From Bordo Poniente to CEMEX: the CDM’s support for waste incineration in cement factories

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Mexico City generates more municipal solid waste (MSW) than any other municipality in Mexico: 15000 tons a day. 1Until recently, most of this wound up in the Bordo Poniente landfill, the biggest in all of Latin America. Since the decision to close the landfill in December 2011, some 12,000 tons of waste each day have been transferred to municipalities in neighboring Mexican states, such as Tepeaca (in Puebla) and Huichapan (in Hidalgo) for co-incineration in cement factories.2 This turn of events has certainly had serious social consequences: grass-roots recyclers (often referred to as waste pickers) who have been able to earn a living in Bordo Poniente by recovering, classifying, and selling materials for recycling will now be out of work. There will be dire environmental consequences as well, as communities near the cement factories will be directly exposed to the chemical pollution created by the incineration of MSW. In Huichapan, the practice of sending waste to be incinerated in the cement plant, which began in 2012, resulted in local opposition and concern about the negative impact this would have on public health and the environment. The public outcry pressured the government of the State of Hidalgo to recognize that the incineration of the Mexico City municipal waste in Huichapan was a violation of state laws governing waste disposal. As a result, CEMEX, the country’s largest cement producer, was ordered to stop incineration at all plants within the state, an event unprecedented in Mexico's history, as the government rarely rules against such powerful interests. Despite the state legislature’s acknowledgement of the illegality of burning MSW in the CEMEX plant, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the international arm of the Kyoto Protocol for carbon emissions trading, may approve the project’s eligibility for carbon credits at the end of January 2013. The final approval is not yet confirmed, but it will be automatic if members of the Executive Board do not decide otherwise. The CDM has a track record of supporting waste incineration in cement plants as a strategy for reducing climate change. This article provides evidence and arguments that co-incineration of waste in cement plants is a serious threat to public health and the environment. The legitimization of these sorts of activities is in serious conflict with the CDM’s mandate to fight climate change and support sustainable development.

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