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Mexico City declares war on chewing gum


Mexico City : Authorities in this chaotic metropolis of 20 million people have declared war on the millions of pieces of chewing gum that residents have thrown on the streets and footpaths.

Ricardo Jaral, the official in charge of preserving the public spaces in Mexico City’s historic quarter, said the area has “a huge quantity of gum stuck to the ground”.

In the most affected areas, authorities have counted an average of 70 pieces of flattened, blackened gum on every square metre of ground.

“The gum is a basically a public health problem, but at the same time (it’s a problem for the) urban image,” said Jaral, who is in charge of cleaning and maintaining the footpaths, the green areas and the public lighting in the historic city centre.

Since last year, he has been looking for special machines that use European technology to clean the gum off the footpaths and streets and finally he found a provider in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey who sold him 10 machines known as “gumbusters” for $5,000 each and they entered into service earlier this month after several months of testing.

“Many companies came to us to offer magic liquids and other alternatives to deal with the issue of the gum, but none of them were very effective,” said the official, who also contacted gum manufacturers to launch an information campaign to urge people not to throw their wads of chewed gum on the streets.

In the campaign, which still has not been fully formulated, Jaral wants people to understand that removing one piece of gum from the sidewalk costs the city 74 Mexican cents ($0.05).

On the average, the gum-removing machines can clean 12,000 pieces of gum from the footpaths and streets in an eight-hour shift.

Starting Feb 1, the capital’s city hall will launch a new phase in its programme of cleaning public spaces which includes using hot water for the first time in the country’s history to wash the footpaths and deal with another problem: cooking fat dumped on the ground.

If you walk along the streets in the city centre, you will often see portions of the footpaths soaked with fat left by the street vendors who sell thousands of pieces of roast chicken and tacos each day to hungry passers-by for around 40 pesos (less than $3).

“If we clean up a footpaths with a high-pressure cold-water cleaning machine we clean it but not thoroughly because if there’s fat there, that does not come off,” Jaral said.

With hot water, however, “immediately we can remove the fat and we can leave the footpaths very clean,” he added.

Additionally, starting next month city authorities plan to empty the trash containers in the historic centre 11 times per day, not just five, as is done now, and clean them at least once per day with hot water instead of once a week, which is the current practice.

Local authorities were also planning to repair footpaths and build “vertical gardens” to “reforest” the historic centre.

For now, the city just has one garden of that kind located on the wall of a narrow alley and measuring 25 metres long and 14 metres high.

The cleaning programme, the vertical gardens and the push to get people to use bicycles are the main things that city authorities are doing to improve the quality of life in one of the world’s most polluted cities.

Calculations are that 80 percent of the pollution in Mexico City is caused by the nearly four million vehicles that circulate through the city each day.

In addition, the metropolitan area produces 12,500 tonnes of trash each day, or 1.3 kg per resident.