Solid waste management in Minas Gerais - Brazil (a system for developing countries)

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Courtesy of ORBIT e.V.

Minas Gerais is located in the southwest of Brazil. It has 856 municipalities and a total population of 16,674,000 inhabitants. Belo Horizonte, the capital of the state, has 2,100,000 inhabitants with a standard of living similar to many other industrialised cities in the world. However, this condition is not found in the majority of the other municipalities of the state. In Minas Gerais, 82% of the municipalities have a population of less than 20,000. These consist of small towns with problems related to employment, environmental protection and public health. In most of these places, solid waste treatment is not seen as part of the basic sanitation programmes and open dumps have been used as a method of “treatment” and for final disposal for all solid waste produced.

Some municipal policies advocate the use of controlled tipping of waste, but considering the changes throughout the years in the refuse composition with new toxic components, and the high organic matter content (around 68%, see Table 1), controlled tipping is no longer a cheap method of disposal. Recycling, reuse, minimisation, integrated systems, are the new key words in solid waste management. However, the question is can they operate in developing countries or in low-income areas of these countries? Our answer is yes.

Studies have been carried out by the Universidade Federal de Viçosa (Solid Waste Research Group – LESA), over the last 12 years, using appropriate and low cost technologies. The progress made is reflected in a big governmental solid waste programme which in its first phase intends to build Low Cost Recycling Plants in 300 towns of the state and in the second phase to build more than 400 plants. The University of Viçosa is the main technical coordinator for the programme.

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