Back in December 2011, Mexico City’s government closed its main rubbish dump, Bordo Poniente, which was one of the world’s largest open-air landfills. By closing the landfill, the city intended to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and hoped to construct a biogas power plant that would convert methane gas into energy—a project that never got off the ground. After the closure, illegal dumping in the capital increased, and the city scrambled to find other landfills. To further exacerbate the problem, in May 2019, a dispute between communities and municipal authorities in San Cristóbal de Las Casas ignited the waste problem. Citing broken campaign promises, residents blocked 15 of 24 garbage trucks and prevented them from operating for about 15 days.
But this challenge isn’t unique to Mexico, and countries across the world are bracing for huge increases in garbage and fewer ways to get rid of it in coming years. According to 2018 World Bank estimates, cities around the world generate about 2 billion tons of solid municipal waste each year. If nothing is done, that figure will grow to 3.4 billion tons by 2050, a 70% increase.