Water and Trash on the Sea of Cortez

Do you check out the messy side of the places you visit?


When we travel, tidy arrangements for visitors are much appreciated on my end, but it doesn’t seem right to go away without lifting the carpet. When we went to Disneyland, it was all I could do not to open the “employees only” doors, to peek behind the scenes. In New Orleans, we took side trips to quiet neighborhoods where people live and work, despite tourist-book warnings about safety.

Life is both glorious and grubby. When a man-made place looks perfect, it means the people who constructed and maintain it are hiding something. Maybe it’s a good something. Maybe not. To uncover the secrets of a place, I generally try to find out (1) where the water comes from and (2) where the trash goes.

In Singapore, surely one of the tidiest countries on earth, we learned there are almost no native sources of water. That’s pretty amazing for a country with 5 million people squeezed into an area about half the size of Los Angeles. How do they do it?

Botanical gardens, Singapore

Singaporeans are largely dependent on Malaysia for water. They supplement with catchment basins for rain, water recycling, desalination and set aside estuaries for water storage, but for the most part the water has been, at various times, shipped and piped in.

And trash? Very complicated. There is one landfill, on an artificial island.

Photo source: Singapore NEA

Household recycling is voluntary and complex, since most people live in high rises.

There are a lot of construction cranes in Singapore.

Some industrial waste is repurposed. Waste that can be burned is sent to incinerators, which generate energy; also pollution, but apparently not very much. The ash is transported to the landfill. Their goal is a 60% recycling rate, which is phenomenal given how most of the rest of the world deals with trash.

But enough about Singapore.

This week we visited a small outpost on the Sea of Cortez. Spectacular. Remote.


Trash? Most of it dumped, covered with palm fronds, just out of sight of the resort.


Water comes from the mountains, which also supply Cabo San Lucas, about 4 hours from where we were.


It is filtered for drinking, and post-use, processed in a septic field. Or so we hope.

Efforts in Mexico are underway to capture trash for recycling, but as anyone who walks along storm tossed beaches can see, that battle is only beginning. In an hour of trash-collecting on the uninhabited island of Cerralvo, we gathered a full bag of plastic: water and soda bottles, tooth brushes, shampoo bottles, shoe soles, umbrella handle, twine, tubing, and many dozens of bottle caps.

If you are traveling to the La Paz area and are interested in minimizing the impact of the trash you leave behind, check out this post by Fives on the Fly.


What’s going on in your neighborhood in the water and trash departments?


  • When I was growing up, there was trash all along the roadways. Then the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign started. I believe the thing that curtailed the trash was the fines given to people who insisted on using the side of the road as their own personal garbage dump. The countryside around me used to have a lot of stuff dumped out here. Although it was illegal, it was generally ignored until people living in the country pointed out the dangers being dumped (open containers of anti-freeze, shards of glass from demolished homes that were dumped, etc.). To find the culprits, trash was combed for any clues as to where it came from. Once people started feeling the hurt, the incidences were reduced dramatically.

    Seeing a Saguaro cactus with a tire on it is a good example of the thoughtlessness of humans. We don’t consider that it takes 100 years for one of these magnificent plants to grow. We just do what we want with it.

    You can see how upset I get over trash. You don’t want to know how upset I get over water. As an example, A giant cattle ranch wants to take water from an aquifer that feeds silver springs in Florida (near Ocala). The fight has been going on for years. Here’s a link that might be interesting to you http://www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/blog/save-silver-springs/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link. I love efforts like this. And it’s anger that brings about change. Yep, my thought exactly about the cactus. Someone’s cutesy moment on a plant that was there before any of us were born.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Things are fairly well regulated and monitored here in Britain. There’s a few face-saving, political gesturing schemes, such as recycling then only to ship the waste product to China where putatively it’s remanufactured, though in truth is just dumped. Water is good quality, though it’s scandalous that our supply has been privatised, and this essential public good is traded for corporate profits.


    • Scary to think that something none of us can live without is considered on a par with, say, Starburst candies. Just trade-able commodities. Ho hum. Britain has always seemed pretty civilized about their water and garbage issues. Let’s hope some of that stuffed shipped to China does not, in the end, get dumped.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Although I’ve enjoyed going on cruises, that’s another industry with an enormous amount of waste. I imagine it being disposed of in the sea and then feel guilty for my contribution to it. Very interesting post. It definitely makes one think of what’s behind the pretty parts of popular vacation spots.


    • Some cruise ship companies are better than others about dumping. On Bonaire, Carnival cruise used to truck sewage waste directly to the center of the island and dump it, untreated, where it leached back into the ocean. 100 foot clarity diminished and coral started dying. Pretty awful. They’ve put a stop to that, thank goodness. Any cruiser can check with the company, or crew, and see what’s going on, or maybe I should say, out. There are a lot of ways for them to improve trash disposal systems, but of course, they won’t unless pressured by passengers or forced to by law. Pressure by passengers is preferable in my book.

      Liked by 2 people

  • It definitely depends on who you ask regarding trash disposal and water quality control for central Arkansas. We do have a recycle plan but it’s not very effective. The major commercial oil spill into the drinking supply of 5 cities, to include ours, has still not been effectively cleaned. We’ve always drank bottled water and provided it for the pets – but what about showering and all of the other contact?
    I’ve inspected enough Super Fund sites to last me a lifetime!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I didn’t know you inspected Super Fund sites. That must have been something. We hardly hear anything in the news about major cleanups anymore. You’ve given me something else to research. Hopefully Arkansas recycling will become more effective, and your water supply will be cleaned up. Heaven knows, we’ve got a lot of know-how, and these are solve-able problems.


  • Sad about that resort trash…
    I had no idea about Singapore’s waste and water supply challenges.
    I haven’t been to Asia, Mexico, Central and South America. So am a baby in terms of exposure to other waste disposal habits.

    Our province is obsessed about getting rid of …rats. Not kiddin’. It’s related to grain preservation. Aside from residential and commercial building occupants’ trash which is well controlled and sorted, there is the big issue of tailings ponds/waste from the oil sands several kms. north of us.

    As part of a work-related group function, last year I joined over 100 employees for a 1 hr. tour of a local large municipal landfill site. Just an eye-opener what is done, different processes for different garbage.


    • Rats? It makes sense though. Yes, we have an eye on those oil sands, as the Rs and Ds here battle it out over the last segment of the Keystone Pipeline.

      “Different processes” sounds like your municipal landfill takes a multi-pronged approach, and probably includes reclaiming some of it. Everyone should visit their landfills. We all need a reminder that what goes out doesn’t just evaporate. Kudos to your work.


  • I love that you do this on your journeys–that you’re bringing awareness to an incredibly important topic. Thank you, JB.
    I feel very lucky to live in a community that, to many perhaps, goes a little over the edge with enthusiasm when it comes to recycling and renewables, but that intense eagerness makes a difference. Even if in a very small way.
    Cheers for a truly great post!


    • “Bringing awareness” is a flattering way to put it. My carbon footprint is pretty big these days. The kitchen compost and collecting measly bags of trash doesn’t come close to making up. I’m finding it very challenging to make more than superficial changes. Gotta start somewhere I guess.

      You are lucky to live in a community that values recycling and renewables. It’s probably the key, in fact, to us making any progress at all — people taking the big step together, so nobody feels too far out there, put upon or weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Minimal concern about waste/recycling here in Boise. We get massive roller garbage cans, with a recommended maximum weight of 225 pounds per week. That’s right, two hundred twenty five. Plenty of landfill space around here. We do get a recycle can too, but not for glass. You have to pay extra for a glass recycle bin. But that is just a reality of glass recycling. Glass has to be shipped a state or two way to be recycled.


    • Yeah, glass requires special, expensive equipment. We don’t have it here, either, so glass is ground up for pavement. Not exactly re-cycling. More of a downward spiral. 225 pounds per week? That’s like a healthy-sized American off to the dump. Do you fulfill your quota? As always, it will be informative to see what happens in the R and the D states over time. D’s mired in regulations, R’s in rubbish?


  • i have a bit more “personal” stake in this, in that my parents (their ashes, at least) are forevermore IN the Sea of Cortez. i should go visit them more often, but part of the reason is what your post is about.

    Mexico in general, has a lo o o oo o ng weigh to go about this. tourism suffers.

    we went to Costa Rica a year back and there’s reason for (a little bit of) optimism, in that in many places (of the relatively few places I actually saw) efforts to keep and stay clean are obvious. and we (it’s sad, but) often said among ourselves “less trashy than mexico”.

    That’s AMAZING about singapore!


    • Mexico does have a long way to go. Arrangements for preservation of wild places seem vague, or private, or organized by gringos. Bits of trash, or large piles, are everywhere. I did not dig very deeply into water systems, but might someday.

      Nevertheless, you SHOULD visit your parents. It is a lovely place to end up, and to visit.


  • Wow, you just blew me away on those statistics on Singapore. We know others who have traveled to that area and loved it. But a you said, we know very little about what goes on behind the scenes. And Mexico? I have gotten sick so many times over the years that I won’t go back. And I used bottle water. Although I have a feeling part of the problem was the area that we traveled to. Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta share the same water source. And boy oh boy there must be some kind of bacteria that doesn’t agree with me. I think it was the tomatoes I ate in the salsa. lol. I laugh now. But not back then. Anyway, thanks for taking us on a backlot tour! I hope you had a wonderful time! 🙂


    • We did have a good time. The water at the place we visited was from a local source, a closed system, sweet, clean and no problem, just in case you want to give Mexico another try. It was a bear to get to though.

      Singapore was impressive in many ways. Strict, clean, modern, busy!

      Thanks for visiting —


Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.