[Image credit: The Guardian, Trash and treasure in Brazil’s Jóquei landfill – in pictures by Marcio Pimenta]
One major environmental problem worldwide seems to be final disposal of waste. By nature of how we exist, humans create tons of waste. This specific problem has hit Brazil, specifically poorer marginalized Brazilian communities, relatively hard in the past few years.
The Problem: In 2014, Brazil produced over 78 million tons of solid waste, more than 50% of which was dumped in open dump sites
Sanitary regulated landfills are a common form of waste disposal in developed countries due to their efficiency and cost effectiveness, but there are a number of regulations and monitoring systems required to run a sanitary landfill, so they are usually difficult for developing nations to track. The less favorable alternatives are unsanitary landfills and open dumping sites, which are dangerous and risk public health.
- Unsanitary landfills are designated areas for trash disposal that remain unregulated and lack the technologies necessary to prevent toxic leachate and gas from entering the environment
- Open dumping sites are massive abandoned piles of garbage and waste
Some dangers of open dumping are fires, disease, water contamination, damage to plant and wildlife, physical injury, and greenhouse gas emissions. These dumps are often located in favelas. Favelas are the slums in the cities in brazil made up of improvised houses stacked on top of each other, home to approx. ¼ of the population and overwhelmingly occupied by black Brazilians. As a source of income, people who live in the favelas will search through mountains of waste to find recyclable materials that they can sell for money. They call themselves catadores.
Violence and gang controlled dump sites, along with the physical dangers stated above make the dumps a dangerous place for people to live near and rummage through. Pressure from environmentalist groups to close landfills ignores the catadores’ lifestyles and sources of income. Additionally, each time a dump is closed, the government promises compensation that is either never received or inadequate
The waste management industry in Brazil has been privatized, so there is no large scale national waste disposal system. Thus, municipalities in Brazil are responsible for their own environmental control methods. This lack of metropolitan waste planning structure hinders integrated and coordinated action.
Between collection, transportation, and disposal, Brazilian municipalities are lacking the money they need to create an effective program. As a result, the solutions thus far have been temporary, poorly planned, and lacking continuity.
In my next post, I will explore possible solutions and programs that environmentalists and engineers are coming up with to mitigate this problem. Until next time!