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Mexico City shuts last landfill, envisions composting, recycling

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MEXICO CITY--The government shut down the last major landfill here this week and unveiled plans for wide-scale composting and recycling, as well as a biogas-fueled electricity plant.

MEXICO CITY—Mornings, trash collectors here sweep with handmade brooms, brushing away debris with the singular swooshing sound of sticks on pavement.

Garbage collection in the metropolitan area features all sorts of other peculiarities, too: a rickety fleet of exhaust-spewing garbage trucks that don’t fit with the city’s otherwise stringent air quality regulations; cart-pushing trash collectors who ring the doorbells of residences and pick up bulging bags for a tip; horse-drawn carts in the outskirts that haul dirty chariots full of refuse to station where it is all loaded onto trucks and hauled to a landfill. Public waste bins are strategically located in tourist and business centers but are not ubiquitous.

Trash was the talk of the town this week, with the closing of the city’s last major landfill and the announcement of plans to install 700 public garbage containers throughout the city, embark on a comprehensive recycling and composting effort and open a call for offers to build a biogas-fueled electricity plant.

Mayor Marcelo Ebrard symbolically shuttered the landfill, known as the Bordo Poniente, on Monday, and the dump is scheduled to stop accepting on Friday the 12,600 tons of trash that arrive there daily. The 927-acre landfill holds about 72 million tons of trash accumulated over the past 17 years; it releases about 2 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually.

City officials are betting that biogas (made up largely of methane and carbon dioxide) produced naturally in the landfill can be captured and converted into electricity – which in turn could power the new Metro line under construction here. The city is expected to open an international call for proposals to take advantage of the biogas in the coming days.

What city officials aren’t saying is exactly where the trash is going to go in the meantime. A city spokesman said the information "wasn’t public" yet.

The official plan to divert trash calls for organic matter – separated in households, by trash collectors themselves or by pepenadores, people who work as trash separators at dumping sites – to be composted while recyclable materials will be reconstituted or burned as fuel at cement factories. But Mexico City’s Reforma newspaper reported that tons of trash this week were being hauled out of town to landfills in surrounding Mexico state.

The 700 trash containers, meanwhile, will be installed in areas near clandestine dumps in the city in hopes that people will decide to toss their trash in the bin for city pick-up.

Ebrard said in a speech at the edge of the Bordo Poniente on Monday: “We need to adjust several processes, logistics, in the city. That’s what we’re going to do this week.”

Photo: Lauren Villagran

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Lauren Villagran

Correspondent (Mexico City)

Lauren Villagran has written for the Associated Press, Dallas Morning News and Christian Science Monitor. She holds a degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure