The Aurá dump, situated at the outskirts of Pará’s capital Belém, in the neighboring city Ananindeua, has been one of Brazil’s largest and most controversial dumping grounds. It was officially closed down for domestic waste disposal in 2015, following a new act in the country’s solid waste policy (Lei 12.305).
Aurá was opened in 1990 and was initially a landfill for ash and incinerated waste. After functioning as a sanitary landfill for a few years, it degraded and became an uncontrolled landfill overloaded with all types of waste. Between 1991 and 2015, it served as the main dumpsite of the Belém metropolitan area, receiving up to 1,800 tons of waste per day. From at least 2005 onwards, there was no treatment or selective waste collection. Aurá has been frequented by more than 1,800 informal wastepickers, so-called catadores, making it the second-largest Brazilian dump in this regard. From an environmental standpoint, wastepickers’ work is very significant and accounts for almost 90 percent of all recycling in Brazil (where only 1,4 percent of all solid waste gets recycled). Their work also has a social dimension: for many catadores it is a means of survival, as the selling of collected materials such as metal or plastic allows them to gain a minimal income. This happens in a context characterized by persistent urban inequality and social marginalization. Some wastepickers even live around dump sites and eat the food collected there. This also happens in Aurá, where subsistence fishing and animal raising are no longer possible due to water contamination. [5a][5b]
Precarious social conditions are closely linked to environmental degradation, which has increased along with the amount of waste deposited there. While a 1998 study had already found contaminated leachate in the river basin, problems continued as the site became increasingly overloaded with garbage, affecting the water quality of the entire metropolitan area. Toxic substances accumulated in the soil, impacting animal populations, and water reservoirs used by the local communities, who frequently suffered from diarrhea, dermatitis and other illnesses.  Due to anaerobic decomposition of organic material, the dumping ground also became a notable emitter of methane with an estimated 480,000 tons released between 1992 and 2017, equivalent to the burning of 34,000 hectares of forest. 
In 2006, the Canadian company Conestoga Rovers & Associates launched the Aurá Landfill Gas Project, installing a landfill gas collection and flaring system that – over a project duration of 10 years – would capture methane generated at the site before entering the atmosphere and thereby reduce emissions compared to a scenario of uncontrolled release of gas. The project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UNFCCC, allowing trading of ‘Certified Emission Reductions’ on the private carbon market.  
With the adoption of Brazil’s new National Solid Waste Policy in 2010 – which came after a period of uncontrolled urban growth and in the run-up of a series of mega-events (Río+20 Conference, FIFA World Cup, Olympic Games) – municipalities were required to adopt integrated waste management plans, leading to the closure of a number of problematic dumping grounds across the country, which were replaced by controlled, usually privatized landfills. The new regulation also provided for the inclusion of affected wastepickers’ perspectives, as well as their integration into municipal waste management plans. This would become a major focal point of their revendications. 
In the case of the Belém metropolitan area, the Aurá dump was to be closed down for domestic waste disposal from 2014 onwards. While the company CTR Guajará was initially contracted in 2012 to transform the Aurá into a controlled landfill, the contract was canceled by the municipalities of Belém and Ananindeua shortly after due to irregularities in the bidding process. However, CTR continued operating for a while without an environmental license. Political controversies continued when, in 2013, Pará’s Public Ministry used an emergency clause to support a new landfill project by the company Revita Engenharia in the neighboring city of Marituba. This was presented as a long-term solution to the waste problem that would eventually allow the complete closure and remediation of the Aurá area. 
Since 2012, wastepickers in Aurá have been organizing in the Associação dos Catadores do Aurá (ASCA), which, together with the formation of cooperatives, has increased the visualization of wastepickers in the wider public and created closer linkages with civil society. This has also helped support social mobilization and the articulation of their claims. [5a]
Mobilization intensified when plans to close the Aurá dump and open a new landfill in Marituba were discussed without the participation of catadores. Attempts to prevent wastepickers’ access to the Aurá dump had been reported since 2012 and triggered dissatisfaction and first street blockades.  In 2013 and 2014, prior to the Aurá dump closure, the local association, together with Brazil’s National Movement of the Pickers of Recyclable Material (MNCR; Movimento Nacional dos Catadores de Recicláveis), initiated a series of protests. These included street demonstrations with hundreds of participants, blockades of the BR-316 highway and the dump entrance, as well as an open letter to then-president Dilma Rousseff. The main demands of the movement centered on indemnities for wastepickers affected by the dump closure, maintaining access to the dumpsite as long as their rights were not ensured (e.g. when it comes to measures allowing them to continue recycling work elsewhere and under better conditions), and the formation of a working group that would monitor the implementation of these rights. Protesters bemoaned aggression by the police and claimed that without catadores, the cities would sink in the garbage within weeks. Refusing negotiations with deputies, they also demanded a meeting with Belém’s mayor and a revision of the conditions of an earlier signed Conduct Adjustment Agreement (see project details) in order to assure the participation of catadores in municipal waste management plans and more socially inclusive policies (like public contracting of wastepicker associations and cooperatives to formally implement recycling services). 
Moreover, Aurá’s wastepicker association accused the Public Ministry of Pará of acting against the public interest since the company Revita Engenharia – concession holder of the new landfill in Marituba – would receive all lucrative waste of the metropolitan region without a proper public bidding process and without a satisfying solution for wastepickers. Losing access to domestic waste at the new site, catadores not only experienced their rights and earlier agreements with the municipalities of Belém, Ananindeua, and Marituba being infringed upon, but they also feared that this would allow the company to dictate the price at the cost of taxpayers.  Mobilization also came from residents of Marituba, who had been affected by smell and polluted water since the opening of the landfill and had been repeatedly demonstrating for its closure. 
From June 2015 onwards, the Aurá dump officially ceased to receive domestic waste – meaning that an estimated 1,100 kg per day from then on went to Marituba – while the disposal of other types of solid waste, e.g. construction debris and inert waste, continued. Despite the official closure, many wastepickers returned to the Aurá dump, often out of extreme urgency as they did not receive support through public social programs. For example, while the municipality of Belém claimed after the closure that dialogue with wastepickers and social inclusion measures had already been initiated, wastepickers argued that measures such as employment in selective waste collection cooperatives and capacity building had only reached a part of the affected population, while the rest continues to struggle.   
As of 2018, Belém counted 500 irregular sites for waste dumping and numerous streets in which garbage had not been picked up for weeks because collection services were not functioning as they should.  Researchers of the Instituto Evandro Chagas (IEC) in 2018 found the Aurá dump abandoned from public control and called it a running time bomb that has to be remediated immediately in order to prevent further damage. There had been no soil sealing after the closure and leachate continued to come out of the garbage mountains, affecting water resources within the environmental protection zone, the local fauna and food chain, and the communities along the Rio Aurá. In addition, the study detected carcinogenic smoke caused by the combustion of methane gas, a byproduct of organic waste decomposition.  In fact, the entire metropolitan region has been repeatedly affected by the uncontrolled burning of methane gas concentrated on the ground in Aurá and the smoke and air pollution that it generates.  In 2019, local residents reported spotting dead fish and shrimps in several of the river basin’s streams, possibly caused by the percolation of untreated leachate from Aurá. Public authorities again ordered inspections and initiated viability studies for potential alternative landfill sites. 
In 2019, the situation escalated further when the Marituba landfill suddenly stopped accepting waste from the municipalities because of outstanding debts to its operator, Guamá Resíduos Sólidos, which moreover claimed that the site had exceeded capacity and that an extension was not possible without a series of licenses, studies, and authorizations. Politicians blamed the company for economically abusing the situation, as it demanded R$ 114 per ton of waste instead of the R$ 65 agreed in the contract and the R$ 80 offered by the municipality of Belém. Since 2017, following protests and police operations in Marituba, the Public Ministry of Pará has filed lawsuits against the landfill operator Guamá, the concessionary Revita Engenharia, and Vega Valorização de Resíduos and Solvi Participações (other companies involved in waste management), as well as against ten individuals responsible for these companies (three of whom were arrested). These parties were accused of a series of delicts – ranging from offenses in the licensing process to environmental crimes around inadequate waste treatment in the Marituba landfill. The reported crimes seemed to match those reported in Aurá: waste was dumped on soil that had not been properly sealed and the resulting leachate had not been treated due to a lack of storage ponds, contaminating the Pau Grande stream and an integrated conservation unit in Marituba. The Public Ministry also sanctioned the municipalities of Belém, Ananindeua and Marituba with a fine for every day of non-compliance with their obligations, since they should have implemented measures for integrated solid waste management, selective waste collection, environmental recovery and protection, and the integration of wastepickers since 2014. Confronted with the waste crisis, Belém’s mayor and other politicians considered temporarily reopening the Aurá dump until an alternative site could be found – a plan that was vehemently criticized by environmental experts and researchers. 
A recent court decision has prolonged the operation of the Marituba landfill for two more years – increasing the price paid per ton of waste to R$ 90, while also pursuing a more permanent solution. The municipality of Belém in August 2019 used an emergency clause to officially permit the possibility of domestic waste disposal in Aurá and announced the installation of a “waste treatment cell” on the site. It was claimed that it would only be temporarily used in case of congestion or incidents in Marituba and be “controlled”, meaning no irregular waste disposal and no access for wastepickers.    
As it stands now, this has probably not been the last chapter of Belém's municipal waste crisis. Wastepickers and local communities continue to face numerous social and environmental problems caused by both the consequences of inadequate landfills and irregular dumping and the insufficient creation of future perspectives of wastepickers after by the dump enclosure.