In México, workers make good use of old buckets

September 8, 2011

Nothing goes to waste in México. Plastic pop bottles turn into small paint containers, musical instruments or a soapy water squirt bottle for a windshield washing business. Discarded cardboard is used for a door mat when it’s rainy.  I believe that the 5 gallon paint bucket is the most coveted item of all. At the top of this post you’ll see how the car wash man on our street locks up his buckets when he goes home for mid-day comida. They are valuable items!

Mazatlán’s Centro Historico is full of enterprising men who wash cars all day, and they make good use of recycled buckets. One bucket of water will wash one entire car, too!


Each car wash guy has a territory.  They’ve made an arrangement with someone within their territory to use their water, and most of the day they will direct cars into a saved space and offer to wash it for a nominal fee.  (Here in Mazatlán, that’s usually from 30 to 50 pesos.)  In the picture above do you see a backpack hanging over the buckets?  That belongs to the car wash man, and are a common sight here and there in Centro.  Of course no one bothers them.

When they get going in the morning, first order of business is to fill some buckets and stake out your spot.


But buckets are used for much more than car washing.  The ones below belong to us. We put them in the street when we need to save a place for a delivery truck. Everyone does it. Sometimes I’d like to put them out when I’m going grocery shopping, but that would be an abuse of bucket protocol, I think.


In the picture below workers are delivering supplies up a practically inaccessible street!


When we did some gardening on our roof patio, all the dirt was hauled up by hand, bucket by bucket.

There isn’t a lot of formal recycling in our town – as there is only one recycling center – but there is a lively informal recycling effort here, don’t you think?

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More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

      1. Hi Jillian! Yes, we never feel bad about throwing something away. We usually just put it out separate from the garbage on garbage night and it is gone in minutes. Someone will always be able to repair it or find a use for it…

    1. I love “bucket protocol”, nice. The bucket is also the vehicle for transporting wet concrete, which was mixed with a spade, I see this so often. I also wrote a post about the “bucket Use” on the Isla.

    1. This is just another reminder of the fact that Mexicans (and others in the world of their income level) tread so much more lightly on the planet than do we first-worlders.

      I admire the hard work and conservation these guys display.

      Thanks for sharing,

      Kim G
      Boston, MA
      Where we reduce, reuse, and recycle, and are probably STILL an environmental menace.

    1. Even here in Montana, I put stuff out on the curb and it will be gone by morning. I love that stuff is getting reused and not thrown away. That’s how the world used to recycle!

    1. Recycle, upcycle, don’t throw anything out. We have always said that a Mexican can fix anything with nothing. I can’t help but refer you to my blog post on the recycling happening on Stone Island, or the Isla as we like to call it. As of July 13, 2011, three homes were constructed out of recycled plastic pop bottles. Twelve more are in the planning stage.

      These plastic bottles are now being used to build schools in Guatamala.

    1. Love it, Nancy! There are so many things one might consider “waste” that become valuable tools. Thanks for showcasing the bucket!

      1. Dianne, You have to love the incredible resourcefulness of the people here…

    1. Hi Nancy,

      Yeah, I have to agree about the plastic bottles. I’m always horrified at how many I go through when I’m there. And I think few, if any, are ever recycled. And the squeegee men only need so many, so there’s not a ton being reused either.

      But I think even with all the plastic bottles, the Mexican lifestyle treads more lightly on the planet. People don’t drive so much, line-dry clothes, don’t buy so many things, recycle a lot of stuff that would get thrown away here, don’t fly around in jets so much (my crime), don’t heat their houses, don’t use much air conditioning, use CFLs, and on and on.


      Kim G
      Boston, MA
      Where not using the heat is not an option.

      1. Kim, I think waste is such a huge problem everywhere, and Mexico is no different. There is so much food eaten at stands and most to-go containers are the bad kind of styrofoam. Although many taco carts have plastic dishes that they put inside a plastic bag. But that’s more plastic! People burn plastic, too. But in general I think that you are right, Mexicans probably do tread more lightly than others….

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