Peru’s long-festering garbage problem getting harder to ignore

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, Oct 15 (EFE).- From the suburbs of this capital on the Pacific coast to the Andean highlands and the jungles of Amazonia, the unappealing sight of piles of garbage is practically inescapable in Peru, a country that recycles barely 1 percent of its trash.

The quantity of unprocessed solid waste grows by around 21,000 tons a day, up from 13,000 tons in 2007.

The problem, according to Christhian Diaz of Peru’s OEFA environmental protection agency, is the lack of a national waste-management system that would allow Peru to reap the economic benefits of recycling.

“In some sectors of the country, people continue to think of the issue of the environment as a burden and not as an opportunity,” he told Efe.

While 54 percent of solid waste goes to the 67 landfills set up across the country, 45 percent ends up in dumps.

Unlike the landfills, which adhere to health and environmental regulations, the dumps “are illegal spaces, where there are informal recyclers, where they burn waste and there no is kind of control,” engineer Eduardo de la Torre, national project coordinator for the organization Ciudad Saludable (Healthy City), said.

The informal recyclers eke out a meager existence sifting through the piles of trash in search of plastic, paper, cardboard and glass that they can sell.

“This activity is necessary because it fills the vacuum we have in the absence of differentiated (waste) treatment based on appropriate separation,” Diaz said, while citing with concern the risks to “the health and lives of the recyclers.”

The unregulated open-air dumps have been blamed for outbreaks of infectious diseases such as dysentery and typhoid, as well as for the spread of parasites transmitted by the rats and insects attracted by the accumulations of refuse.

And harmful runoff from dumps can pollute underground aquifers that are sources of drinking water.

One obvious solution would be to convert the piles of trash into proper landfills, but OEFA estimates that only 2 percent of the 1,637 catalogued dumps would be susceptible to such a transformation.

A 2017 study by the Climate Change Planning Project concluded that Peru could build 31 additional landfills for $68 million, far less than the cost of dealing with the problems caused by the dumps.

Addressing the issue will require greater public involvement and improvement in the functioning of municipal governments, De la Torre said.

“Much education is needed,” he said pointedly after mentioning how common it is to see people leaving garbage on the street or tossing it into a river or stream. EFE csr/dr

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