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 aroused in relation to this project due to its different impacts, and due to the fact that the company already faced several issues with environmental pollution in the past such as the implication in a water pollution scandal in Michigan and not offering truthful information about its safety .
On the one hand, there is the high cost that the administration of Mexico City would have to face, up to 109 billion Mexican pesos (1 billion dollars), which will be paid over 30 years to Veolia . 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 .
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 waste pickers 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 to handle it, 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 . 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) , but mixed waste is still a relevant issue among Mexican citizens.
One of the groups which would face major threats is the informal waste pickers, mainly those working on the landfills. As reported by WIEGO (2018) , 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 journal Proceso, some deputies 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 .
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 . 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 offered formal contracts but these actions have been questioned to be political strategies. Waste pickers had never been taken into account in the decisions related to waste management within the city before or after the incinerator project. Waste pickers 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.