Garbage disposal problems in the city of Oaxaca have shone a spotlight on the broader and more complex issue of waste management in the state, one that could easily blow up in the same manner elsewhere in the country.
Estimates by the non-governmental organization Technical Committee for Climate Change (Comité Técnico del Cambio Climático) indicate that the state generates 3,800 tonnes of garbage every day, and that over 1,000 tonnes of it is in the the Valles Centrales region, where the capital city is located.
Waste management infrastructure is lacking and barely able to cope with that amount of waste: there are only 203 official landfills throughout the state, only five of which comply with national waste management regulations, said the NGO.
Nearly 21,000 locations — ravines, riverbanks, at the side of highways and on vacant lots —have been identified as unofficial garbage dumps, encouraging vermin, creating environmental damage and threatening public health.
Some of the trash is burned, generating an estimated 242,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, said the head of the NGO, Tzinnia Carranza López.
She demanded that Governor Alejandro Murat Hinojosa implement updated and thorough waste management regulations whose “virtual nonexistence represents a violation of the human rights of the people of Oaxaca.”
The situation is not much better elsewhere in the country, judging by statements made this week by the head of the Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat).
Rafael Pacchiano Alemán said 117,000 tonnes of trash are generated every day in the country, and that more than 70% of it ends up in illegal dumpsites.
Trash ends up in rivers and forests, he said, creating not only a serious environmental problem but health issues as well.
This can be partially explained by the fact that only 300 properly maintained landfills exist throughout the country. According to regulations, any city with more than 50,000 inhabitants should have such a facility, where biogas generated by decomposing matter can be harnessed and used to generate electricity.
Pacchiano was speaking during the presentation of the El Sarape thermo-valorization plant, in which 4,500 of the nearly 13,000 tonnes of solid waste generated in Mexico City are to be processed with heat. The decomposing inorganic waste produces vapor that is used to generate electricity, and the remaining solid waste can be used in the construction industry.
The power produced by the plant will run the capital city’s 12-line Metro subway system and the new international airport, once it is operational. Pacchiano said every city in the country should follow suit.
The plant, scheduled to begin operating in 18 months’ time, represents a 12-billion-peso (US $669-million) investment by the French firm Veolia.
Thermo-valorization may solve the immediate issue of where to put some of the city’s trash, but the underlying issue of pollution may remain.
Raul Sergio Cuellar, Mexico City’s solid waste technical director from 1997 to 2005, told the news agency EFE that thermo-valorization was a euphemism used to avoid calling the process by its real name, incineration, which one environmental group suggested might generate highly toxic substances such as dioxins and furans.
Veolia said in a statement that its process treats the emissions with state-of-the-art technology that avoids the emission of dioxins.
Back in the city of Oaxaca, garbage collection service has once again been reestablished after an ongoing social conflict shut down access to the city’s landfill for the second time in recent months.