Life in the Mountains … Of Trash
By Jesús Aguado
At the municipal “sanitary” landfill, people do not just steal the trash, they also pass garbage smashed by the machines—in the attempt to get hold of a piece that is valuable in their world of poverty. Plagues of rats and flies, hounds, or the sickening odors from the solid waste are just some of the existing problems in this place where what for some is trash, for others means money.
Due to this situation, the local administration has had to deal with people from the communities nearby as well as with companies like FADIM (Manufacturers and Distributors of Materials for Construction), a company that claimed the rights to handle the solid wastes. FADIM received compensation close to five million pesos (an excessive amount in the eyes of the Guanajuato Auditing Superior Organ, OFS). And if that is not enough, currently the local government is facing a criminal complaint from Empresa Especialista de Reciclaje de Mexico (Specialist Company for Recycling) that claims it has the handling of the solid remainders (allegedly since 2008, when the local administration signed an agreement with the company. Since then, it has not had access to the land fill because the administration has not allowed representatives inside).
Among trash, dogs, and odors
The sanitary landfill, which, according to the Municipal Services Department receives 100 tons of trash daily, is situated in Palo Colorado. The area is surrounded by material that was once cyclonic mesh. The mountain of slag that people can see from the entrance is just the façade of what is behind. A regular visitor can arrive and encounter fighting wild dogs that aggressively show their fangs. On the way to the landfill’s main area, there is also a mountain made of tires once black, but now gray because herons (that survive in the landfill) stand and defecate on them.
In the distance people can see the trash carts arrive and download the remainders while the collectors walk around and start digging with broom handles. A child captivates the attention and with a strong glance looks at the visitor, at the same time holding a sack in his right hand. The visitor does not go toward him, but to the small “houses” made of cardboard and rags, located at the edge between the “public” and “private” property that once was separated by the cyclonic mesh. There a group of men dressed in dirty, ragged clothing is seated on old sofas, buckets, and other junk. “We do not want you to film us!” shouts one of the men. Later, more relaxed and trusting of the interviewer, some of them answered questions.
Most of them live in the little houses. Those who have a place to stay arrive at “work” at 6am and finish at dusk. Do they go to the landfill because they like it or because they need to go? At the beginning it was because they needed a job and money. Now it is because they like it and need it. “If there is no employment,” they said,” it is easy to survive here because we can find shoes, shirts, furniture, and even food.”
A group of teenagers was playing soccer next to the land fill. One of them commented that they have built the small houses there because sometimes they decide to stay there during the night and get up in the early morning to find something valuable to keep or sell. They also collect plastic, copper, and glass that they sell to make 100 pesos or more. Farther in the distance, there was a man who found a pair of worn-out jeans. The man commented that for a long time he looked for a job, but he did not find anything. “The landfill was close, so I came here, where I have found even televisions and leftovers for my pigs.” He complained that nowadays there is not an opportunity to collect many kilos of plastic or glass because employees from the Public Services Department separate the trash, “and they have a salary; they should leave something for us,” he remarked.
The collectors ignore the idea that they are stealing the trash. A 25-year-old woman, accompanied by her 15-year-old sister commented that they easily make 60 pesos a day, working from 11am-4pm. The collectors do not have to go to the urban area to sell what they get because an eighteen-wheeler waits daily at the landfill to buy the recycling products. All the stories from the nearly 100 people attending the are almost the same—they work without hygiene or protective equipment.
Death in the trash
The collectors assured that during the 2009-2012 administration, a woman died, crushed by a machine, and the local administration then headed by Luz María Núñez, paid for the funeral services. This information was confirmed by Julián Villela, director of Public Services. The official version states that “when the trash carts download the trash, mountains are formed that are later processed by a machine that drives ten meters ahead and ten meters behind. The woman found something valuable to her, and when she wanted to take it out of the trash, she did not notice that the machine was coming back. It rolled over her and crushed her.
Villela remarked that at the landfill, there are “no trespassing” signs. He highlighted that nobody should go into it. “It is sad to say it, but there are too many people who make a life from what they collect. My superiors asked me, ‘Julián, are there people who live from what they collect?’ When he answered yes, they told him, “Then do not bother them.”
Nevertheless, Villela said that all those who get into the to collect “are stealing because the landfill is private property.” Regardless of that, he noted, “It is a very tough decision for a mayor to take them out of the place.” In words of Villela, the place is unhealthy, and they should not go into it. The director assured that sometimes they advise the people not to go in there, but they ignore the danger.
Regardless of the trash theft, Villela explained that when the woman died, the local administration covered the funerary services because it was a moral duty.
The sanitary landfill started functioning during Luis Alberto Villarreal’s administration (2003-2006). It was a project that had started, and later the FADIM Company joined it. That company signed an agreement to maintain a dry landfill. FADIM would separate, recycle, and avoid pollution to the environment. FADIM would sell the recycled products. For that reason the local administration made an investment to buy the machinery (not functional now) for separating the trash.
Atención contacted FADIM, and a representative commented that the machinery was purchased by the company, and when they stopped working at the landfill, it was functioning. “We filed a criminal complaint against the local government because they made the agreement to bring 100 tons of solid remainders daily to the landfill, but in the end there were just 70 tons, and that was not profitable for FADIM. We filled a criminal complaint to get back the investment we paid for the machinery.”
During Jesús Correa’s administration (2006-2009), said Villela, the company had some problems with the local government, which allegedly filed a criminal complaint against FADIM because they were not fulfilling the agreement.
Nevertheless, during Luz María Núñez’s administration, the company received a payment of close to five million pesos.
On July 18, 2013, the city council received a notice from the Guanajuato Auditing Superior Organ after an auditing to the 2011 public budget. In that notice the OFS requested the city council to start the administrative processes that emerged “from the excessive payment to FADIM.”
City councilor José Luis Zavala Rosiles told Atención that in 2008, the local administration signed a contract with Especialista de Reciclaje de México SA de CV. The company would process and administer the solid wastes for a 15-year period. However, at least until now, the local administration has not given them the terms to do it. Rosiles assured that the agreement has not expired, and for that reason the company filed a criminal complaint against the local government. They got a protection from a federal court. The document was delivered to the city council, and they accepted it although that does not mean that the company has “open doors” to operate. In the end. According to Rosiles, the company could receive compensation as FADIM did, due to bad administration and miscommunication in the city council.
In the meantime, the local government has not had an agreement with the companies that process solid wastes. Until that happens, the people in Palo Colorado will continue stealing the trash in a nest for rats, starving dogs, sickening odors, and environmental pollution.
Former mayor Luz María Núñez made it clear that the extra ammount paid to FADIM “through a technical error” was for 180 thousand pesos. She also remarked that she never gave instructions to Villela—since he was the Public Services Director during her administration—not to take actions against the trash collectors. I had better say that “he knows what is going on, but he does not want to get in trouble with them, and that is the reason why he does not face the problem,” she said.
Núñez Flores also acknowledged that her administration covered the funerary services of the woman who died at the landfill because it was a topic “of compassion”. More information in our next edition.