Paraguayans Balk at Lucrative Trash Deal From New York City

WHERE there's muck, there's money. As a result, Paraguayan environmentalists and politicians are afraid their country could soon become New York's trash bin.

They base their fears on an offer made in September by a New York-based company, Scoot Corporation, to pay up to $15 million to the state Rural Welfare Institute (IBR) in exchange for receiving between 100,000 and 200,000 tons of municipal waste each month for the next 10 years.

According to the contract drawn up by Scoot, the money would help finance the agrarian reform project of the IBR, whose total budget for 1989 was only $3.8 million.

Special processing plants built in a 5,000-acre area in the southern department of Neembuc'u would also produce organic fertilizers and construction blocks ``which would be handed out totally free to colonists.''

The second page of the contract states that the raw material for the fertilizers and the blocks is municipal rubbish from New York, and guarantees that the refuse will not include ``toxic, nuclear, or chemical waste.''

So far the offer has not been accepted - or officially rejected - by the Paraguayan government, partly because of a wave of protests and bad publicity about the deal.

Particularly suspicious of the ``fertilizing'' potential of the waste, Greenpeace in New York attempted to contact Scoot, only to discover that no such company existed at the Fifth Avenue address in New York appearing on the contract.

``The address was probably an invention to disguise the identity of the real company behind the deal,'' says Jorge Abarrate of Alter Vida, an environmental pressure group based in Paraguay's capital of Asunci'on.

``What is also suspicious is that the request should have gone through the Environmental Protection Agency, then to the United States Embassy here, and then to the IBR. But this time a Brazilian representative merely went straight to IBR.''

At the root of the problem is New York's production of 20 million tons of garbage a year. The city's Department of Environmental Protection estimates that there will be no more space for this trash by the year 2000, so private waste companies are looking for overseas recipients.

Present disposal costs in New York are high - around $60 a ton for burial and $80 a ton for incineration.

According to a recent report by the Financial Times' Latin American Markets, ``a potentially limitless source of dollars for Latin America lies in the importing and processing of waste.''

Alter Vida is sure Paraguay is one of the Latin American countries being targeted. Last year, another offer was made to the Paraguayan government to import 60,000 barrels of highly toxic waste and bury it in the vast, scarcely populated plain known as the Chaco. Despite the attractive payment of $70 a barrel, the offer was rejected because of contamination risks.

Earlier this year, ecological groups in Chile denounced an attempt by a subsidiary of the US firm, Pacific Chemicals Engineering, to process toxic waste in the Atacam'a desert under the guise of recovering minerals. Waste companies are accused by environmentalists of trying to disguise their real aims of dumping rubbish on developing countries.

The Scoot Corporation's contract puts ``fertilization and recovery of land'' as the No. 1 objective. But Alter Vida's Mr. Abarrate says that the area around Pilar, the proposed destination of the trash, ``does not have a problem of infertile land. The real reason why it was chosen was because of its proximity to a river where the trash can be disembarked and its low population density.''

The large amounts of money offered - $6.50 per ton - has also raised suspicions among the local population that the trash might not all be nontoxic. ``The waste could contaminate our zone and rivers,'' says the Rev. Domiciano Ramirez, a priest from Pilar. ``When charity is so bountiful, even saints are suspicious.''

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