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Waste-to-energy incineration plant by Veolia in Mexico City, Mexico


Description:

In May of 2017, the government of Mexico City signed a contract with the transnational company Veolia to build and operate a major waste incinerator. The waste-to- energy incinerator is aimed to supply energy to the twelve lines of Mexico City subway.

Several concerns arose in relation to this project due to its different impacts. Moreover, the company had already faced several issues with environmental pollution in the past such as the implication in a water pollution scandal in Michigan where they did not provide truthful information about its safety [1]. 

On the one hand, there is the high cost that the administration of Mexico City would have to face,109 tousand million pesos (approx 5 billion dollars), which is what will be paid over 30 years to Veolia [2]. Veolia would be the supplier of electricity and as a consequence, the cost of the electricity paid by the Public Subway System (Sistema de Transporte Colectivo Metro) would increase due to the price arranged in the signed contract (0,09 dollars per kilowatt), which is higher than its current price [3]. 

On the other hand, all the socio-environmental costs that the inhabitants of Mexico City would have to face, such as the worsening of the air quality due the incinerator emissions, the worsening of the waste managing of the city in terms of sustainability due to the lack of motivation on recycling and the need of waste to feed the incinerator. Moreover, an incinerator would lead to the loss of access to the main source of living for the wastepickers of the city. 

As reported by the Expansion newspaper, Mexico City generates 12,000 tons of waste per day and its waste management system is not able to handle it all. As a solution, the government agreed to hand in 4.500 tons of waste a day for the incinerator to operate, which encourages waste generation in order to feed the incinerator instead of boosting waste reduction and recycling in the city [4]. The aim of the project is to privatize the waste management of the city and marginalize informal recyclers instead of facing the problem of recycling with public policies which would promote recycling habits.  As reported by the organization Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the provided waste supposedly should not include recyclable materials as stated by law (Norma Ambiental 024) [2], but mixed waste is still a relevant issue among Mexican citizens. 

One of the groups which would face major threats are therefore the informal wastepickers, mainly those working on the landfills. As reported by WIEGO (2018) [2], the recyclers’ livelihood was not considered in the decision making of the project, because the government didn’t consider them as stakeholders of it. WIEGO reported that more than 10,000 informal recyclers would see their livelihoods under threaten. 

Several protests arose against the construction of the waste-to-energy incinerator. The tension escalated to the district assembly, where, in November 2017, as reported by the newspaper Proceso, some members of parliament started fighting against each other at the Legislative Local Assembly (ALDF), when the project was being discussed. That was just the beginning of a social and legal battle over the construction of the plant [5].

After a legal battle lead by Adriana Gutiérrez Medina as the president of the Citizen Council of Xochimilco, in October 2018, the Administrative Court of Justice (TJA) of Mexico City ceased the contract signed by the government in 2017 [6]. Considering that the financial cost for the incinerator was excessively high, its construction was suspended. 

Based on information from WIEGO, in 2017 a group of recyclers got recognition and were offered formal contracts. However, these actions have been questioned since they would be instrumental for political strategies. Wastepickers had never been taken into account in the decisions related to waste management within the city before or after the incinerator project. Wastepickers that once saw their livelihoods put at risk will still be able to work and keep fighting in order to get wider and truthful recognition for their labor.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Waste-to-energy incineration plant by Veolia in Mexico City, Mexico
Country:Mexico
Location of conflict:Mexico City
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Incinerators
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Mexico City generates:12,000 tons of waste per day.

In 2018 it was reported that "el principal argumento para echar atrás la construcción del proyecto, que buscaba procesar un tercio de la basura producida en la ciudad (4,500 toneladas diarias de residuos) para generar electricidad para el metro, es el endeudamiento que significa para el gobierno, quien debería de pagar al consorcio encabezado por Veolia -la empresa ganadora en la licitación- 2,300 millones de pesos anuales por 30 años.". La Ciudad de México genera diariamente 13 mil toneladas, mismas que se colocan a través de diversos procesos: de 4 mil a 4 mil 500 toneladas son enviadas a la planta de composta, la que separan los trabajadores de limpia en los camiones. Más de 1 mil toneladas diarias se entregan a una compañía cementera para que se lleve la basura como combustible para sus hornos.

Project area:34
Level of Investment:5,000,000,000
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:More than 10,000 waste pickers
Start of the conflict:01/05/2017
End of the conflict:2018
Company names or state enterprises:Veolia Environment from France
Relevant government actors:Government of Mexico City
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO). www.wiego.org

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Informal workers
Local government/political parties
Wastepickers, recyclers
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
WIEGO organizes photographic exhibitions and other activities

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Global warming
Health ImpactsPotential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Other Health impactsDioxins and furans
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Project cancelled
Development of alternatives:There was no proposals made by waste pickers since their focus was on stopping the construction of the incineration plant.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:From an environmental justice point of view it was a success due to the fact that the contract was stopped. One main cause was the allegations of corruption, aparte from the complaints from wastepckers. Veolia and its represantives might appeal to international arbitration. The contract was reverted due to legal and monetary reasons and not to environmental ones. There was not an environmental reasoning when the decision was taken. However, the governor of Mexico City after 2018 is Claudia Scheinbaum, an environmentalists, who is totally against the incinerator.

Sources & Materials

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1]
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/22/michigan-flint-water-crisis-lockwood-andrews-newnam-veolia

[5]
https://www.proceso.com.mx/510223/gresca-en-la-aldf-planta-termovalorizacion-endeudara-a-la-cdmx-30-anos

[3]
https://www.contralinea.com.mx/archivo-revista/2017/11/27/incineradora-basura-negocio-109-mil-millones/

[3] Article of the newspaper Contralínea from Mexico about the incineration project "El Sarape"
https://www.contralinea.com.mx/archivo-revista/2017/11/27/incineradora-basura-negocio-109-mil-millones/

[6]
https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/2018/10/15/suspende-tribunal-contrato-de-la-planta-termovalorizadora-1263.html

[4]Article of the newspaper "Expansion" from Mexico about the incineration plant.
https://expansion.mx/empresas/2017/07/11/planta-de-termovalorizacion-en-la-cdmx-levanta-polemica

[4]

[5] Article of the newspaper "El Proceso" about the assembly discussion
https://www.proceso.com.mx/510223/gresca-en-la-aldf-planta-termovalorizacion-endeudara-a-la-cdmx-30-anos

[6] Article of the newspaper "Jornada" from Mexico about the suspension of the incineration project "El Sarape".
https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/2018/10/15/suspende-tribunal-contrato-de-la-planta-termovalorizadora-1263.html

[2 ]Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) network. This network could serve as a guide for waste pickers conflicts in different cities.
http://www.wiego.org/blog/threat-new-waste-incinerator-mexico-city-puts-informal-waste-pickers-livelihoods-risk

[1] Article of the newspaper "The Guardian" about the company Veolia in Michigan
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/22/michigan-flint-water-crisis-lockwood-andrews-newnam-veolia

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

La Silla Rota, Shareni Guzman, 31 julio 2018. Con estos argumentos, Scheinbaum tirará negocio de Mancera para tratmiento de basura
https://lasillarota.com/cancelar-planta-termovalorizadora-legal-recicladora-basura-sarape/238578

WIEGO, exposición fotográfica: trabajadores invisibles. 25 Sept 2018.
http://espanol.wiego.org/eventos-2/inauguracion-de-la-exposicion-fotografica-trabajadores-invisibles-en-la-ciudad-de-mexico/

WIEGO, exposición fotográfica
http://espanol.wiego.org/eventos-2/inauguracion-de-la-exposicion-fotografica-trabajadores-invisibles-en-la-ciudad-de-mexico/

Meta information

Contributor:Valeria Calvas
Last update12/09/2019

Images

 

Incinerator plant 'El Sarape' project

Credits: https://gobiznext.com/de-interes/planta-termovalorizacion-cdmx/

Workers and waste lorries of Mexico City

Credits: Miguel Dimayuga. https://www.proceso.com.mx/491032/planta-termovalorizacion-basura-en-cdmx-violaria-leyes-proteccion-al-medio-ambiente-expertos

Assembly discussion about incineration plant

Credits: https://www.proceso.com.mx/510223/gresca-en-la-aldf-planta-termovalorizacion-endeudara-a-la-cdmx-30-anos

Incinerator plant 'El Sarape' project

Credits: https://gobiznext.com/de-interes/planta-termovalorizacion-cdmx/

Assembly discussion about incineration plant

Credits: https://www.proceso.com.mx/510223/gresca-en-la-aldf-planta-termovalorizacion-endeudara-a-la-cdmx-30-anos

Workers and waste lorries of Mexico City

Credits: Miguel Dimayuga. https://www.proceso.com.mx/491032/planta-termovalorizacion-basura-en-cdmx-violaria-leyes-proteccion-al-medio-ambiente-expertos