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The Greening of Tijuana?

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Photo courtesy EPA.gov

Groundbreaking at the Centro de Composteo Urbano in Tijuana, Mex.

I was struck by a story we reported on yesterday, about the opening of a new composting center in Tijuana. What? We don’t even have a composting center in San Diego.

Sure, there are composting workshops and training sessions -- in fact San Diego’s Environmental Services Department and the Miramar landfill facility helped train Tijuana officials on how to set up their compost center -- but this north-of-the-border metropolis has nothing like the project just inaugurated in Tijuana.

Tijuana’s “urban compost center” is touted as a first for Mexican border residents. It’s the result of a long-running collaboration between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its counterpart in Mexico. The collaboration, called Border 2020, is designed to address environmental and public health problems all along the U.S.-Mexico border with a “bottom up” approach –- meaning organizations on the ground along the border initiate and implement projects designed to reduce air, water and land pollution, reduce exposure to toxic chemicals and improve environmental stewardship.

Apparently this compost center –- funded with a $73,000 grant from the EPA last year –- will go toward this environmental stewardship goal. The center is run by a nonprofit called Tijuana Calidad de Vida. The aim is to collect yard and home waste, and turn it into approximately 150 tons of compost per year. The UT San Diego reports that the goal of organizers there is to eventually have a network of compost centers that would divert some 40 percent of the city’s organic waste from landfills.

What’s interesting about this is that Tijuana is now joining a vanguard of U.S. cities that are making the reduction of waste a priority. San Francisco led the way about four years ago as the first U.S. city to mandate curbside composting. That means, in addition to your garbage and recycling containers on the curb, there’s a third container with your compostable organic content –- food and yard waste, primarily. It's reported that now, between composting and recycling , 78 percent of San Francisco’s waste is diverted from overfilled landfills. There are now more than 90 cities across the U.S. that compost, many of them predictably enough progressive urban centers like Seattle, Portland, Ore. and Boulder, Colo.

So, this composting effort in Tijuana puts it in that group of urban greenies. Even though the effort there is smaller in scope, grant-funded, and not city-wide or mandatory, it's another example of Tijuana stepping outside the stereotypical box of a struggling, impoverished border city. Add that to an emerging and vibrant arts, sports, food and music scene, and there could be a lot to learn from Tijuana. San Diego’s new mayor, Bob Filner, who announced this week the opening of a city office in Tijuana, may take some lessons north.

Alisa Barba was a senior editor for the Fronteras Desk from From 2010 to 2014.