Issue of April, 21, 2002
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Accents
Santiago Doesn't Know What to Do with Its Garbage
By Gustavo González

Of the 246 garbage dumps operating in Chile, just 11 have environmental impact evaluation systems.

SANTIAGO, (Tierramérica).- The imminent closing of the domestic waste dump of Lepanto, in the Chilean capital, has revitalized debate about the fate of garbage in a country that lacks a general policy for waste treatment and recycling.

Of the 246 dumps operating in Chile, 174 are not even legal, and just 11 have environmental impact systems in place. In Santiago alone, there are 101 clandestine waste sites, simple open-air garbage dumps that do not involve any sanitary or environmental controls.

The administrative chief of the Santiago Metropolitan Region, Marcelo Trivelli, promised that the closing of Lepanto would be moved up from Apr 30 to Apr 25, after which the 120,000 tons of waste the site received each month would be redirected to sanitary landfills in La Rinconada and Santa Marta, sites set up last year by the Regional Environment Commission, in the southern districts of Maipú and Lonquén.

The residents of Lepanto feel relieved by the decision because the Lepanto dump is on the verge of collapse. The site threatens the health of the 3.5 million people in the southern districts of Santiago and the environmental balance of the agricultural areas in the outskirts.

But the people of Lonquén and Maipú are indignant. "This is pure rubbish," was the ironic complaint of Raimundo Lara, resident of Maipú, located southwest of Santiago.

Lara's protest is based on the series of petitions to prevent the creation of a landfill there that have been rejected by the courts. Furthermore, the authorities have refused to take into account the risk of the La Rinconada site, which sits on a geological fault, he said.

With nearly six million residents, the Chilean capital produces 210,000 tons of solid waste each month.

The 13 municipalities of the capital's south send their waste to Lepanto, while that of the remaining 20 municipalities is sent to the suburban Til-Til site in the northern part of the Metropolitan Region.

The landfills are always located in outlying areas, but there is no overarching policy to foment control and recycling of domestic waste.

On average, each Santiago resident produces 1.4 kilos of garbage a day, much less than the average in the United States of 2.5 kilos, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The annual output of waste in Chile reaches 3.34 million tons, 47 percent of which is generated in the capital, according to the National Environmental Commission.

Just the five percent of the population of Santiago with highest income produces more than 20 percent of the waste, the upper-middle-class sector 34 percent, and lower-middle-class 33 percent, while 40 percent of the capital's residents, the poor, are responsible for some 13 percent of waste.

* Gustavo González is an IPS correspondent.

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