Mexico City Hipsters Recycle Trash for Food at Mercado de Trueque

At Mexico City's Mercado de Trueque, residents recycle trash for fresh produce.

Nov. 12, 2012— -- Trash, tons of it. With some 25 million people, greater Mexico City struggles every day with mountains of garbage, even more now that the main dump has been closed. Recycling hasn't caught on yet in the country, and some still keep up the old habit of throwing their trash in the street. So waste management has been a crisis in the capital for years.

But now, city officials – and younger, trendy Mexicans with a green thumb - are trying to change that.

On March 2012, the Mexico City Department of Environment launched a new program, a barter market - or "Mercado de Trueque" - in the heart of Chapultepec, the city's largest park. The first Sunday of every month, people can trade recyclables for fresh produce grown by local farmers. They can chat directly with farmers and growers, "count" the value of their plastic bottles, glass and cans, and be reminded of indigenous agriculture practices inherited from Pre-Columbian times.

The initiative follows other green efforts launched by the city's leftist government, like a successful bike-sharing program and increased public transportation. While thousands of market-goers happily gather at dawn in a long a line that snakes through the park, some wish there were more markets of this kind held in different neighborhoods across the city, to meet growing demand.

The "Mercado de Trueque" only recycles a small fraction of the capital's daily waste. Still, it's an avant-garde model to be followed across the country and around the world. As its proud organizers say, "If a megalopolis like Mexico City – long infamous for its pollution levels – can achieve that, other cities can."

Eventually, the real success for the market would be if Mexicans keep and spread the good habit of recycling, with no incentive - food or plants - in exchange.