Largest garbage dump in Latin America is closed

Reuters, BRASILIA

Sun, Jan 21, 2018 - Page 4

One thing the designers of Brazil’s modernistic capital Brasilia forgot to map out in their intricate plans was where to put the garbage.

The city’s creators, world famous architect Oscar Niemeyer and urban planner Lucio Costa, could never have imagined the city’s explosive growth.

Sixty-seven years and 50 million tonnes of garbage later, the Estructural dump had become the biggest in Latin America — until Friday, when Brasilia’s dirty secret was closed.

Governor Rodrigo Rollemberg opened a new landfill further out of town to replace it, angering thousands of scavengers who make a living from the garbage.

“We cannot live with this open wound in the midst of our nation’s capital, a dump where human beings put their lives at risk seeking a livelihood in an undignified way,” the governor said at the opening of the new landfill.

Since the city was founded on a cattle ranch on a highland plateau, Brasilia has expanded to become the nation’s fourth-biggest metropolis with 2.5 million inhabitants.

Just 20km from the presidential palace, thousands of scavengers have eked out a living for decades by picking out cans, copper wire and anything that can be recycled and sold.

Generations of pickers have brought their children to work in the dusty dump, beneath a scorching sun and hovering vultures, plagued by swarms of flies and the pungent stench of putrid food and methane gas.

Rollemberg’s plan is to employ the pickers at new “triage” centers in warehouses where garbage can be separated for recycling on conveyor belts in cleaner conditions by workers in uniforms and gloves.

However, scavengers working at the dump on its last day said they refused to swap their source of income for regimented government jobs that paid too little to sustain their families.

While human rights groups criticized precarious conditions and child labor at the dump, environmentalists made the strongest case for closure, warning that it was polluting the water table beneath Brasilia, a city that already has to ration water supplies due to recurrent droughts.

Some members of the 3,000-strong pickers cooperative said they would rather stay working the dump and not have the cost of a long commute to the new recycling centers.