Trash Talk: Mexico City Faces a Major Landfill Dilemma


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We seldom talk about trash. We throw it away, and we forget about it. A truck comes to pick it up and we don’t have to worry about it again. It goes to a landfill some place far away and it stays there forever.

In Mexico City, that chain of events has been cut. Our landfill, the Bordo Poniente, has closed down and we don’t have enough space for the 12,589 tons of trash we produce daily.

Just a few years ago, the city government encouraged citizens to start separating their waste. However, the collection of separated trash has not worked out entirely. This is largely due to the fact that trash separation in Mexico has long been the job of pepenadores. These people either work in trash separation centers or unofficially in the collection trucks and landfills. They separate the valuables, like metal, glass, paper, and plastic, and sell it for recycling. Organic waste, in turn, is processed in special disposal centers where it is composted. Annually, these centers produce 7 thousand tons of compost, which is used in parks and green spaces throughout the city.

Despite these efforts, Mexico City still has a huge amount of trash, and nowhere to put it. The Bordo Poniente landfill received approximately 12 tons of trash a day, around 95 per cent of the city’s waste. It currently lodges 80 million tons of trash piled 12 to 20 meters high. Bordo Poniente finally closed down on January 1st, 2012, after being postponed several times, and is now going to be used for biogas recovery.

The closure, however, has been troublesome for the city government. Because no new landfills are going to be built in Mexico City, the local government has resorted to asking neighboring municipalities to receive the trash. Some have declined, but even the ones that accepted do not have the capacity to receive the city’s waste indefinitely. There has also been a surge in illegal dumping around the city.

The city seems to have no long term plans. The idea of a waste management center for recycling and incineration was abandoned. Apparently, more recycling and composting is going to be happening. The city will keep sending waste to cement plants and neighboring municipalities. Unless the city govenment comes out with a coherent plan for waste managment, it seems like we’ll have to start thinking about our trash sooner than we thought.

Image courtesy of sicoactiva on flickr