Mexico City’s roving barter market and short circuit food

Posted on 16 February 2021.

In 2012 the Mercado de Trueque market in the Mexican capital became THE place to exchange recyclable waste for local farm produce.

SEDEMA has adopted an incentive and educational approach. It has turned a constraint into an opportunity!

Mexico City produces approximately 13,000 metric tons of waste every day, but less than 1.3% is recycled. To reduce the production of waste, the Mexican capital decided to develop selective sorting. But the problem was getting residents to do it, apply the new rules and change their behavior.

Instead of setting up a system of fines for offenders, Mexico City's Secretariat for the Environment (SEDEMA) has adopted an incentive and educational approach. It has turned a constraint into an opportunity!

In 2012, the organization that steers the capital's environmental policy launched an original initiative: the Mercado de Trueque - a "barter market" where people can exchange recyclable waste for local farm produce.

Waste for local produce

The Mercado de Trueque is a roving market. To reach a larger and more diverse public, it is held in different parts of the city on the second Sunday of the month.
Anyone can participate by simply bringing their own separated and clean waste: paper and cardboard, glass bottles, aluminum cans and tins, PET or HDPE plastic, Tetra Pak packaging and even electronics and used cooking oil. The maximum amount of waste allowed is 10 kg and the minimum is 1 kg per person.

The market is divided into two areas. In the first, the waste is classified, weighed and exchanged for "green points". These points can then be used to buy food in the market’s second area.
All the farm produce comes from the area surrounding Mexico City. For example, vegetables come from San Luis Tlaxialtemalco and San Gregorio Atlapulco. So, the Mercado de Trueque not only helps to reduce waste but also promotes the very vibrant local farming sector on the outskirts of the city.

The collected waste is bought by SEDEMA's industrial partners and then recycled to manufacture new products.

An education and awareness program

The Mercado de Trueque is more than just a marketplace. It is an education and awareness program that encourages citizens to sort their waste properly, and in a very tangible way demonstrates all the benefits - both individual and collective -of doing so.
“If we sort our waste correctly,” says SEDEMA's slogan, “it still has value”. The proof is that it can be used as a barter currency for fresh, seasonal, locally produced food!
In addition, the results of each market are published online, with the amount of waste recycled converted into meaningful figures, such as the water, energy or raw material savings realized.

The number of Mercado de Trueque users is increasing every year. In 2019, it diverted more than 145 metric tons of waste from landfills. Thanks to paper recycling, for example, 2,300 liters of water were saved and the felling of 827 trees was avoided. In addition, short circuits considerably reduce the CO2 emissions related to transporting or storing goods.

To enhance the attractiveness of the market and get more and more citizens involved in waste recovery and local consumption, SEDEMA has developed a number of activities – for example free cooking classes. Its popular success, longevity and impact definitely make the Mercado de Trueque a great example to copy!