Portugal – Europe’s dumping ground suspends waste imports over landfill concerns

14th June 2020 | Recycling

Portugal, which traditionally takes in large amounts of rubbish from other countries including the UK because of its low waste management fees, has suspended imports to protect its own landfill capacity. The Covid-19 crisis has led to more domestic waste being generated and the Portuguese government intends to temporarily ban imports until the end of the year.

Many residents hope that will become permanent as the fight against imported rubbish for domestic landfill gathers pace. On a hillside in the village of Sobrado in northern Portugal, Marisol Marques looks out over the place she has called home for most of her life, but the vista is now interrupted by a giant landfill site. As she watches, lorries dump more rubbish on to the earth. She tells me the situations has now become intolerable.


In the warmer months in particular she says the smell and the insects have blighted everyday life for people. Children don’t play outside and often people have to keep their windows closed. “I feel a big sadness for being Portuguese and for Portugal as it’s receiving waste from so many countries,” says Ms Marques, who has become a major activist in the fight to get the site closed. “It feels like we’re on sale. This makes us feel like we’re so small as a country. Portugal is such a beautiful country and has so much to offer. Why are we being recognised as Europe’s dumping ground? That’s really bad.”

For now, no foreign waste is coming into the country and the residents want it to stay that way. Everywhere you go to in the village you see signs calling for an end to the landfill. The posters say “Sobrado wants to breathe, close the landfill.”

On one street where the signs are pinned to every lamppost I meet Beatriz Lindo. She was born here and returned to this place she loved after spending years in the UK. But she says the place has changed because of the landfill site. And recent months have made things more worrying. Before the ban on imports, residents were worried about waste coming from Italy – a nation hit particularly bad by Covid-19.

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