Baja California Sur saying no to plastic bags

Baja California Sur saying no to plastic bags

Plastic is ruining the world. Animals on land and in the water think it is food. It doesn’t decompose. China no longer wants to be the world’s dumping ground, so now it’s near impossible to even recycle it. Plastic is an environmental nightmare.

Individuals, businesses and governments are starting to address the problem. By 2021, the European Union said it will ban single-use plastic. McDonald’s in the next six years will only use sustainable wrappers.

Restaurants in Todos Santos-Pescadero are encouraged to get rid of plastic and do more for the environment. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In July 2018, elected officials in Mexico’s state of Baja California Sur passed legislation to ban single-use plastic, straws and some polystyrene. Starting Aug. 16, 2019, only renewable/compostable goods will be allowed at stores and restaurants.

It’s wonderful to see many places already getting rid of plastic. La Jardinera in Todos Santos, which is mostly a to-go restaurant, puts food in compostable containers. If people don’t want to compost it, the eatery will take it back and do so. For those who bring their own container, the bill is reduced by 10 percent.

At La Esquina in Todos Santos my leftovers were packaged in a small paper bag. No plastic on anything. This restaurant used to have reusable bamboo straws. Now my smoothie is served without one; even better.

A broader effort is under way in the Todos Santos-Pecadero area to get businesses to participate in what’s called a 5 Turtle Rating System. The first level is eliminating plastic straws; second includes straws, plastic bags and Styrofoam going away; third adds plastic bottles to the list; fourth includes a recycling program; and the top or fifth category adds organic composting on top of everything else.

Signs are up at some establishments to let patrons know it is a participating business.

Using my own bag at the grocery store is pretty routine for me. I was doing so before South Lake Tahoe implemented a ban, which was even before the state of California did. Unfortunately, I’m usually the only one with my own bag at the stores in Todos Santos. That is going to have to change in a few months.

The nonprofit Manos Magicas Todos Santos collected monetary donations for canvas bags that adults and children decorated, and then gave them to the low income Mexican population so they’ll have bags to shop with.

With about 5 billion single-use bags being used throughout the world each year, and most of those ending up in landfills or strewn as garbage on land and in the water, any dent that can be made in using fewer of them is a good thing for all creatures on this planet.

More diligence needed to break my straw habit

More diligence needed to break my straw habit

No straw? How the heck am I going to drink and drive?

My first encounter with a strawless lid on a cold drink was this past spring at Costco in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. I’m pretty sure if anyone was watching me, I looked pretty funny as I searched for a straw in the outdoor food court. Then I paused. No one had a straw, but they had plenty of drinks. I finally looked at the soda. The lid had a little hump on it with an opening. It wasn’t an opening for a straw. I was supposed to drink out of it.

Straws have not been eliminated from The Beacon in Lake Tahoe even though California has a plastic straw ban. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Awesome, I thought. It was like an adult sippy cup. I had never seen one on a cold drink; just for hot drinks.

I figured if Mexico had this, it must be all the rage in the United States. Then I remembered Baja California Sur is more evolved than parts of the United States. In July 2018, lawmakers for that state of Mexico passed a law banning single-use plastic, including straws. The legislation took effect this month.

I’ve visited more fast food restaurants this summer than usual while I’ve been out peddling my hiking book. Much to my disappointment I’ve only encountered straws; no lids to sip from. All of these straws have me seriously thinking about buying a reusable straw so I can say no to the plastic ones.

The Costco in Carson City, Nevada, also has straws. It’s unfortunate the company seems to be acting on external mandates to do what is right instead of changing to sipable lids at all of its locations.

I’m not sure I can wait for governing bodies to pass legislation banning them or for companies to figure it out on their own. I know I need to get better at saying “no straw” when I order a drink. Change is slow even though the evidence is irrefutable about how bad straws are for the environment and wildlife.

Despite California no longer allowing straws at sit down restaurants, that doesn’t appear to be true at bars that are part of the restaurant. I was so taken aback when I went into a popular South Shore restaurant to have one of their trademark rum drinks and saw containers of straws at the bar. That drink doesn’t require a straw, but all came with one – even for the people seated.

Does any drink really need a straw?

Mexico in the News: Tourism, Butterflies and Toyota

Mexico in the News: Tourism, Butterflies and Toyota

  • Forbes says La Paz is the place to visit, not Cabo.
  • The New York Times in this story delves into women in Mexico fighting back against violence.
  • Climate change is taking a toll on monarch butterflies in Mexico, according to this Washington Post.
  • The most dangerous source of ocean plastic is fishing gear, according to Sea Shepherd Global. Mexico is mentioned in this story.
  • Toyota is moving more vehicle production to Mexico, according to the Associated Press.

Dog walks double as opportunity to rid beach of trash

Dog walks double as opportunity to rid beach of trash

Scanning the beach, it looks pristine for miles. Looking down, that’s another story.

While the beaches of Todos Santos are not full of litter, there is something to be picked up along each walk. This could probably be said of any sandy oasis in the world. People leave things behind – sometimes deliberately, other times unknowingly. Debris gets washed ashore during a storm or with the normal ebb and flow of tides, while other particles are brought to the beach during rain events from higher land points.

Styrofoam protrudes from the sand in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Wind covers and uncovers items, so walking the same stretch each day can reveal something new. AJ and I walk a similar section on a regular basis, but it would be near impossible to walk the exact path because the beach is so wide and long.

It used to be when I had an unused poop bag after walking, I would bring it the next time. Now I use it for trash.

I have Jill to thank for this. AJ and I regularly walk with her and canines Ruby and Pepper. She has been picking up trash for a handful of years; starting after a neighbor she used to walk with was doing so. Jill and I share a bag, thus cutting down on the number of plastic bags when we walk together.

Styrofoam is Jill’s biggest pet-peeve. She has a knack for spotting tiny pieces of this non-biodegradable material. I confuse them for shells. Some of it is from cups, other is the tiny beaded Styrofoam used in insulation. Recently she found a syringe on the beach. My most interesting item was a pair of rusty pliers next to a barbed wire fence; guessing someone left them behind after the job was done. Mostly pieces of plastic, bottle tops and cigarette butts fill our bags, along with the occasional beer can.

While we are using plastic bags, that isn’t completely terrible. This last summer Baja California Sur outlawed single-use plastic bags at stores. Produce bags are still available. Those often become my dog poop/beach litter bags. I also have biodegradable poop bags I brought from the United States. Jill is even better, bringing bags that rarely see a second use like what dried beans come in. This is where I need a lot of improvement – to reuse my quinoa, trail mix and chip bags. Those bags are also being used to clean up after AJ in the yard. I used to toss them in the garbage without giving them a second life.

Jill isn’t the only walker I know who picks up other people’s garbage. My mom has been doing this for as long as I can remember. She does so when walking her neighborhood, picking up what she can carry. I, too, have picked up trash on any street I’ve lived on.

It proves garbage is an issue everywhere; not just on a beach. “Leave no trace” is a mantra for hikers, as is “carry out what you pack in.” These sentiments should be applied in all circumstances when it comes to trash. One day it would be great if nothing ended up in anyone’s bag because the world was that clean. But statistics make that seem like a fantasy.

According to National Geographic, “There are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.”

Human trash is an environmental nightmare – for the land, ocean and animals consuming our crap. It’s bad enough for wildlife to eat human food, even worse to ingest our trash. Think of all the toxins getting into the soil/sand, waterways, animals’ bodies. Plenty of humans are then eating those contaminated animals. The ecosystem can’t survive if we keep trashing it.

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

Sweetness evident in Coca-Cola’s Mexico recipe

It was immediate. I knew this wasn’t the same Diet Coke I was used to drinking. It was more than the packaging, with it being called Coca-Cola Light in Mexico.

Sweeter, less carbonated. That’s what I think of Diet Coke in Mexico compared to the United States.

The difference is that in Mexico the recipe uses cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The carbonation factor I can’t figure out. I’ve had Coca-Cola Light out of aluminum cans and plastic bottles here. Both seem less fizzy than what I get north of the border.

Some in the U.S. prefer the Mexico blend, so now it is imported in some locales. Look for hecho en México to know that it’s made in Mexico.

Packaging is a little different. Three liter bottles are available here; some cans are larger than the “normal” 12 ounces (355mL). Glass bottles are also extremely popular here.

Mexicans drink more soda than any other country. Coke, though, dominates the market. On average, Mexicans drink 700 cups of Coke a year, which is almost double what people in the United States drink.

A 3-liter plastic bottle of Coca-Cola light in Todos Santos costs 36 pesos; less than $2. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Obesity and diabetes became a huge concern, especially after Mexico joined NAFTA in 1994. The price on sugary drinks like Coke and processed foods dropped. In some locales in Mexico it was cheaper to buy a Coke than potable water. The number of Mexicans diagnosed with diabetes doubled between 2000 and 2007.

Vicente Fox, who was president of Mexico from 2000-06, had too close of a relationship with the mega carbonated drink producer to do much. He was once president of Coca-Cola Mexico.

It was President Enrique Peña Nieto who in 2013 proposed a 10 percent soda tax. It took effect the following year.

A study by BMJ showed a reduction in soda consumption. However, actual reduction in calories has not been significant enough to have serious impacts on reducing diabetes and obesity. Others are calling for education to be stepped up so consumers understand the impacts of their dietary choices.

Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Stay away from the tap water in Mexico

Purified water is available at a facility in the center of Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Not even AJ, my dog, drinks the tap water in Todos Santos.

I don’t know all the minerals or other contaminants that are in the water, but enough that even the native Mexicans use bottled water. With AJ having kidney disease, I wasn’t about to find out what it would do to her.

I shower and brush my teeth with the regular water. It’s also used to wash dishes and clothes, and for outdoor plants.

Using a custom-designed holder for water in the kitchen. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I use treated water for cooking rice-quinoa-pasta, even to boil eggs. Guests use this “good” water for coffee as well. For washing produce I put a few drops of a solution into good water. This was recommended from Rhoda, who has wintered in Mexico the last few years.

The number of bottles I go through in a month varies based on how many people are here and the amount of cooking/coffee making. I’ve never spent more than $4 in a month.

Restaurants often serve bottled water when you request aqua. I often have my water bottle with me, at least for casual dining. The whole plastic issue is the main reason, as well as being cheap.

Water is a bit of a luxury here. In an average year, Todos Santos gets about 6 inches of rain. The Sierra de La Laguna mountains that run through a large swath of the middle of Baja California Sur get more rain. It is from these mountains that the aquifers of the area are filled.

Large plastic bottles are used over and over again for treated water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Baja California Sur is the driest state in Mexico. This doesn’t seem to bother the government since it keeps giving permits for development. This state is also the fastest growing one in the country.

Officials in Cabo San Lucas got smart a few years ago when they implemented a policy mandating major developments have their own desalination and wastewater treatment plants. Desalinization plants, though, have numerous environmental red flags associated with them.

As more gringos have moved to the Todos Santos area, more options are available for treated water. Many full-timers install purification systems so they can use their tap. It’s possible to do so just in the kitchen or on any faucet.

I get my drinking water in bottles that are just more than 5 gallons. There is a purification plant in town with a reverse osmosis water treatment system. Water U-2000, the company, has been doing this type of work for at least 35 years.

Water is available six days a week at the Todos Santos facility. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While there are various workers there, usually it’s the same young man – who didn’t give me his name – who helps me. He washes the empty plastic bottle I bring him, then has two overhead faucets in order to fill more than one bottle at a time. He dries off the bottle, puts the cap on and collects my 10 pesos – 53 cents. When he carries it to the Jeep, he gets a 5-peso tip; not much, but still 50 percent.

It’s possible to have water bottles like this delivered, but this way is working for me. Carrying it upstairs and getting a bottle into the downstairs container adds to my weightlifting for the day.

Downstairs I use the custom-made metal container my sister had here. The bottle sits in it. When it comes to using it, the bottle is tipped forward to pour from it. Upstairs I have a pump on the top. Both do their job.

5 random facts related to Mexico

5 random facts related to Mexico

  1. Fifty percent of the world’s avocados come from Mexico, which means there are a lot of pits lying around after all that guacamole is prepared. Mexico-based BioFase is turning those pits into biodegradable and compostable plastic.

  1. The Spanish-language rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s state of the union address on Feb. 5, 2019, had roots in Mexico. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who gave the speech, is half Mexican. His mother was an immigrant from Guadalajara.

  1. In October 2018, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that an absolute ban on recreational marijuana use is unconstitutional. Congress is contemplating making it legal for citizens to grow and sell pot.

  1. Illegal immigration isn’t a one-way road. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Geography and Statistics, in 2015 about 740,000 U.S. citizens lived in Mexico. The country’s National Institute of Immigration said only 65,302 were legal residents. Many from the U.S. come on a six-month tourist visa and never leave. That’s how the majority of illegal immigrants enter the U.S., too.

5.  Spanish is just one of the 68 official languages recognized by the Mexican government.

It takes some work to keep gravel looking pretty

It takes some work to keep gravel looking pretty

AJ gives her approval to the gravel at her Todos Santos home. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I understand a manicured lawn. But gravel? Really?

Yep, it’s a thing. It’s not just a Mexico thing. It’s a thing wherever someone has gravel. It just so happens Mexico is the first place I’ve had gravel.

Most driveways and parking areas in Todos Santos are gravel. It goes right to the front steps at my sister’s place. More forms a walkway to the steps at the downstairs porch. It then stretches to where the back yard starts.

It is amazing how raking really does make the whole front look better.

Initially I would swear to myself when I raked. The rake is so frigging heavy it does double duty as my weightlifting for the day.

Then I learned there were rakes just for gravel. This is what my sister has. A normal garden rake that one uses for pine needles or on a lawn is going to be destroyed by gravel. A gravel rake has thick metal for its teeth. They don’t bend.

Until moving to Todos Santos I had never thought about raking gravel. Walking and driving on it spreads the rocks to places in an uneven manner. Drag a suitcase across it, well, that leaves an unwanted pattern. Rain really ruins the look of the yard, um, gravel. When it rains here it’s almost always a deluge that carries the rock downhill.

After it rains the weeds pop up, too. No fabric or plastic was laid down for weed prevention. Not sure that is ever done here.

I also use the shovel to carry some of the rock to higher ground. It’s a process.

Bare areas in the gravel now bother me. It’s an eyesore like a brown spot in grass.

I also now find something therapeutic about this gravel raking. I don’t swear anymore. I even take pride in my well-manicured gravel.

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