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Portuguese government tackles foreign rubbish issue amid wave of indignation

foreign rubbishReacting to those who spoke out against rubbish from other countries being dumped in Portuguese landfills, the Socialist government announced yesterday that it would adopt urgent measures to tackle the issue.

Two weeks ago, press exposed the fact a private landfill in Sobrado, a village in Portugal’s northern region, was receiving waste from various European nations. Some 330,000 tonnes of “amber list” trash, which includes waste containing hazardous substances and requires prior approval, arrived in Portugal from abroad in 2018, a 53% increase from the year before, the environment agency (APA) said.

Around 110,000 tonnes of this rubbish ended up in landfills, with the remaining waste being routed for valorisation, the process of turning waste into a resource. Italy was by far the largest contributor to the issue, as it is the country sending most trash to Portuguese landfills. However, waste also arrived from Malta, Ireland, Greece and others, according to APA.

Rightfully fed up residents joined forces and created their own environmental movements against the landfills, organising protests and starting petitions, with one of the groups even planning to file a lawsuit against the Environment Ministry.

Pressured to find a solution, the ministry said on Monday it would from now on object to the entry of foreign trash destined for landfills and it would review landfills’ licences to receive organic waste and suspend them “whenever justified”.

This comes as a directive by the European Commission requiring member states to reduce the landfilling of municipal waste to a maximum of 10% by 2035.

There are 11 private landfills across Portugal allowed to receive foreign trash, the APA said, and the ministry admitted some of the sites have dumped waste they were not legally allowed to receive.

Portugal became an attractive destination for dealing with other countries’ waste because of its low waste management fee for landfills, set at €9.90 per tonne in 2019 and €11 per tonne this year, compared to a European average of €80. These fees will also increase to discourage landfilling, the ministry said.