El Basurero Guatemala

Guatemala’s Largest Landfill “El Basurero” Community Struggles

Guatemala’s Largest Landfill “El Basurero” Community Struggles

Guatemala City’s immense garbage dump on the outskirts of the city has taken over the community’s presence with its tons of rubbish being taken to the landfill every day. The stench is overwhelming, with trash, debris and waste from farms and other people’s homes being dumped together in the middle of the vicinity. It seems to get larger every year, despite the fires being set in the dump to try to eradicate the waste. 

Effects of Burning 

The effects of inhaling smoke and exposing yourself to fumes on a daily basis can be detrimental to the human body. For the community to be exposed to these effects can lead to children with birth defects and abnormalities. The long term effects of recovering from chemical inhalation and direct contact with the skin or eyes can lead to permanent pulmonary diseases. 

The short-term problems include throat and lung problems, fainting, nausea and possibly coughing up blood. The dump has been said to have days of never-ending burning, leading to the community struggling through eternal smog. As the landfill is located in a poorer part outside the city, the community struggles to get medical help for the conditions. The only option for some families was to vacate their homes for a few days (sometimes weeks) while the government said they would start processing the closing of the landfill. 

Work in El Basurero

Due to the lack of economic infrastructure in this neighborhood, families will take advantage of the dump to find any work available to them. Large families will cross the street in the morning to “clock in,” which involves searching for recyclable items to sell across the miles of landfill they can access. Residents risk their lives daily to work in sweltering heat and smog, along with their kids. Young children rarely go to school to help their parents search for anything they can find, oftentimes working until the dump closes. Another outstanding problem includes the drug addiction to cocaine because of the extortion happening in the neighborhood.

This area is classified as a “red zone” because of its large endangerment to the population from extortion of narco traffickers on children and families. Recently, cadavers have been found in landfills- LaHora.gt reported firefighters have found two corpses in their local dumps as of May fourth this year. 

The alleyways have been filled with debris and the roofs are made of metal scraped from containers in the landfill to try to escape the harsh environment. This shows major cause for concern since not only is the health of the civilians at stake, but also the safety and growth of future generations. It is a common misconception this barrio might have slightly better living conditions compared to others, but the community was led astray. 

A lot of people who move to these areas are told the opportunities in this area will better their life, while they actually get stuck in the slums and little access to resources from their closest city. The workers who work in the waste sector are called guajeros where some 7,000 people work from dawn to dusk, where families spend their lives collecting plastic, metal, and old magazines from the heap to sell to recycling.  

Government Involvement

Being born in Guatemala, I’ve seen the way the government reacts to humanitarian crises and it has not always been fully supportive. From my experience, the government seems to play little part in helping smaller communities to fix environmental situations. In this situation, landfills all around Guatemala are opening up and growing exponentially while the government shows no concern for waste. There is little political will, a lack of environmental education and a lack of business commitments to try and control the generational waste. 

There is no current waste treatment disposal in the country, only classification of trash to be separated and sent to other landfills. However, this does not solve any issues or reduce the amount of waste being produced. About a month ago, a local landfill was set on fire to try to eliminate the heaps of trash. While firefighters were working tirelessly to put it out, the wind had blown more smog and smoke to the capital and other cities of Guatemala.

The Authority for the Sustainable Management of the landfill was contacted, but no one responded to the urgent plea for help. According to El Metroplitano, the landfill should have been closed last year but the lack of political will invented it, despite the fact that it has already exceeded its capacity.The lack of concern for waste treatment has led to the population’s lack of knowledge in how the debris can affect their bodies and lives. Waste is a national problem in this area, where no local government or form of authority is taking responsibility or creating policies for the problems at hand. 

Consequences of the Landfill

The only form of precaution being issued to the community living near landfills has been from the Red Cross, who had suggested for everyone (especially pregnant women, children, and the elderly) to wear masks and avoid outside activities while staying hydrated. The problem with these solutions- most people do not have the basic healthcare and access to clean water to help with these issues. The landfills are placed in predominantly lower-economy areas, making it harder for the civilians to escape the harsh circumstances. Despite the negatives of the various landfills around the country, the government has made some changes the past few months to accommodate this climate crisis.


A combination of many solutions have been carried out for the progress on landfills.  In order to close the majority of landfills, tons of trash are to be responsibly carried out for proper disposal to close the landfill. The Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has created a plan for three phases to produce the closure for the landfill, including implementing a composting and biodigester recovery plant. The environment surrounding the landfills has become dangerous due to the landfill needing to have been emptied out over a year ago. 

At this time, the government has called for the technical closure of the landfill and has proposed the purchasing of land to manage waste at its own local level. About 672 tons of garbage arrive at the landfill everyday from different locations, according to PrensaLibre. The protection of public health was taken into serious consideration, including speaking further on the prevention of environmental pollution and restoring ecological balance. 

New policies will create more room for communities to focus on separating their waste (organic and inorganic waste), including plastics, glass, paper, cardboard, etc. It took a few years to keep from “provisional landfills” growing in size, but the laws for framework are finally uniting. Hopefully, in little time the landfills will decrease in size and locations, so people can have a healthier and more sustainable environment.


Khaleb Hernandez | Environmental Correspondent

Hello everyone! I am currently a senior studying Environmental Science and Policy in Tampa, Florida. Before I moved to the United States, I was raised in Guatemala City- where I was exposd to an abundance of environmental injustices and experiences. With my mother being from Colombia, I’ve traveled to various places around Central and South America to realize there are many topics not being addressed for the well-being of smaller communities, mostly indigenous or communities living under the poverty line. Hearing people’s stories inspired me to dig deeper into how these communities have adapted to their way of living, including lacking the basic resources we have access to in our daily lives. With Latina Republic, I aspire to share their stories and bring awareness to their unique circumstances, including giving them the attention they need in all forms. I am confident sharing stories will attract a greener future and more opportunities to guide the right people into improving the ways of living in Central and South America.