Globe, Latin America, Lifestyle, Ludotheque, Okology

Rubbish in Latin America: a very dangerous excess

Cities across the region produce almost 540,000 tonnes of rubbish a day, 145,000 tonnes of which is not disposed of in the correct manner. By 2050 the daily figure for solid waste in urban areas could rise to 670,000 tonnes, a good deal of which would not be disposed of and treated properly if things carry on as they are.


María Julia Mayoral


This was the warning from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This is an issue happening in the most urbanised developing region on the planet, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

On average, ECLAC observed, 54% of the world’s population live in urban areas; with this figure rising to over 80% in some parts of the globe, including South America, where it stands at 83%.

According to calculations made by the United Nations, in 2030 there will be an additional 92 million in the region’s urban areas, making the situation increasingly complex.

Within the region, the average figure for the total coverage for the collection of urban waste is over 90%, however this can vary greatly according to the country and decreases significantly in the outskirts of cities and in rural areas.

While there have been some advances made, the institution adds, there is still a considerable deficit when it comes to the proper disposal of waste, with more than 145,000 tonnes of rubbish a day, nearly 30% of the total, ending up in inadequate places.

Around 170 million people are exposed to the serious impacts that poor waste management have on the environment (on the ground, in the air and water) and human health, the president of the Brazilian Association of Public Cleaning and Special Waste Companies, Carlos Silva Filho, pointed out. Furthermore, technical analyses have revealed that organic waste makes up more than half of all rubbish thrown away in Latin American cities, although this indicator reveals large variations according to each country’s income, the expert Jordi Pon, from UNEP, highlighted.

In low-income countries the proportion of rubbish discarded coming from organic matter stands at 75%, meanwhile in higher-income countries the figure is 36%. The remainder is made up of what is known as dry waste, such as metal, paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and textiles.

However, recycling initiatives have only managed to reach around 20% of total waste in certain areas of the region, and are at this level ‘largely thanks to the contribution of the informal sector’, the report states.

Pon says that it is common to find hazardous waste such as batteries, electrical equipment, electronics, expired medication, and other things among domestic waste.

Almost all states in the region have legal standards and provisions to be complied with both by those who produce waste and those who handle it, as well as the mechanisms to penalise incompliance with these standards, however the institutional framework is weak, the UNEP officer said.

According to UNEP, the level of public and private investment in waste management is not sufficient enough to fund the infrastructure needed to mitigate the main failings of the system, such as the collection coverage, the low rates of recycling, and the inadequate final disposal of waste.

For the expert Silva Filho, ‘there still isn’t a clear understanding of the fact that the economic cost of inaction is greater than the cost of investing in a system fit for purpose.’

In the book “Who looks after the city? Contributions to egalitarian urban policy” (¿Quién cuida la ciudad? Aportes para políticas urbanas de igualdad”), analysts associated with ECLAC considered urbanisation and the challenge of tackling inequality as two major aspects for regional development.

According to the analysts, environmental degradation, pollution, deteriorating air quality, and cities’ contributions to emissions associated with climate change, among other factors, represent urgent challenges for urban centres.

The ties between the urban landscape, the reproduction of inequality, and the patterns of pollution make it clear that a focus on developing more balanced cities can also help to create scenarios in which resources are used in a way that is both more efficient and more favourable to the environment, together with being more inclusive for both women and men. It is recognised by public and private bodies that recycling is the key to protecting people and the environment from the harmful effects of waste, including electronic waste, which is growing quickly due to the use of smart phones, refrigerators, air conditioning systems, computers, electric cars, and innumerable other devices.

On an international level, UNEP revealed, between 60% and 90% of electronic waste is sold or dumped illegally, often involving the participation of international crime syndicates.

(Translated by Matthew Rose – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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