Until 1986, when Portugal joined the European Union, the responsibility of municipal solid waste management (MSW) was handled by each municipality. This process consisted in collection and disposal in landfills without any sanitary control (commonly called waste dumps). In 1994 there were 325 open dumps.
In the early 1990s, some municipalities performed viability studies to enable the construction of permitted MSW landfills, with treatment infrastructures financed by European funds.
In 1993, the Decree-Law No. 379/93 of November 5 prefigured the creation of multi-municipal systems of waste management. In 1996, the Waste Institute was created and in 1997 the Strategic Plan for Municipal Waste Management was published. The main goals set by this plan were the closure of existing open dumps in the country, implementation of recycling centers, landfills and thermal waste treatment (incineration).
This led to a series of protests during the 1995 to 2002 period, mainly due to the siting process of landfill locations, which were negotiated between the government and the municipalities, without public discussion.
The most notorious conflicts were those in Bigorne, Sermonde, Taveiro, Cadaval and Arcena, in which, despite demonstrations, landfills were built in the initially planned sites and civil society protest was delegitimized through a political discourse (represented for example by the Ministry of the Environment) that aimed to characterize the claims as the result of NIMBY syndrome (not in my backyard).
In Bigorne, Lamego (Viseu district), local citizens questioned the site selection to host the landfill of Residouro Company. Between 2009 and 2010, citizens supported by the environmental organization Quercus, by the National Confederation of Agriculture and by the Assemblies of Common-use lands, engaged in several protests, prevented access of machinery to carry out the landfill construction works and faced heavy police repression. Letters and petitions were delivered to the Viseu Civil Government and to the Presidency of the Republic. Nonetheless the landfill was opened in 2002.
In the town of Cadaval (Lisbon district), between 1999 and 2001, protesters organized in a Pro-Information Movement about the landfill and claimed that there were irregularities in the selection process of landfill location by the Association of West Municipalities and by Resioeste, in charge of the landifill operation. They argued that these entities had not fulfilled the People's Action Law and legislation on landfills, with regard to comparative studies of locations. There were a series of demonstrations that sought to prevent the works which suffered police repression. At the opening of the landfill, which occurred in November 2001, new demonstrations took place.
In Sermonde (Porto district)a conflict over the construction of a landfill by the Suldouro Company ¡ lasted from 1994 to 1999. This gave rise to the pro-environmental association Associação de Defesa ao Ambiente de Sermonde e Serzedo-Pinus. This association and the local population, with the support of Quercus, organized demonstrations, demanded new opinions for advice on the location of the landfill, they also filed an official complaint against the choice of Sermonde and lodged a complaint in the European Union and two actions in the Porto administrative court. The landfill was opened in July 1999.
In Taveiro (Coimbra district), where the population lived for over 16 years with an open dump, the projected landfill construction by ERSUC Company generated intense protests in 1996. Citizens organized into a civic movement, blocked the waste storage in municipal waste for a few days. Their claims were on the lack of transparency and dialogue, lack of negotiation and the lack of provision of information to citizens. Right to Information laws were used to access the documentation from the municipality.
In 2011 there was also a civic movement against landfill enlargement in Arcena (Lisbon district), by the Valorsul company. In two weeks 3.200 signatures were collected in a petition.
In addition Cimpor company owned the quarry next to this landfill and proposed a partnership where they would extract all the materials in that area before its enlargement, this resulted in another conflict with the local population. These two projects were never approved due to its environmental impacts.