The Ejidos of Mexico Fighting for Environmental Justice

Mother and Son Walking through Desert

Environmental injustices and issues have left BIPOC communities vulnerable and at risk worldwide. In Mexico, a small community of indigenous people occupies communal lands called “ejido,” where they have legal rights but not land ownership. 

Indigenous ejido ancestry predates Spanish colonization in the 1500s, where their land rights stem from Aztec heritage. But, ownership of these lands had been in the hands of the Mexican government.


Unfortunately, in 1991, the laws in place to protect the ejidos and their communities were overwritten by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari due to Mexico entering the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA created a free trade zone between Mexico, Canada, and North America. However, the overturn of these laws left the ejidos unprotected and up for grabs to be sold or rented.

At the same time, certain cities and countries are consuming and throwing away garbage more now than ever before. With landfills filled to the brim, the Mexican government began looking for areas to dispose of their neverending flow of garbage. The solution eyed dumping waste on the ejido, making the community and indigenous towns sick, atop harming the environment. 

Advocates and locals opposing this environmental injustice are known as “Ejidatarios,” whose goal is to protect their land and prevent themselves from being subjected to the harmful conditions caused by landfills built next to their homes. 

Man Sitting in the Sun with Straw hat by a Yucca Plant

The Disastrous Effects of Landfills Next to Towns

Tololotlán is a small town of 1,449 located right next to Los Laureles – the largest landfill in the western state of Jalisco. It’s known for its fertile lands, fresh springs, and rich vegetation. 

Los Laureles was first used as an open dump in the early 1990s. The 183 acres stretch of land receives up to 3,144 tons of waste a day from major neighboring cities, like Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city. 

Locals state that a toxic liquid from these landfills known as leachate has leaked into their water and irrigation supply. Studies show that this liquid contains cyanide, lead, and chromium. The Universidad Autónoma de San Luis Potosí and the State Water Commission of Jalisco studied the blood and urine of 45 residents discovering lead in all of them, which put about 40% of them at risk of irreversible brain damage. 

Citizens also report species of fish vanishing and several mysterious deaths among their livestock on top of family members suffering from defects and dying from terminal illnesses like cancer. 

In light of this, community leaders and environmental advocates are protesting and doing their part to stop the construction of these landfills by protecting their land and people.

Dumptruck dumping Trash into Landfill

Ejido Advocacy and a Hunger for Change

When the Governor of Jalisco announced the Tala landfill in Guadalajara, protests erupted from several residents, including the Ejidatarios. In opposition, ELAW, a global alliance of scientists, educators, attorneys, and other advocates, prepared a technical opinion to stop the dump’s construction with the help of the Instituto de Derecho Ambiental (IDEA). 

ELAW is a global alliance of scientists, educators, attorneys, and other advocates working to build a sustainable future with clean air, water, and a much healthier planet, while IDEA is a Mexican socio-environmental group started by lawyers to educate others on policies and other legal means that we all can utilize to help, protect, and support the environment. 

Sad Young Boy in Orange Shirt

After weeks of protest, the governor finally suspended the construction of the Tala landfill, leaving the communities and locals sighing with relief. Despite this, the fight for a healthier planet is not over. The ejidos and the people living there are still in danger. 

The best way to combat these issues is to stay informed and commit to these causes. Learn how many are working hard to build a sustainable future with clean air, water, and a much healthier planet. For more information on these endangering landfills and what you can do, click on the resources below, including ELAW, for other environmental feats.


  1.  Appendini, Kirsten. “Ejido” in The Encyclopedia of Mexico’’. p. 450. Chicago: Fitzroy and Dearborn 1997.
  2. Gallup et al. (2003) Is Geography Destiny? Lessons from Latin America, Stanford University Press ISBN 978-0821354513
  3. “Jalisco: Tala Project Suspended.” Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW). 15 September 2021, 
  4. Markiewicz, Dana. The Mexican Revolution and the Limits of Agrarian Reform, 1915-1946. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers 1993
  5. “North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).” International Trade Administration, International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, 
  6. Piedra, Maya. “A Town Rages Against Towering Landfills.” Global Press Journal, 12 October 2020,
  7. Van Young, Eric. “Ejidos” in Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture, vol.2. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons 1996, p. 471.

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