Bordo Poniente, one of the world's largest landfill sites, receives 12,500 tonnes of waste every day

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Mexico City seeks green
options for waste disposal

By Adriana Maciel, Mexico Editor

17 February 2009: The authorities are closing down Mexico City’s vast 56 million-tonne garbage landfill site at Bordo Poniente in a year’s time with plans to replace it with a recycling centre. The 420-hectare facility, opened in 1985, can no longer cope with its daily dose of 12,500 tonnes of waste.

Update January 2012: After serving as Mexico City’s main garbage landfill site for 26 years, Bordo Poniente has been closed. The site, which currently stores some 72 million tons of garbage, has been receiving every day 12,000 tons of waste generated by the Federal District of Mexico City. The closure was promised by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard when he took office in 2006 and was originally scheduled to take place in 2010. This week, the mayor’s office confirmed that a former sand mine in eastern Mexico State will serve as the city’s main garbage landfill site.

The proposed 300-hectare Integral Centre for Recycling and Energy (CIRE), at an estimated cost of $140 million, is to be built as part of a program announced by Mexico City’s recently created Integral Management of Solid Waste Commission. This was initiated by Mayor Marcelo Ebrard and the city’s environmental, health, finance, and public works departments, together with the Science and Technology Institute, with the objective of raising money through plastics recycling, the generation of compost and by exploiting the biogas emanating from landfill areas.

The agreement leading to the commission’s creation emphasizes the significance of landfill sites as important sources of gas, such as methane, in the production of electricity. Governments that recover methane are rewarded through carbon reduction bonuses granted by international organizations. This major project on the part of the commission coincides with the city’s Green Project involving the establishment of four recycling centres to process three thousand tonnes of waste daily.

At present the city’s generation of garbage is increasing at a rate of five per cent a year and the current insufficient rates of its collection have created ‘clandestine’ fields, with the city government being urged to take action. Currently, of the 87 per cent of waste that goes to the Bordo Poniente site, only 13 per cent of it is recycled as compost or as reclaimed material. The goal for 2012 is to recycle some 20 per cent of the residue, with a further 20 per cent converted into compost and 45 per cent to generate energy for such things as the city’s Metro, public lighting, drainage, and other utilities.

However, the capital’s authorities have revealed that they do not yet have the means to deal with the 75 per cent of the 12,500 garbage tonnes that daily go to Bordo Poniente and that the construction of the CIRE does not represent a short-term solution for closing it down, since one CIRE would only manage a quarter of the city’s waste. Moreover, the director of the city’s urban services, José Luís Terán, said a site that could cope with the 12,500 garbage tonnes a day was as yet unavailable.

On the other hand, several environmental organizations, Greenpeace included, reject incineration and similar technologies to treat waste at the CIRE and proposed the Cero Garbage strategy as a viable alternative. In an open letter to Mayor Ebrard, those organizations expressing concern over the intentions of the city’s department of public works, which is about to put out to tender projects for treatment technologies at the CIREs - including incineration and gasification – state that such methods are persistent and bio-accumulating toxic polluters (against the Stockholm Agreement). All this would represent a risk to public health and make the quality of air in the city worse. It would also reduce the possibilities of generating more local employment based upon the recovery of waste materials.

“To burn garbage is the worst option; it undermines any effort to recycle or to compost, which would in fact save between three and five times more energy,” said Gustavo Ampugnany, Director of Geenpeace Mexico Campaigns. “The generation of electricity at the CIRE is the excuse to give it an alternative and pro-environment side. The city does not need to produce more electricity, but to use it efficiently.”

The main Cero Garbage strategies consists of: 1) fixing specific goals for the gradual reduction of solid residues to short, medium and long term; 2) legislative measures to widen the responsibilities of manufacturers and distributors to collect, redesign and recycle their products; 3) to strengthen the programs of recovery of recyclables giving priority to the organic residues with a decentralized strategy for its composting.

Unlike CIRE, Cero Garbage also proposes to increase recycling levels to a wide variety of materials such as paper, cardboard, metals, glass, plastics and debris. Cero Garbage strategy has been adopted by more than 100 cities and municipalities worldwide, including Buenos Aires and Rosario in Argentina; San Francisco, California; Austin, Texas; and New Scotland, Canada.

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