Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil's biggest rubbish dump closes in Rio de Janeiro

A rubbish picker at Rio's Jardim Gramacho
Closure of the landfill site has been welcomed by environmentalists

Brazil's biggest open-air landfill has been closed on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro after 34 years in operation.

The Jardim Gramacho dump, a mountain of rubbish near the city's main airport, will be replaced by a modern recycling plant.

The move, while welcomed by environmentalists, is expected to leave more than 1,700 people out of work.

For decades, rubbish pickers have made their living by manually selecting materials to be recycled.

A small group of pickers, known locally as "catadores," joined Brazilian environmental minister Izabella Teixeira and Rio mayor Eduardo Teixeira in a brief ceremony to mark the end of the facility.

"Gramacho will become a reference in sustainable development and an example to be followed by other dumps in Brazil," said minister Izabella Teixeira.

The decision to close Gramacho, postponed several times, comes only weeks before the United Nations conference on the environment, Rio+20, which begins on 20 June.

Sea pollution

For decades, environmentalists have denounced the open-air landfill, which received 9,000 tonnes of rubbish a day.

The rotting rubbish generates greenhouse gases, which will now be turned into fuel.

Run-off from the piles of rubbish also leaked into the nearby sea, adding to the pollution in Rio's Guanabara Bay.

The "catadores" were paid to pluck from the smelly piles of rubbish whatever pieces could be used for recycling.

Workers at the dump have been promised compensation, reports say

Lorival dos Santos, a 46-year-old who worked in the site for 13 years said he eventually got used to the conditions.

"When you first get here, you're like 'Ick, I don't know if I can do this.' But then you make friends and you find it's good work," he told the AP news agency.

Rio's mayor Eduardo Santos said those who used to work at the landfill will get compensation of about 14,000 reais (£4,500; $7,000) and will be retrained.

But a local community leader, Nilson Jose dos Santos, says the prospects are not good for young people who live in the area.

"Many people left the local drug gangs to work here, as no questions were asked and they didn't need any qualifications," he told Globo Online.

"I wonder if those people will be able find new jobs elsewhere or whether they will have to go back to the drug trafficking gangs."

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