Team effort for a better environment

Odelouca Valley Residents, an association originally formed as a protest group against the foul smell often generated by the Barlavento landfill, is now working closely with managers of ALGAR, the company responsible for the facility, in an effort to mitigate its environmental effects.

The landfill, located halfway between Portimão, Silves and Monchique, takes about 50% of the Algarve’s 200-300 tons of daily rubbish.

Rubbish raises several environmental issues. To begin with it is waste. There is the risk of polluting the ground on which the refuse is dumped with acids, heavy metals and other toxins.

Landfills are also major emitters of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Since much of this is food waste, inadequate treatment results in considerable smell.

Moreover, there is the visual pollution of huge piles of rubbish. Since opening in 1998, the Barlavento station alone has received the weight of seven Empire State Building, or 2,555,000 tons, in municipal solid waste.

The local group was concerned with these two issues – increasing smell, especially in summer, and improving the visual environment as the rubbish mountain rose only a few hundred metres from some homes.

Marcel de Bie, a retired company director, formed a group of ‘protestors’ who named themselves The Odelouca Valley Residents. Amongst its members is a local environmentalist, Antonio Lambe, who has proved invaluable in providing the knowledge of many things environmental.

Initially, the group made repeated complaints about the landfill’s smell, ultimately prompting the management at ALGAR to install an odourising machine and pay closer attention to covering the waste regularly with a layer of soil. In 2011, the offending cell was finally sealed with plastic sheeting and the smell declined considerably.

Porto de Lagos residents similarly complained regularly about smells from another source, a leachate (waste liquid) lake. A few months ago, the lake was also covered with a membrane – so that smell too has been dealt with.

But a 200-metre black plastic mountain, visible kilometres away remains, presenting a challenge of how to conceal or disguise it. There is no experience in Portugal on how to cover steep sloped plastic sheeting, but together with the management of ALGAR, particularly Carlos Juncal and Eduardo Lamy, the local residents have tabled ideas about covering the mountain with plants, shrubs, trees and even soil filled and seeded jute sacks.

The sacks would have been ideal because they could have covered everything with a variety of plants. But ALGAR doubts enough labour and financing can be found.

Instead, trial plantings of honeysuckle plants have taken place on the top outer ridge of the waste mountain, which is an encouraging start. A further two test shrubs supplied by Antonio Lambe were planted by the group this week and it is hoped that one may grow over the plastic covered slopes for at least 10 metres.

Antonio Lambe has also recommended a variety of trees to be planted along the perimeter of the landfill, which should go some way towards covering the plastic from the ground up and he will donate 50 or more of them this winter.

ALGAR have offered to transport the larger trees and plant them in the excellent compost they produce from garden waste.

This is only the beginning of an ambitious, long term and, in Portugal, unprecedented project. After a slow and discouraging start, common ground has been found with an increasingly receptive ALGAR management.

It is everyone’s hope that an example will eventually be set that the whole country can follow.