A city of 8 million people creates a fair bit of trash, and hence Mexico City has long struggled with waste diversion. But as Mexico’scapital marches on with plans to transform itself into a leading “green” city, the city is finding that trash can offer treasure.
To that end, the city last month shut down its Bordo Poniente landfill, Mexico City’s largest garbage collection site that over time became a 927 acre heap of trash. Now a joint effort between the city, the Clinton Initiative and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group will together work on creating both jobs and energy.
The Bordo Poniente landfill closure was the culmination of a seven year battle between the city’s sanitation department, the federal government and Mexico’s major political parties. First slated for closure in 2004, the city fought the federal government then and again in 2008, finally giving in last year. Meanwhile the amount trash increased to a weight of 80 million tons and height of 20 meters (65 feet) tall. That mass created huge cracks in the landfill’s surface that in turn has contaminated ground water.
Mexico City’s government has been silent on the details behind what it says is a plan to convert all that waste to energy that could power up to 35,000 homes in Mexico City. Methane gas, which is anywhere from 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, will be captured and generate 250 GWh while reducing the metropolitan area’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by as much as one-quarter of current levels. Mexico City’s residents, who already live in one of the world’s highest cities at a altitude of 7350 feet (2240 meters), will breath a little easier in the long run. And many will find jobs not only in recycling, but in the construction and operation of a waste to energy plant at the landfill.
Bordo Poniente’s demise has not gone smoothly. In the 10 days after the December 19 closure, garbage trucks still arrived at the landfill’s gates and piles of trash sprouted all over the city and suburbs as confusion reigned over new collection procedures. Claims of reduced emissions should be noted with a caveat since some trash now will be hauled along routes that are a three-to-four hour drive from the city’s center. But if the plan succeeds in the long run, look for other municipalities around the world to study Mexico City’s current waste disposal growing pains to learn what they can, and cannot, achieve. For a city close to 700 years old, the opportunity to clean its air will add to its legacy.