It is the final destination of the more than 2,300 tons of garbage that the Panamanian capital generates daily, but the Cerro Patacón landfill is also the neighborhood and the livelihood of dozens of families that survive as they can the declining business of recycling.
"Living next to Cerro Patacón has helped us to be closer to the materials and has facilitated the business (of recycling), but it is not easy or pleasant; nobody would like to live here," Isabel Rodríguez told Efe. Rodríguez is a middle-aged Panamanian woman who has been living in the Guna Nega community for more than a decade.
"We have been in this business for twelve years, but this year is the hardest of all. This business is not profitable; we are struggling to survive and we feel totally alone," her husband added.
Guna Nega is an underclass community built on the slopes of this landfill located on the outskirts of the Panamanian capital, which was created in 1985 and which, according to different environmental organizations, is completely saturated and needs restructuring.
The landfill, which functions as a sanitary landfill although there are also parts with open garbage, is the responsibility of the State Urban and Domiciliary Cleaning Authority of Panama (AAUD) and its management was granted a few years ago to the Colombian company Urbalia.
Most of the families of the neighborhood, many of indigenous origin or consisting of migrants in an irregular situation, are engaged in informal recycling: they buy materials that can be taken advantage of, such as iron, steel, plastic or aluminum, and then they sell them to the large recycling companies.
Gilberto Wiseman, a Panamanian close to retirement age who has spent half his life in this activity, told Efe that he never intended to get rich with recycling, but in the past "a person could sell 200 pounds of copper and now they cannot sell even 100 because we cannot find material."
"We are getting 40 percent of the material; the company has inexplicably stopped selling us and it can barely recycle; that hill is now a millionaire, there is a lot of money," said Xavier Mena said,member of the so-called National Movement of Waste Pickers.
Acan-Efe tried unsuccessfully to contact the Panama Urban and Home Sanitation Authority (AAUD) on several occasions to find out its version of the current state of Cerro Patacón and the decline of the recycling business.
The vice mayor of the Panamanian capital and former environmental activist, Raisa Banfield, told Efe that the situation faced by most of the families of Guna Nega is "outrageous" and asked the government to be elected in the May 2019 that return the competition of the dump to the landfill.
In a recent report, UN Environment urged the regional countries toprogressively close open dumps, as they generate a high risk to the health of people living nearby and those who collect materials.
These are also a focus area of greenhouse gases, inflicting a serious damage to tourism and agricultural activities, and threatening biodiversity.
The international agency estimates that one third of all urban waste generated in Latin America ends up in open dumps every year and only 10 percent of the waste generated is used through recycling or other recovery techniques.
Banfield said he wonders every day "why it is so difficult to recyclein Panama," and said that "there are poorer countries than us that better use their waste."
"It is completely wrong to think that the garbage problem is solved by giving more space to the filling and maintaining the same style ofcollection. It is necessary to use more the garbage that arrives there and avoid less quantity," she added.