WASTE MATTERS!!!

by | Feb 24, 2021 | Articles in english

Since immemorable times, the waste collection problem has been one of the main issues present in the Dominican Republic’s socio-political sphere. Due to the lack of waste collection, waste accumulation in the streets has become common and palpable., -This issue has predominated as one of the main topics of speeches and promises in electoral campaign times.

However, today the waste problem cannot be seen solely from its collection point of view. For decades, we have been accumulating and aggravating a large-scale environmental liability in managing the final disposal in open landfills. A situation that threatens our cities and municipalities’ health status, including our major tourist destinations.

The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MIMARENA) has identified 350 open dump landfills throughout the country receiving on a consolidated basis, more than 14,000 tons of waste per day (5,110,000 tons per year). These landfills mostly operate without any environmental control, generating leachates that contaminate our groundwater sources and where the practice of open burning waste predominates, both intentionally and naturally.

The Dominican Republic is currently the fourth country with the highest per capita waste generation in Latin America, with an estimated 1.08 kg/inhabitant/ day. This positions the Dominican Republic above countries such as Guatemala, Bolivia, Honduras, Cuba, and Peru, according to the World Bank report, 2018 “WASTE 2.0”.

Since immemorable times, the waste collection problem has been one of the main issues present in the Dominican Republic’s socio- political sphere. Due to the lack of waste collection, waste accumulation in the streets has become common and palpable., -This issue has predominated as one of the main topics of speeches and promises in electoral campaign times.

However, today the waste problem cannot be seen solely from its collection point of view. For decades, we have been accumulating and aggravating a large-scale environmental liability in managing the final disposal in open landfills. A situation that threatens our cities and municipalities’ health status, including our major tourist destinations.

The Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MIMARENA) has identified 350 open dump landfills throughout the country receiving on a consolidated basis, more than 14,000 tons of waste per day (5,110,000 tons per year). These landfills mostly operate without any environmental control, generating leachates that contaminate our groundwater sources and where the practice of open burning waste predominates, both intentionally and naturally.

The Dominican Republic is currently the fourth country with the highest per capita waste generation in Latin America, with an estimated 1.08 kg/inhabitant/ day. This positions the Dominican Republic above countries such as Guatemala, Bolivia, Honduras, Cuba, and Peru, according to the World Bank report, 2018 “WASTE 2.0”.

WORLD BANK REPORT, 2018 “WASTE 2.0”.

In the Dominican Republic, we have recently experienced events that expose the emergency condition and health threat represented by the environmental liabilities that we have accumulated for decades in these open dump landfills.

In July 2018, as a result of the passage of Storm Beryl, tons of waste going down the Ozama River covered the coast by the ocean from the boardwalk of the city of Santo Domingo, generating headlines in the leading international media outlets such as the following:

  • BBC News, July 23, 2018: “Dominican Republic: This is how a beach turned into a plastic landfill after storm Beryl.”
  • NY Times, July 25, 2018: “Waves of waste arrive on the beaches of the Dominican Republic.”

  • Lavoz.com.ar, July 21, 2018: “A sea of plastic: tons of waste covered the beaches of the Dominican Republic.”
  • BBC News, July 23, 2018: “Dominican Republic: This is how a beach turned into a plastic landfill after storm Beryl.”

  • NY Times, July 25, 2018: “Waves of waste arrive on the beaches of the Dominican Republic.”

  • Lavoz.com.ar, July 21, 2018: “A sea of plastic: tons of waste covered the beaches of the Dominican Republic.”

During April and May 2020, as we faced the uncertainty of un unprecedented global pandemic, we were subjected to a mandatory quarantine process that kept us locked in our homes, the Duquesa open dump landfill located in the north part of Santo Domingo caught on fire. Waste was openly burning for an approximately 30 days. During this period, the fire generated all kinds of polluting emissions and smoke that covered the city urban areas so that visibility was impaired for distances of less than 100 meters, and accompanying it was an unshakeable peculiar odor emanated by the polluting emissions.

SANTO DOMINGO, APRIL 28, 2020

DUQUESA OPEN DUMP LANDFILL, ABRIL 28,2020

The treatment of solid waste in open dump landfills, generates methane) CH4), a greenhouse gas that, according to estimates published by FAO (2020) has global warming power 21 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2). Likewise, it is estimated that for every ton of waste that is avoided to end up in landfills, the generation of a 2.94 metric tons equivalent of carbon dioxide is prevented. (EPA,2020).

Open burning of waste releases a variety of toxic pollutants. These compounds include carbon dioxide, methane, and particles that are typically associated with air pollution and can lead to severe respiratory disease cases. Open burning of waste is primarily associated with the release of persistent organic pollutant. This includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, and furans, all of which are carcinogenic and have been linked to various other diseases. The pollutants´ impacts are especially harmful to unborn fetuses, newborns, and children who come into contact with pollutants, either through their mothers or through direct exposure. As a result, several of the pollutants emitted by open burning waste can cause severe developmental damage to children. (Regions of Climate Action, 2016).

It is estimated that of the 5,110,000 tons of waste per year going into landfills in the Dominican Republic, at least 50% can end up being openly burned, generating, in turn, a series of pollutants for which we present an estimate in tons per year in the following illustration. 

Annual estimate of pollutants generated by open-air waste burning in the Dominican Republic. 

Estimates made by Silver, based on the report: “OPEN BURNING OF WASTE: A GLOBAL HEALTH DISASTER,” OCTOBER 2016, R20 REGIONS OF CLIMATE ACTION.

It should be noted that these pollutants generate a significant impact on health, causing diseases such as heart failure, respiratory failure, lung cancer, skin cancer, cognitive developmental delay, lymphoma, leukemia, among others. The current reality imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic progressively compromises the consequences of this situation on respiratory conditions caused by such virus.

Health effects of Pollutants from open burning of waste

It is imperative to take immediate action on the waste problem while recognizing that new management models should be used in final disposal.

This situation’s negative and degenerative impact calls for this to be a priority for all responsible and influential bodies.

We strongly believe that the omissions or delay in these decisions will impact the future of polluting emissions and thus pose an exponential risk to the Dominican population’s health.

“The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship.  We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy for use by future generations.” John Paul II

Prepared by Freddy Peña and Erika Marte.