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Biodegradable Eating Utensils, Alternative Energy, and Indigenous Culture at Eco Maya

by Rick Panna Friday, Apr. 21, 2006 at 9:50 PM

“The paper goods are made from [materials] like corn, rice, and sugarcane, and they are all biodegradable. Even the trash bags are biodegradable. What we’re trying to do is change the way that festivals are produced.” – Carmelo Alvarez, event co-organizer

Biodegradable Eating...
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The organizers of this year’s Eco Maya Earth Day festival are hoping to set new standards in sustainability for Earth Day events. Eating utensils will be biodegradable, solar energy will be demonstrated, and alternatives to polluting automobiles will be promoted. Strong emphasis will also be placed on indigenous culture. “That’s why you have [the name] Eco Maya,” said event co-organizer Carmelo Alvarez.. “[I]t’s the ecology movement joined with the indigenous movement. If you look at it, you’ll find that it’s really all one. . . . Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.”

In the following interview, Carmelo elaborates on these aspects of Eco Maya XII, to be held this weekend, April 22 and 23, at the Cornfield State Park (1201 N. Spring in Los Angeles).

QUESTION: When you announced this event recently, you said that people will be eat with paper plates and cups, which will then be composted. How did this come about, and how will the items be composted?

ALVAREZ: The paper goods are made from [materials] like corn, rice, and sugarcane, and they are all biodegradable. Even the trash bags are biodegradable.

What we’re trying to do is change the way that festivals are produced because normally at the festivals there’s a lot of litter. It’s a slow process because we have to reeducate the vendors. There’s still vendors that are resisting that because they’re just not used to the products. Some of the [biodegradable] products are not as sturdy, but some of them are. Most of them are pretty comparable to what you find in a regular store: [e.g.,] plastic and styrofoam. However, some of the products, like some of the paper goods, won’t last as long. But it’s not made to last as long, it’s made to be used and then put into a bin, which has a bag that is also biodegradable. The bag is then tied up and also put into a compost bin.

Q: Are the trash bags going to be composted there at the cornfield, or will they be taken somewhere else?

ALVAREZ: The city of L.A. has a compost program now by which they provide you with a compost bin if you commit to doing a zero-waste event. There are few people that know about it, so we’re hoping to advertise that and promote it. And now I’ve gotten requests from other festivals for advice on how to do that. We’re hoping that it will catch on and that next year we can implement these type of programs at the larger events, like, say, at 5th and Broadway. That’s a big annual event.

Q: I assume you’re going to have receptacles for recyclables.

ALVAREZ: Yes, we’re going to have receptacles for aluminum, glass, plastic, paper, and compost.

Q: Will the compost receptacles accommodate plate scrapings?

ALVAREZ: Yes, all the things that are on the plates will go into one pile.

Q: So whatever’s on the dirty plate, plus the plate, will go into the compost bin?


Q: Does the city do the composting?

ALVAREZ: Yes. It’s taken to the city composting program called Clean L.A.

. . . The city only provides the bins, so we have to go to a supplier for the paper products.

The hardest part is to get the vendors to change, but we’re taking strides in doing it. We cannot be eco and not promote that. We can’t have an Eco Maya or Earth Day event and then have all litter.

Most of the people are for it, but there are those that just aren’t used to it. Some people, for example, might say: “I’m getting my stuff donated from Smart & Final; I can’t switch.” We say: “Okay, what we’re going to do then is create an ‘eco certificate’ and highlight the vendors that are using the biodegradable products. We’re going to certify them as ‘eco vendors,’ and we’re going to promote them from the platform.” We’re going to say: “Buy food from our ‘eco vendor’ because this is an organization that is for the environment.’” We’ll place them in a prominent location and give them a certification.

Restaurants have ratings of “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D.” What we want to do is have ratings for vendors that are ecologically-conscious. For example [we might say], “This food vendor uses biodegradable products; they recycle their oil, they create biofuel; they recycle.” What if we start spreading that throughout the city, and the whole state, and the whole United States! That’s the way to get a movement going.

Q: Where do you get the biodegradable products?

ALVAREZ: We get them from a supplier called CaterGreen [see: ].


Q: You also mentioned that you are encouraging people to get to your event by means other than cars. You called this “A Day Without a Car,” a play on the movie title, “A Day Without a Mexican.”

One way to do that, of course, is the Gold Line, which has a stop near the cornfield at Chinatown. People can also go on bicycles. Do you have any other suggestions?

ALVAREZ: Preferably, get on the train because the train is electric . There are the buses, but they burn a lot of fuel. What we would like to have, obviously, is to have alternative-fueled buses as well.

Q: I spoke to Kalib Kersh, who teaches people how to brew biodiesel. He said biodiesel buses are viable for city use, both for school buses and mass transit, although they, like petroleum, would have to be subsidized to some degree.

ALVAREZ: What we’re promoting is alternative fuel vehicles like veggie vans [recommended viewing:], like biofuel, like electric hybrid vehicles. Going back to the theme “A Day Without a Car,” it’s “A Day Without a Car… Unless Your Car is Electric, Biofuel, a Veggie Van.”

. . . They’re going to have a caravan that’s going to leave from this site at 9:30 in the morning. It’s going to go to different Earth Day celebrations. It’s going to travel from here to McArthur Park, to Bell Gardens, back to the South Central Farmers, and then back to Eco Maya.

Q: Is Common Vision putting on the caravan, or is it someone else?

ALVAREZ: It’s someone else: the Willie Velasquez Institute, and it’s coming out of the Latino Environmental Summit. [See: ]

[The conversation returns alternative modes of transportation.]

ALVAREZ: [People can also come by] bicycle. The group Bike Kitchen (see: ) is going to be coming down, riding their bikes. We also still have the Critical Mass ( ). So there are bike clubs coming. They’ve been here a lot of times. There are plenty of spaces to chain your bike, or you can walk with it through the festival.

Or what about walking [to Eco Maya]? Has anybody ever heard of that? So those are the options, and we’re promoting them.


Q: Could you talk about the solar-powered stage that’s going to be featured at the festival?

ALVAREZ: The stage is going to be solar-powered: all the sound equipment, the amplifiers, the microphones. Also, some of the vending booths [will be solar-powered].

Q: Did you find manufacturers to contribute solar panels?

ALVAREZ: They gave them at a cut rate. We’re renting them.


ALVAREZ: We’re also promoting the indigenous cultures because they were more permaculture design-minded(1), before the term permaculture design existed. The native people had no other choice but to use the resources that were around them, and they were more conscious of wildlife and of native plants. They actually considered the environment, the earth, to be a god, Mother Earth. In that culture, the environment, and life, and the spirit were all one.

They considered the earth their mother, therefore you do not disrespect your mother. You wouldn’t hurt her, you honored her. So when you say “Earth Day,” I think you could add in front of that “Mother Earth Day,” in keeping with that traditional way of looking at life. Hence, the Maya. So you have “Eco,” and you have “Maya.”

The man that founded the Eco Maya principals is named, Julio Santizo. He’s [of ] Mayan decent. He considers himself to be Maya. Here in Los Angeles, we have the largest percentage of Mayas outside of Guatemala. The Maya [were] also very influential in the Aztec culture which is now Mexico and in many different indigenous traditions. So that’s why you have Eco Maya: it’s the ecology movement joined with the indigenous movement. If you look at it, you’ll find that it’s really all one. So it’s a way of celebrating.

We welcome everybody because it’s Earth Day. We’re talking about one earth, and we’re all connected to it. It’s for everybody.


(1) He further discussed indigenous ways of life and what can be learned from them. “Sometimes you have to go back to go forward,” he said. “You have to look at what’s been done before and say: ‘Whatever these people were doing was right. So how can we incorporate that into our modern everyday life?’

“One of the things that we found was that they really utilized everything. They didn’t have dumpsites, they didn’t have landfills, because they actually used everything. When they would hunt, they would use every part of the animal. They would honor the animal and not just kill for sport or for entertainment. The fur would be for clothes, the meat for food, and then the bones would be for jewelry.

“When they would build their houses, they would use material that was around them. . . . In Alaska, say, the Eskimos used ice to and built igloos, and then over here in the southwest, they built huts with earth: mud, and straw, and stuff like that. You cannot export one for the other. What works in a cold climate doesn’t work in a hot climate, and what works in a hot climate doesn’t work in a cold climate. . . . That’s kind of the basis of permaculture. When I think of permaculture, it really reminds me more of how the native people lived.”

Alvarez believed this way of thinking can be applied to modern alternative energy. For example, windy areas, obviously, are ideal places to harness wind energy, and sunny areas are best for using solar power. Also, “if you’re in an urban environment and you have a lot of restaurants and they’re throwing away all the oil, then you can use that [for veggie vans],” he continued. “If you’re in the wilderness, you don’t have a lot of restaurants, but you’ll find other modes of transportation.

“The key is the diversity, where you’re not dependant on one source. We don’t all want to all switch to restaurant oil. They’d have to be producing more oil, then we’d deplete that. So the key is diversity, that they use solar, electric, biofuels, ethanol, [and] there are these cars that use pressure. (They’re pressure-driven: when the car stops at a light, the motor turns on, and it build up pressure. When you go, the motor turns off, and [the car] just rolls on pressure, like a balloon.)

“Then how about this concept of walking? We’re so spoiled that when we go to a store and it’s only a block away, we get in the car and drive. We’ve got to change our whole culture. In a way, [these high gas prices] may be a good thing for the earth.”

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Festival Eco Maya

by Rick Panna Friday, Apr. 21, 2006 at 9:50 PM

Festival Eco Maya...
eco_crowd.jpg, image/jpeg, 818x284

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Reaching Eco Maya via Gold Line

by Rick Panna Friday, Apr. 21, 2006 at 9:50 PM

Reaching Eco Maya vi...
gold_line-1.jpg, image/jpeg, 272x236

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