The mayor and the mess

Acueducto Bogotá
Acueducto Bogotá

Five days have passed since management of the majority of the city’s garbage passed from private contractors to the public water company, Empresa de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Bogotá, and the capital seems to be freshening up just in time for Christmas.

Trash on la Septima

Trash lined even the carrera septima, one of Bogotá’s most important streets, on Tuesday morning. With many residents complaining, the situation is a public relations crisis for Petro.

However, while trash pick-up has unquestionably improved since last Tuesday, much controversy remains regarding Mayor Gustavo Petro’s complete overhaul of the city’s waste management system.

On Thursday, Petro’s administration quietly extended modified contracts with three of the companies formerly charged with waste collection – Ciudad Limpia, Aseo Capital and Lime. The private companies will handle trash collection on the Bogotá’s outskirts for at least one year, leaving Acueducto in charge of about 52 percent of the city.

A plan or an improvisation?

This morning, Bogotá’s mayor did little to quell accusations that he is “improvising” in managing the situation, when he announced via twitter the planned creation of a separate public entity to handle trash collection, Aseo Bogotá.

Some politicians have expressed concerns about city funds being used to fix a system that was never broken, rather than putting finishing touches on longstanding projects like the two newest Transmilenio routes, particularly the planned connection between the Portal ElDorado and the city’s renovated international airport.

The public water company signed a contract with the city for $116 billion pesos (approx. U.S. $64 million) to handle waste management, but the total cost of the transition remains to be seen. Purchasing a new fleet of compactor trucks will cost at least another $80 billion pesos.

Lost in transition

The temporary use of dump trucks also violates current environmental law, requiring that cities with more than 8,000 households use closed compactor trucks. Improvising pick-up can put garbage collectors at risk as well, and one city employee has already been injured after falling from a truck on Thursday.

Petro’s plan, dubbed “Basuras Cero” (Zero Trash), also hopes to decrease wastefulness by making recycling a more conscious effort. Non-recyclable and organic waste should be placed on the street in black bags, which will be collected by the city, while recyclable materials should be left in white bags, to be handled by the city’s informal recyclers. It remains to be seen how quickly Bogotanos will adopt the two-bag system, which would presumably require the purchase of black bags rather than simply reusing grocery bags for trash.

Petro’s ‘Water’-loo?

Most Bogotanos awoke last Tuesday morning with their trash still on the street. The situation was so fragile that President Juan Manuel Santos immediately issued a statement promising that the national government would intervene if trash collection did not improve.

Attempting to mitigate what could quickly become a political disaster, Petro sent out an extra wave of trash collectors early Tuesday and established a hotline to report garbage in the street. Since then, trucks have been circulating almost non-stop.

Trash in Bogotá

By Tuesday afternoon, much of the city was still covered in trash, despite a second wave of collection trucks ordered by Mayor Petro.

Further complicating the situation, Petro’s administration failed to wrap up negotiations before Monday night with the companies previously in charge of waste management to purchase their vehicles. Acueducto de Bogotá reportedly arranged to purchase new vehicles on Tuesday afternoon, but dump trucks were still being used as of Saturday.

Petro’s decision has been so unpopular that a referendum currently circulating calls for his removal from office.

Fortunately for the mayor, it seems that trash collectors might get a slight respite as many of the city’s residents travel for holiday vacations. The fact remains, however, that taking over Bogotá’s garbage management was a bold political move with consequences that will play out well into the New Year.


How do you feel about the new trash plan? Let us know below!


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