Latin America has experienced rapid economic growth, associated with
urban migration and unplanned expansion of infrastructure and public
service provision. Municipalities face the dual challenge of providing
infrastructure that improves quality of life but that does so at an
affordable cost. Effective municipal waste management practices are
limited in the developing world, causing public health problems and
potent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Waste to energy landfills are a
solution that harnesses this duality, providing numerous benefits such
as proper disposal of waste and reduction of disease, plus capturing
biogas which can be put to productive use in the form of electricity
generation, while also reducing the emission of harmful greenhouse
gases. In turn, this electricity could potentially substitute
traditional forms of energy used for public lighting or to fuel public
works. This Brief examines how cities in Latin America have turned the
problem of waste management into an opportunity. It documents one of the
first experiences of low-carbon waste-management infrastructure - a
waste to energy landfill - in the region, through a case study from
Monterrey, Mexico’s second largest city. The story of Monterrey shows
how the city turned its landfill waste into electricity that moves its
subway and provides safer streets through public lighting, while at the
same time shrinking municipalities’ operating costs and tackling climate
change by reducing GHG emissions.
External funding from international cooperation agencies and development
banks was key to removing technical and institutional barriers to create
the first-of-its-kind waste-to-energy project in Latin America. By
bringing together a multi-stakeholder group, the pilot project was able
to respond to multiple priorities.
Cities now have a model to follow, but not only for waste-to-energy
landfills. Perhaps more importantly, they have a new perspective on how
to change business models to re-evaluate their own resources and design
public-private partnerships in areas that could attract investment to
improve public service provision. In Latin America, these partnerships
have been shown to attract investments as they are relatively safe and
bring a stable source of revenue.
The case of Monterrey, and the Latin American cities that followed it,
demonstrate that urban areas with more than 100,000 inhabitants are
probably the ideal setting for waste-to-energy landfills. These
initiatives have been shown to be innovative business models, turning
municipal waste management into an income source, while improving the
city’s environmental and social quality of life.
Rebolledo, E. ELLA Policy Brief: Turning Waste Into Resources: Latin America&#8217;s Waste-to-Energy Landfills. ELLA, Practical Action Consulting, Lima, Peru (2013) 6 pp.