tlaxcala on Friday, caravan members will learn about the community proposal to clean up the Atoyac–Zahuapan river basin, while on Saturday they will visit contaminated areas of Puebla city and speak with locals who have been dispossessed of their communal lands.”
Mexican history is a history of dispossession, and environmental violence is another way in which those in power have decimated the productive capabilities and future survival of communities that live and die by a deep attachment to the land and nature.
Sometimes there are big, big steps towards inclusivity in Latin America, a region that is still defined by colonial structures in which the indigenous is frowned upon and often looked down at. Indigenous languages, for example, are always at a clear and present danger of becoming extinct due to the imposition of Spanish (or Castillian, as people who speak other languages in then Iberian Peninsula call it) as the main language and often the only way to be part of the productive force. However, the southern state of Yucatan is taking a big step towards acknowledgement of the original owners of a land that was never ceded.
Schools in Yucatan have taken an important step towards real cultural inclusion and diversity.
The State Congress of Yucatan has just made it mandatory to have Mayan language instruction in primary and secondary schools. This is a great step towards true inclusivity in a state that has long benefited from Mayan culture when it comes to tourism and areas such as culinary tradition and art. According to census data, more than 570,000 people in Yucatan speak Mayan, so areas of the state are actually fully bilingual.
The census authority in Mexico has pointed out that the prevalence of Spanish has affected the numbers of people speaking Mayan. “Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the percentage of people that speak Mayan in the state has been decreasing constantly and drastically in recent years,” the agency INEGI warned, as reported by Mexico Daily News.
Change will not come quick, however, as reported by the same outlet: “One reason for going slowly might be a shortage of teachers. Education authorities said in September there was a shortage of bilingual — Spanish and Mayan — teachers. The state said it would attempt to remedy the situation by introducing a “seed group” of 20 primary-level bilingual teachers who would pass their skills on to at least another 40 teachers in a process that would fan out and prepare more teachers to help meet Mayan instruction goals”.
Mestizo Mexicans have a contradictory relationship to the country’s rich indigenous past.
There is no denying that there is a systematic and everyday racism in Mexican society. From government programs that inadvertently look down on indigenous Mexicans to the actual word of “indio” being used as an insult in everyday vernacular, there are manifestations of this type of discrimination on a constant basis and oftentimes people are not often aware.
This is no doubt part of the colonial heritage in Mexico, particularly when we consider that there was actually a caste system in place with Europeans at the top and indigenous people at the bottom. This discrimination is alive and well, and can be seen in different facets of Mexican society.
At the same time, however, institutionally ancient civilizations, particularly the Maya and the Aztec, are seen as the foundation of the country and a source of pride. The history of these groups is taught in schools and when Mexicans travel abroad usually the first thing they brag about is the glorious indigenous past and how the Spanish destroyed it all. There is a sense of nationalism emanating from the past glory of these civilizations. Sadly, this doesn’t always translate into how indigenous communities are treated. That is why including Maya in the curriculum is a BFD!
The Maya were amazing scientists, poets and overall a very advanced civilizations compared to their European counterparts at the time.
The Maya civilization was not only advanced in the material aspects of life such as irrigation and construction, but they also reached a very sophisticated level of conceptualization. For example, their number system included the zero, a feat that might seem very simple and almost banal, but that requires a high level of abstraction and a very high level of mathematical intelligence. They also had a deep understanding of astronomy and the ways in which the stars and the Earth’s rotation affect crops and daily life. Hey, maybe we can learn something from them in these times of climate change crisis.
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