Mistura: the inconvenient truth

Alvaro Tassano

The sobering waste management reality behind South America’s largest gastronomic festival.

Mistura: the inconvenient truth

(Photo: Marco Simola)

Last week, I was lucky enough to go to the opening date of Mistura. Grills lit, stoves on, the usual sounds and smells greeted my palate, as expected.

However, on this occasion I’m not here to compliment or flatter Mistura.

No. This time I’m here to point out something that greatly disturbed me during my visit and something that might get lost among all the post event reviews.

If you visited this year’s version, you might have seen one of the many large gray “recycling” containers found around the fair. As I made my way to one of them to discard my plastic cup, I found it odd to see Mistura’s staff members next to every can.

I naively thought: what a great initiative to have someone teaching visitors where to dispose their recyclables. Well, I was partly right.

(Photo: Agnes Rivera)

As I made my way to nearest trash bin, the lady next to it stopped me from putting my plastic cup inside because it was “dirty” and continued to explain that only “clean plastic bottles” go in that bin. I was shocked, then I looked around to find where the other recycling bins were, and found nothing.

Later that evening, I walked up to another bin to throw away a piece of paper only to have another staff member stop me in my tracks. This time, I took the time to ask why they were so invested in only recycling plastic bottles. His response: “[recycling] plastic bottles is more profitable than paper.”

Let that statement sink in for a minute.

In an article published by Peru 21 in 2013, the general manager of Apega at the time said the fair produced an average of 8 tons of trash per day. If we multiply that by the number of days of the event (11) that gives us 88 tons of trash. But, that year, 387 thousand visitors attended, and this year more than 420 thousand visitors were expected to attend. We can assume the total number of trash produced this year was much higher.

(Photo: Peru 21)

The story went on to say that the Center for Environmental Sustainability of the Cayetano Heredia University (CSA-UPCH) would be leaving the event due to the “lack of recycling bins for different materials.” Patricia Majluf, director of CSA-UPCH at the time, said that organizers were, at best, recycling “25% of all the waste produced.”

One can maybe understand the fact that in last 3 years, Apega has done very little to address their waste management problem. Or that the event’s organizers seem more preoccupied about attendance rather than the environmental impact or how organizers want to spread the Mistura brand to other countries, in spite of the continuous drop in quality for the past few years.

What I can’t stand is for them to falsely promote themselves as “socially responsible” and “concerned for the environment.”

In a press release, Apega spoke about their continuous commitment to “collaborate with the environment, and help children in need” by announcing that they expect to recycle 15 tons of plastic, paper and glass and that the proceeds of recycling these items will benefit 300 children.

I can tell you for a fact that visitors were only allowed to recycle clean plastic bottles at the event (there were no other recycling bins made available) and that 15 tons of recycled trash would yield a lot more help than for just 300 children (some places pay up to US$ 500 per metric ton of plastic).

(Photo: Alvaro Tassano)

Let me put a label to what Apega is claiming to be doing: Greenwashing.

Greenwashing is disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. It is misleading customers about the environmental benefits of their actions through unsubstantiated claims.

The icing on the cake is the fact that Apega used the hashtag #HazlaDiferenica (Make the difference) for their campaign. A more accurate slogan would have been: #Make-a-Difference-only-if-it’s-profitable or #Make-a-Difference-but-only-for-clean-plastic or #Make-a-difference-but-only-how-we-tell-you-to.

Here is a thought for the organizers: instead of trying to break attendance records, push the forum to capacity levels and aim to overflow the venue, let’s circle back to Mistura’s true differentiator: a unique experience.

(Photo: Peru 21)

Aside from the lack of waste management, minimal concern of their environmental impact and greenwashing practices, this edition of the fair might be the most disappointing because of the organizer’s clear consumerist agenda.

Now, I know every event strives to make a profit and how it does this will guarantee its long term success, but when it begins to lose its essence, it’s cause for alarm.

Mistura to expand to other countries

As reports surface that Apega is getting ready to spread the event to other countries and how next year they are aiming to attract even more visitors, I can’t help but worry. Worried on one hand because more visitors means more trash and worried for Peru when Apega’s embarrassing superficial environmental concerns becomes more apparent in other countries.

It is my genuine hope for organizers to take this criticism as a constructive observation from a person that has been a longtime advocate of the event.

What is unforgiving is the organizer’s skewed information, highlighted by their “commitment to help children in need.” As was admitted by their own volunteers: the only one truly profiting from your actions is yourself.

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