Belize Government Dumps Landfill

May 2001

Tony Garel of Belize's Tropical Education Centre
Tony Garel of Belize's Tropical Education Centre tests the permeability of the soil at the government`s proposed dump site.

Public outcry in Belize over a proposed landfill moved the government to abandon plans to dump the nation`s garbage in an environmentally fragile area along the Sibun River, close to communities and tourist attractions.

Advocates at the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) asked ELAW U.S. to review the project`s environmental impact assessment (EIA). ELAW U.S. staff found numerous omissions and flaws. The EIA included a recommendation that the landfill be constructed without a liner because the impermeability of clay soil would act as a "natural" liner and prevent toxins from leaching into the groundwater and running off into the nearby Sibun River. Communities along the Sibun use the river to bathe and fish, and many residents use well water for drinking. These citizens were concerned about contamination of water resources and the logic of a single, large, national landfill.

With a population of 250,000 in a country the size of Massachusetts, citizens and environmental advocates questioned the logic of transporting the country`s trash to one landfill when gasoline costs more than three dollars per gallon and only four major roads serve the entire country.

BELPO disseminated information about the problems with the proposed landfill site and supported the communities in the area that were not consulted, as required by Belize`s EIA law. BELPO raised concerns about leachate contaminating the Sibun River; the efficiency of a single national landfill; and the location of the landfill next to the Tropical Education Center, less than a mile from the Belize Zoo.

The Belize government tried to keep an Inter-American Development Bank study that evaluated alternative sites for the landfill out of the hands of local advocates. With ELAW`s help, BELPO obtained the study and used it to suggest a more appropriate site with less impact on communities and less potential for environmental damage. BELPO and other local environmental groups mobilized citizen opposition to the landfill. According to a local newscast, the "turnaround came after strident opposition from a coalition of environmental groups and local residents."

For more information about this E-LAW Impact, please contact: Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO), P.O. Box 54, Cayo District, Belize.