By Joan Faus
BUENOS AIRES – Buenos Aires has no idea what to do with its garbage – at least that seems to be the gist of the current controversy about what to do with all the trash in the Argentine capital, whose city dumps could collapse in two years from the increasing amount of waste it churns out.
The amount of trash produced in the city has grown significantly over the last five years, according to figures of the government’s Ceamse agency that manages garbage disposal in the Argentine capital.
Buenos Aires generated 1.4 million tons in 2005, a figure that jumped to 1.8 million in 2009 (some 5,000 tons per day), an increase of 28.5 percent.
That increase, together with a “lack of political will,” could cause a collapse in “two or three years” of the city dump where most of the city’s garbage ends up, the sanitary landfill Norte III, Maria Eugenia Testa, the political director of Greenpeace Argentina, told Efe.
Some 80 percent of the waste produced in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area – which covers some 400 sq. kilometers (154 sq. miles) and has about 11 million inhabitants – ends up at Norte III, while the remaining 20 percent goes to the dumps of Gonzalez Catan and Ensenada, both of which have court orders pending for their closure.
The Buenos Aires municipal and provincial governments agreed in 2008 on the creation of two new dumps that would substitute the current landfills, but the planning for that project has not yet been concluded.
According to the Greenpeace leadership, the opposition of local residents has kept the plan from being developed, particularly following complaints of water contamination in houses located near several of these pestiferous pits.
The Buenos Aires municipal government passed in January 2006 an ambitious piece of legislation known as the Zero Garbage Law, which established goals for reducing waste, such as burying in 2010 about 30 percent less garbage than in 2004.
“Nothing is being done that the law calls for. It is an unreachable goal,” Testa said, adding that the Argentine capital produced in 2009 some 1.8 million tons of garbage, 800,000 tons more than established by the Zero Garbage Law.
On the other hand, the city’s Environmental Department considers that the purpose of the law is being respected and that in addition a new project to achieve the “comprehensive management” of trash collection services is being put out to tender.
For the Greenpeace executive, Buenos Aires is in a “precarious” situation, since the garbage, especially from homes, grew in the last few years and the city dumps verge on collapsing.
“There is a clear lack of political will and no attempt to raise citizens’ awareness,” she said.
Testa gave as an example the low percentage of waste materials being recycled in the Argentine capital, the result of “scant public promotion” of the practice, but brought on as well by bureaucratic problems – for example, the controversial case of nearly 10 tons of batteries that the municipal government is still puzzling over where to bury them.
The scant recycling done by Argentines is compensated by the work of many cooperatives that collect, recycle and sell solid inorganic waste (plastic, glass and paper) that they get from hundreds of Buenos Aires homes.
This group represents “progress in the cultural change needed to begin replacing the harmful burying of garbage, according to Marcelo Arbit, representative of the Popular Movements Association, a grouping of sixty cooperatives that recover and recycle residuals. EFE