Separating plastic, making a difference
—ROBIN BRANDIN, PLACITAS RECYCLING CENTER
The Placitas Recycling Center recently asked residents to begin
separating their No. 1 and No. 2 plastics for recycling. Thanks
to responsive users, the separation campaign has been very successful.
The willingness of users to make adjustments in their recycling
routine reflects the general good will in the Placitas community
toward the center’s efforts to reduce waste sent to area landfills.
“We hate to keep changing the rules, but in this case it
was unavoidable” commented John Richardson, President of the
Placitas Recycling Association. “The vendor who takes our
plastic simply won’t accept it mixed any longer.” After
plastic is dropped off at the Recycling Center, volunteers bale
it and transport it to a vendor in Albuquerque. An unexpected side
benefit of separating the different types of plastic has been an
increase in the price the vendor is willing to pay. Those revenues
are used to improve the center and make it safer and more convenient
for users and volunteers. “Time will tell whether the new
price fluctuates or stays stable,” noted Richardson.
In addition to separating the types of plastic, recyclers are requested
to remove bottle caps and rinse out containers. Removing the caps
is important for two reasons: they are generally made of a different
type of plastic, and crushing the bottles in the baler is easier
without the resistance created by trapped air. Rinsing out the containers
is important because liquids can create a slippery surface that
poses a safety hazard when baling, plus beverage residues can attract
vermin. There are other potential hazards—one volunteer’s
clothing was damaged by bleach left in a recycled container.
The Placitas Recycling Center accepts only No. 1 (PETE) and No.
2 (HDPE) plastic. The number is generally embossed inside the recycle
symbol on the bottom of the container. The center also accepts aluminum,
cardboard, white office paper, newspapers, mixed paper/chipboard,
and packing material. Unfortunately, the center is not able to handle
old telephone books this year.
The center is sporting a new look with new trailers purchased through
a county grant.
Located on Highway 165 just east of I-25, the all-volunteer Placitas
Recycling Center is open every Saturday from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m.
Additional volunteers are always welcome and can sign up at the
center or call Carmen Ketchum at 771-1311. More information about
the center can be found at placitasrecycling.com.
The preservation of our native seeds
For children in southern Mexico, farming is still the life context
for learning, but thanks to the support of Mateo Sanchez and The
Native American Education Department at Bernalillo Public Schools,
Roosevelt Elementary will start an outdoor classroom this year where
children can learn about Native seeds. Children at Roosevelt will
be planting, measuring, mapping, interviewing family members about
farming, creating hand-made books, and learning about the seeds
that are indigenous to our area, which was still a thriving farming
community in the 1950’s. One of the focuses of the outdoor
classroom will be the study of corn.
Last summer I was privileged to work with some of the rural, indigenous
teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico, and I learned first hand about comunalidad,
a term that describes the elaborate system of reciprocity that is
the organizing principle behind all social interactions including
land-use and farming. Since my return to New Mexico, I have been
trying to incorporate the idea of comunalidad into many areas of
my life, especially in my work as a teacher. I wanted to expand
my art program to include agri-culture because few people realize
the connection between art and life that is connected to the land.
Oaxaca is an appropriate place to begin the story of corn, because
it was there that Native people began the domestication of a wild
grass, teosinte. It took millions of farmers over thousands of years
to selectively breed teosinte into what we now call corn or maiz,
the most significant achievement in the history of agriculture.
Wholly dependent on human hands to produce it, maiz was the gift
of America’s First Peoples, and it was the basic force that
organized space: selecting where you would plant determined where
communities could be established, because corn could support denser
population patterns. Corn was also what organized time: by the seasons
of planting, by the seasons of cultivating, and by the seasons of
growth. The Director of Oaxaca’s Ethno-botanical Garden has
described corn as “the living mediator between land and people.”
From Oaxaca (eight thousand years ago), corn traveled through Latin
America to Central and South America before it traveled to New Mexico.
There is evidence of corn in our state dating back 6,000 years.
It took 5,000 more years for corn to reach what we now refer to
as the east coast of the US.
For Native people everywhere, corn contains their migration stories.
Each place developed its own variety of corn that is suitable for
that specific climate and its conditions, and here along the Rio
Grande Valley, we have the beautiful blue corn. This biodiversity
has sustained populations over many centuries, but since the industrialization
of the food chain and the beginnings of subsidized farming in the
US, it is more cost effective for farmers to grow seeds purchased
from big companies than to cultivate Native seeds.
Native people everywhere are increasingly concerned that their
heirloom seeds could be lost along with their cultural inheritance,
because today, rich countries and corporations such as Monsanto,
are taking seeds and making them private property. “We are
worried about the genetic changes that are affecting our heirloom
seeds,” says Mateo Sanchez, the Director of Native American
Education at the Bernalillo Public Schools. For this reason, many
educational programs are incorporating ways to preserve Native seeds,
such as the seed banks that are located at The Santa Fe Indian School.
Corn is also one of four crops in the US currently under genetic
modification. Sixty percent of all corn crops are now genetically
modified (GMO). In the US, we live in a society that views everything
as an object that can be bought and sold. Michael Pollan, a writer
for the New York Times, says that the industrial food system has
caused corn to become “the perfect capitalist plant.”
Subsidized farmers of the Midwest grow corn with vast amounts of
pesticides and chemical fertilizers, both of which are fossil fuel
products. Pollan explains that some 45,000 items in our supermarkets
now contain corn, and since we do not require labeling, we are not
aware that we are eating GMO corn.
What is GMO corn? GMO corn is spliced with DNA from other substances
and organisms. For example, birth control and other pharmaceuticals
are being grown in GMO corn. The genetically modified seeds that
are carried by the wind, cross-pollinate with the Native seeds,
and destroy the biodiversity that has been created over thousands
of years. The Native American Farmers Association and many others
regard GMO crops as pollutants that have been released and are out
of control in the environment.
With the current concerns about global warming, it is a critical
time for the preservation of our Native seeds, and for a return
to local knowledge. A movement to reconnect children to the natural
world through classroom experiences has educators such as Ray Romero,
Christina Kear, Matthew Bowers and Julianna Kirwin excited about
making the Roosevelt Garden a success for their students, parents,
If you would like to participate or donate items such as tools
(especially hand trowels), compost storage bins, shade cloth, a
tool shed, or even horse manure, contact Julianna at email@example.com.