Casa Cem, advantageously perched at the corner of Chapultepec and Guadalupe Zuno, has been a seminal force for environmental protection in Guadalajara for over a decade.
And in 2018, this brainchild of Sofia Chavez, a local woman so frustrated with the lack of recycling facilities that she created one herself, continues to move forward. Casa Cem, housed in a white, two-story, converted home, is aided by public institutions (which have included the U.S. Consulate) and dozens of Mexican and international volunteers.
It offers activities focused on many fronts, such as recycling, of course, as well as education and helping small producers of novel products.
The latter goal comes center stage on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons as Casa Cem takes advantage of its proximity to the bustle and charm of Avenida Chapultepec to present, behind its white walls festooned with colorful wildlife images, a series of “bazares eco-sustentables” (eco-sustainable bazaars).
The bazaars have been held every Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. for several months and are expanding to most Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“In 2018, we hope to hold the Sunday bazaars every Sunday,” said Casa Cem staffer Edith Román. “They take advantage of the flow of people at the Via Recreativa.” The bazaars also coincide with the center’s limited public recycling schedule. (Recycling is also done Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Products at the bazaars range from desserts and jewelry to cacao and houseplants, all produced by small entrepreneurs in a sustainable manner. A typical producer at the markets is a young man who sells glasses of agua fresca (fresh fruit beverages) in actual glasses (instead of in plastic or styrofoam containers or in plastic bags with plastic straws, as is the local custom).
“After his customers drink the agua fresca, he asks that they recycle the glass,” adds Román.
Fortuitously for this merchant, it just so happens that Casa Cem accepts glass sorted by color, which it then sells (for a pittance) to a recycler. (In contrast, Guadalajara’s new street recycling containers, some of which are located a few blocks from Casa Cem, do not specifically recycle glass. The municipal containers are labeled for four materials: metal, paper, plastic and all other refuse.)
The agua fresca seller’s drinks are particularly noteworthy for his avoidance of styrofoam cups. Styrofoam – unicel in Spanish – is the reigning Great Satan among environmentalists, considering that it is both abundantly used and abundantly condemned as the cause of a dismaying list of ills. Casa Cem pointedly stipulates that bazaar merchants may not use unicel for packaging.
In addition to the bazaars, Casa Cem offers a full roster of other activities, many of them educational. Staffer Cynthia Mercado explained that workers regularly visits schools, businesses and other institutions to explain how they can get in line with vanguard efforts such as the Paris supermarket Biocoop (which is free of all plastic packaging) and entities such as New York and California (which have limited or banned plastic bags and food containers made of the Great Satan).
Among Casa Cem’s noteworthy, free film offerings this year is “Chasing Coral” (2017), which took the U.S. Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance film festival. The 1 1/2-hour film in English, described by IndieWire as “a stunning documentary about the fight to protect coral reefs … featuring breathtaking and distressing underwater footage,” will be shown Wednesday, February 7, 7 p.m.
Román added that Casa Cem, unlike the Guadalajara City Hall recycling program, specifically accepts electronic devices, although she ruefully noted that the thorny challenge of recycling televisions is currently in limbo.
“Nobody is recycling televisions at the moment,” she pointed out. Electronics are a challenge partly because of pepenadores — people who work in dumps in very hazardous conditions without any protection and are controlled by unions that are so powerful that the government can’t do anything to get the workers out of the dumps.
Other noteworthy recycling efforts at Casa Cem are plastics (#1, #2 and #5) and even plastic bags marked #4. See recycling center details: www.casacem.org/centro_acopio.php. Facebook: casacemgdl.