How should cities tackle the problem of garbage? The main thing is to set a clear objective: that a day comes when nothing is sent to final disposal or to incineration, says the world specialist on the subject, the British Paul Connett.
Author of the book "Solution: Zero Waste", Connett was in Buenos Aires to disseminate his thesis on the matter, while in the Argentine capital a harsh debate on this issue is being waged.
"The goal of zero waste can be achieved with a combination of factors that would allow the transition from linear to circular economy: the community must be involved and there must be industrial responsibility," Connett told IPS.
Earlier, on Wednesday 18, this chemist and doctor in Toxicology, presented in a room of the Legislature (parliament) of the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires a 10-step strategy that excited the audience called for his conference on “Incineration; an environmental setback ”.
“Society must separate its waste, which must be removed door to door. And it must say to the industry: if we cannot recycle what you make, or reuse it, or use it for composting, you must stop making it. We need better industrial design for the 21st century, "he told IPS.
Connett, who grew up in England and lives in the United States, is a graduate of the British University of Cambridge who specialized in waste management for more than 20 years and has made presentations in more than 60 countries.
He was invited to Argentina by Greenpeace, one of the civil society organizations that in recent months have questioned the decision made this year by the authorities of the City of Buenos Aires to re-enable the incineration of garbage, which was prohibited.
The Argentine capital thus closes in a curious way a circle that began to be traced in November 2005, when the local Legislature voted the Law for the Comprehensive Management of Urban Solid Waste, considered at the time advanced and known precisely as “Zero Waste”.
That rule set gradual targets to reduce the amounts of garbage that are sent to landfills on the outskirts of the metropolis, until nothing is sent in 2020.
However, in the years that followed the plans to implement the separation and recycling of waste failed miserably, to the point that garbage not only did not decrease, but also grew: from 1,492,867 tons sent by Buenos Aires to landfills during 2004 it went to 2,086,740 in 2012, according to official figures.
From then on, the garbage generated by the City did begin to reduce, although far from the targets set by law: 1,101,203 tons were buried in 2017, when the regulation had set a target of 373,217.
Three million people live in the Argentine capital, which rises to 15 million when adding its metropolitan area, known as Greater Buenos Aires, which represents 34 percent of this South American country of 44 million inhabitants.
“The City authorities have done practically nothing to reduce the amount of garbage that is sent to final disposal. If there has been a reduction in recent years, it is thanks to the work of the cartoneros, ”Leonel Mingo, Greenpeace Argentina's campaign coordinator, told IPS.
As cartoneros, in Argentina, people excluded from the labor circuit are known who walk every night pushing their cars through the cities, in search of cardboard or other objects with economic value that they can find in the garbage.
The autonomous government of the City of Buenos Aires formalized more than 5,000 of them, under the name of "urban recuperators", which are grouped into 12 cooperatives. Today they wear uniforms and have health coverage. Some separate their waste in the four green centers that depend on the State.
However, it is estimated that cartoneros are more than double, since many did not manage to enter the official quotas and work informally.
It is precisely the cartoneros who are in the first row in the fight against incineration, because they fear running out of the material that supports them.
“We are an important actor and we are going to defend our rights. We are 12,000 cartoneros and we have the capacity to guarantee a sufficient recycling circuit to comply with the Zero Waste law. We are not going to allow incineration, ”one of these workers, Jacqueline Flores, told IPS.
Flores, from the El Amanecer Cooperative, said that “I took the cart during the last crisis of 2001 and for years I made a living this way. Today I am part of a team of 100 colleagues who are environmental promoters and we ring the bell for the residents of Buenos Aires, asking them to deliver their waste separated to the cartoneros ”.
In May, the City Legislature approved the amendment to the Zero Waste law, relaxing the waste reduction goals and enabling incineration.
Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta –of the Cambiemos alliance, led by President Mauricio Macri- was the one who promoted this law and said that thermo-valorization plants will be installed, which will convert garbage into energy.
However, the plan is now shrouded in uncertainty, since in June a judge suspended the application of the law, accepting a joint proposal of cardboard cooperatives and environmental organizations, which indicated that the incineration will pollute the air of Buenos Aires.
The judicial decision was appealed by the mayor and a definition is awaited.
“Like Buenos Aires, many large Latin American cities have problems with garbage, which politicians do not know how to solve. You have to be stupid or corrupt to build an incinerator, ”Connett said.
The specialist told IPS that different Latin American countries, due to their large surfaces, have great potential to reduce garbage.
"The job of a big city should be to export organic waste to rural areas, where it must be turned into compost and used in agriculture," he said.
"In turn, the recyclable waste must be sent from the field to the city, where they can take care of it because there are many people who can benefit from that work," added Connett.
The visitor cited successful examples from the United States and Europe.
One of them is that of the American city of San Francisco, which managed to reduce the waste sent to final disposal by 80 percent.
One of the key factors for this was the installation 70 kilometers from the city of a composting plant that receives organic waste and turns it into fertilizers that are used by more than 200 vineyards in the area.
"I am the walking circular economy," Connett said during his lecture in the Legislature, while assuring that he had paid six dollars for the jacket he was wearing, made from recycled materials.
The circular economy consists, precisely, in substituting the model based on produce-consume-discard for that of produce-consume-recycle.
The specialist also spoke in favor of financially punishing those who generate waste that cannot be reused or recycled.
"Garbage is a human invention, which we have to 'de-invent' from a different behavior and changes in industrial design," he considered. And he closed his presentation with an appeal to citizens: "Never let the experts take away the conclusions that you arrive at with common sense."
By Daniel Gutman
Edition: Estrella Gutiérrez