Transforming a Toxic Wasteland into a Climate-Saving Tool

By Nikhil Sabnis, Age 10

The Jardim Gramacho landfill in Brazil, spanning almost 150 acres, was one of the largest and most infamous landfills in Latin America. Remarkably, this massive landfill has now been transformed into a thriving mangrove forest.

Gramacho was built on ecologically sensitive marshland in Guanabara Bay in 1978. Before being finally decommissioned in 2012, 80 million tons of garbage were tossed into this landfill, contaminating the surrounding bay with leachate, a toxic liquid that is formed from water filtering through trash. However, the city began imposing measures to mitigate the pollution created by the landfill in 1996. “When I got there, the mangrove was almost completely devastated due to the leachate,” explained Mario Moscatelli, a biologist hired by the city in 1997, in an interview with AP News.

A landfill is a site for the disposal of waste materials and products, most of which are designed to limit the amount of pollution released into the surrounding area. However, leaks can still occur. Landfills are dangerous to our environment and health as they release large amounts of methane when the trash begins decomposing. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Many other toxic pollutants can cause breathing problems for people who live nearby. According to National Geographic, studies have shown that many landfills are built near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

After its closure, local authorities partnered with the Rio Municipal Cleaning Company to restore the area’s once-thriving environment. Today, more than 120 acres of mangroves have been planted in the Guanabara Bay, making it the largest mangrove forest in the region. Mangroves are a good tool to restore the natural environment as they can store large amounts of planet-warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Mangroves also create a perfect habitat for fish and crustaceans to thrive, which small-scale fishing communities rely on.

The Jardim Gramacho landfill shows us how powerful and resilient nature can be when we make efforts to care for our planet. “This is an environmental lesson that we must learn from: nature is remarkable,” explained Elias Gouveia, an engineer close to the project, to AP News. “If we don’t pollute nature, it heals itself.”  

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