Garbage piles up in 'green' Mexico City

Mexico City closed its last major dump in December in hopes of making the city 'greener,' but trash truck circulation and neighboring states refusing the capital's waste has led to one stinky situation.

By , Correspondent

One can’t miss the garbage truck in Mexico City, whose arrival is announced by the clanging of a bucket-sized bell and a cloud of pungent exhaust.

With the truck in view, residents scurry out to hand over bulging bags of trash, promptly ripped open by the garbage men who toss the compost as they search for recyclable treasures: plastic soda bottles, glass, cardboard. But since the city closed the last landfill inside its limits this December, the trash collection ritual has been upended in many neighborhoods, with trash piling up.

Giant mounds of garbage have been left at the curb along the city’s normally pristine tourist corridor in the historic center. More than 1,000 clandestine dumps have been recorded in barrios, or neighborhoods, around the city. The trash debacle is making daily headlines here and tarnishing the capital’s reputation for its otherwise progressive environmental politics.

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Mayor Marcelo Ebrard ceremoniously closed the Bordo Poniente, the city’s last major dump and the source of 20 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, on Dec. 19. He announced the city would turn to composting and recycling the majority of its waste, while the rest would presumably be transferred to landfill facilities in nearby Mexico state. He said the logistics adjustment was expected to take about a week.

But garbage trucks are facing long lines at transfer stations, which limits their circulation; some residents of communities in Mexico state refused to take the capital’s trash (though many temporarily backed off over the weekend); and wide-scale recycling has yet to remedy the problem.  Nearly a month later, the city has temporarily reopened the landfill it closed with such fanfare.

Ebrard maintains that what’s at issue is the final destination for roughly 2,600 tons of the 12,600 tons of trash generated daily by the city’s 20 million residents.

“If you look at it percentage-wise, we are very close to resolving the issue,” Ebrard told Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper recently. “We’re working on a metropolitan agreement … and I’m optimistic that we’ll have this resolved very soon.”

Part of the solution lies in setting up dumpsters so that people won’t dump illegally in the street, Fernando Aboitiz Saro, head of the Works and Services Department, said in a statement.

The city said it plans to install recycling and composting containers – “recycling islands,” the city is calling them – in at least 200 critical areas by next month. Additional containers for glass and aluminum, paper and cardboard, plastics, and organic matter should be installed at another 300 points across the city by July. The clusters of containers should be situated at 700 points citywide by the end of the year.

The dumpster sites will be manned by people who will keep them clean and “inform and orient citizens in their correct use,” the city said in a statement.

For some residents, this could mean a welcome end to anxiously waiting for the garbage truck to rumble noisily around the corner.

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