Brazil's Jardin Gramacho, a gigantic trash dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro that was considered Latin America's largest, finally closed on Sunday and will now begin undergoing a process of environmental recovery.
The last truck to bring a load of trash to the open air landfill left Gramacho shortly before an official ceremony marking the closure of the dump, an event in which Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes and Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira participated.
The site, which covers 1.3 million sq. meters (1.5 million sq. yards), remains inundated with some 60 million tons of trash that practically buried a neighboring mangrove swamp and contaminated the waters of Guanabara Bay, where Rio's northern beaches and tourist sites such as the Isla de Paqueta are located.
"We're putting an end to an environmental crime that for more than 30 years has polluted Rio de Janeiro," the mayor told Efe, symbolically placing a padlock on the dump's front gate.
"To replace it, we're building Latin America's most modern solid waste treatment center," Paes added, referring to the plant that has been operating for several months at Seropedica, 75 kilometers (47 miles) from the city.
Jardin Gramacho for 34 years received the greater part of the trash produced by Rio and Duque de Caxias, the municipality in the Rio metropolitan area where the dump is located.
A good part of the 8,400 tons of solid waste generated each day in Rio was brought to the site and dumped in the open air, where it was fought over and part of it consumed by scavenging birds and dug through by 1,603 people who made their livings collecting recyclable materials from the trash.
It was specifically the fate of those recyclers that delayed the dump's closure for several months, although the mayor's aim had always been to close it before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 that the city will host on June 20-22.
Months of repeated postponements in the dump's closure were necessary while authorities negotiated the indemnity that the recyclers would receive for losing their livelihoods. A figure of 14,000 reais ($7,000) per person was eventually agreed on, and training courses were established to help them find other ways to earn a living.
"We're going to use the model of Rio de Janeiro to close all the dumps in the country. This ceremony marks a great advance for the environmental sector and for the country," the environmental minister said.
Jardin Gramacho ultimately came to receive about 6,000 tons of trash per day, but in recent months with the beginning of operations at the Seropedica treatment plant, that volume fell to about 2,000 tons.
A plant that collects methane gas produced by the decaying organic material in the dump will continue operating on the site, even as the environmental recovery efforts are under way. Electric power is generated from the gas. EFE