Mexico City’s Landfill in Transition

Bordo Poniente

Bordo Poniente via Flickr, cc Juan Felipe Rubio, attribution, non-commercial

NPR featured a story recently about Mexico City’s dump closure and the effects of 12,600 tons of trash building up on city streets with each passing day.  Just imagine what your city might look and smell like if garbage pick-ups stopped. Just imagine if your city had a population of 8.8 million.

I was interested to know more about the situation, and discovered an article on Treehugger which explains why the trash pick-ups paused.  Bordo Poniente, Mexico City’s 927-acre landfill, is undergoing an admirable transformation.  With support from the Clinton Climate Initiative and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the landfill will harvest its methane gas as fuel, recycle construction and demolition materials, compost organic waste and sell 3,000 tons/day of waste to Cemex for incineration.  According to a press release about the project:

Capturing methane from the Bordo Poniente landfill could reduce GHG emissions from Mexico City by 25 million tons of CO2 equivalent over the next 25 years–more than one quarter of the city’s total emissions.

This represents one of the biggest opportunities globally to reduce green house gases produced by solid waste, yielding enough methane in its first years to power some 35,000 local homes.

According to another article in the Boston Globe, Mexico City has gone from diverting just 6% of its waste to 60% in three years.

The New York Times followed up with a story yesterday about the effects of the trash transition on the “pepenadores,” the 1,500 or so pickers that have traditionally eked out a living by sorting through incoming refuse at the landfill.  According to Hector Castillo Berthier, a sociologist quoted in the article, trash-picking actually helps support up to a quarter million Mexicans when you include pepenadores, sanitation workers, junk dealers and their families. For the time being, Bordo Poniente will continue to be used as a transfer station and will allow the pepenadores access, but as markets for recyclables continue to develop there, becoming more financially promising, fewer “treasures” are likely to be free for the taking.