The amount of ‘dangerous’ litter is steadily increasing in Portugal, without any official provision for disposing of it. Fridges, fluorescent lamps and other ‘residue’ products continue to threaten the environment, recycling rates are low and the authorities face mounting problems in coping with the amount being dumped.
Only one per cent of urban residue is considered dangerous, but it is still a significant amount. Falling into this category are batteries, dyed substances, toxic products, medicines, electrical equipment, computer monitors and mobile phones. Currently, each EU citizen produces an average of 14 kilos of this kind of rubbish every year, but, so far, only Greece has introduced a European directive about the recycling of used electrical goods into its legislation.
Here in Portugal, items such as fluorescent light bulbs, for example, continue to be thrown in bins, when, in fact, they should be recycled. There are two industrial plants in the country that are able to recycle fluorescent bulbs, but most of the 10 million that are thrown away every year go straight to the tip.
“What we need in this country is a proper handling of this kind of domestic residue – an effective management structure is missing,” comments Pedro Carteiro, from Quercus, the National Association of Nature Conservation, who blames the government for this situation. “Used batteries, containing dangerous metals, are particularly worrying. Not all recycling points have a receptacle to receive batteries – some people have problems finding the nearest one in their area.”
Carlos Duarte, a resident of São Pedro do Estoril, who had an enormous bag of batteries to throw out, but did not know where to put them, makes just such a point. “I rang various groups, including the Ministry of Environment, who directed me to Cascais Câmara – there they knew nothing,” he says. Pedro Carteiro advises people on what to do in such a situation: “The best procedure to follow in such cases is to take the batteries back to the place where you bought them,” he explains. “All establishments selling batteries are obliged by law to take them back. If they refuse to do so, people can ‘name and shame’ the shop in question by dialling the free hotline of SOS Environment: 808 200 520.”