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by Diego Cevallos

Mountains of Garbage in Italy as Dumps Close

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- If the Mexico City government were to keep its promises, laid out in laws and plans in 2003 and 2004, the treatment of the 12,300 tons of garbage generated daily by this city of 19 million people would be more environmentally friendly. But instead there is a looming threat of collapse and the contaminated area remains enormous.

The Bordo Poniente dump emits two million tons of carbon-based gases into the atmosphere each year, which represents 15 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by the Mexican capital, second only to automobiles. Closing down the dump would be the equivalent of taking some 500,000 cars off the roads.

After at least four postponements in five years, the Bordo Poniente, which opened in 1985 on the east side of the capital, will be shut down in January 2009. But so far there is no alternative dump site, although the authorities are studying several different possibilities.

"The situation is complicated and time is running out, but the authorities are making an effort and we are confident that a crisis will not erupt," said Alfonso de la Torre, an expert in municipal waste management and head of the environmental management department at the Autonomous Metropolitan University.

"People have no idea what they might face if there is no place to put the garbage," de la Torre told Tierramerica.

The city lacks money to close down the dump in compliance with environmental standards, which require engineering works and possibly the construction of a gas emissions collector to generate electricity. The cost would be about 100 million dollars.

Nearly all of the capital's waste management plans, including the construction of four recycling and energy centers and a new fleet of garbage trucks, fail to make it from paper to reality or lag far behind schedule.

The 2004 Integrated Program for Solid Waste Management, which called for setting up recycling and energy centers and closing down the Bordo dump, projected that by 2008, three-quarters of the residents of Mexico City proper should be separating household waste for recycling. Today, less than 10 percent of the people in the capital do so.

Official studies indicate that there are another 130 unauthorized garbage dumps in ravines, green areas and vacant lots around the city, and some 6,000 in areas surrounding the capital. The dumps foment pests, like rats, and the liquid runoff from the decomposing waste filters into water supplies.

De la Torre admits that there are no studies about the real impact of the illegal dumps on the environment, but says he believes the effects remain limited.

However, the president of the Mexican Federation of Sanitation Engineering, Jorge Sanchez, says "the capital has hit bottom."

"The authorities must see this moment of shutting down Bordo Poniente as an opportunity to move from pragmatism to a new framework for waste management, because the current model no longer works," Sanchez told Tierramerica.

The government, which owns the Bordo Poniente land, ordered its permanent closure when it realized it has reached capacity and threatens to contaminate the aquifer and surface water sources. The city government asked for more time, but finally agreed to shut it down.

The 375-hectare dump has been receiving the bulk of the capital's waste since the 1980s. Ninety percent of the more than 12,000 tons of garbage arriving daily -- half of which is household waste -- is buried, and the rest is sold as scrap and recycled.

If the plans drawn up more than four years ago by the Mexico City government -- led since 1997 by the leftwing Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) -- had been carried out, by now the city would be well on its way towards sustainable management of its waste, say experts.

The goals, now redefined, were to recycle 20 percent of the waste, use 45 percent for energy generation, set aside 20 percent to produce fertiliser and bury the remaining 15 percent.

With the closure of the Bordo Poniente dump, the municipality is negotiating with the neighboring state governments the possibility of sending them the garbage for a set amount of time, while promising to have at least one of the recycling and energy centers up and running in 20 months.

"There is no other alternative than to make a leap in waste management, so we are hoping that the plans come in with funding, clear timelines and programs aimed at involving the public, which is fundamental," said the president of the Mexican Federation of Sanitation Engineering.

Martha Delgado, environmental secretary for Mexico City, says it would have been better to postpone the closure of Bordo Poniente, because "the new waste management model is a matter that will take several years" to resolve.

In September 2007, Delgado acknowledged that despite the 2003 solid waste law, which has yet to be fully implemented, and the 2004 management plan, the capital had been "incapable" of coming up with a new way to handle its garbage.

In late August, local authorities announced bidding for the work needed to close down the Bordo Poniente dump and the construction of the energy and recycling centers, with the aim of sharing the costs with the private sector.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of local residents continue to set out their garbage without separating the different materials -- and nearly all of it ends up in Bordo Poniente. Some 2,500 trucks carry the garbage.

Half of the vehicles are more than 10 years old and some have been around since 1965. The trucks themselves pollute and they lack space to carry separated materials.

The city now has 250 modern garbage trucks, but needs more than 2,000. Local officials say that such a purchase is beyond the means of the municipal budget.

De la Torre at the Autonomous Metropolitan University attributes the lack of action by the authorities to "society's resistance to change," political problems and a lack of funds.

However, Sanchez believes the problem lies in the short-term culture of the government leaders and their reticence to upset the voters. "There is no long-term vision, but this cannot continue, because soon there will be no place to put the garbage," he said.

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Albion Monitor   September 22, 2008   (

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