The Circular Economy Crisis In Buenos Aires, Argentina

Every year, the safety and health of the residents in Buenos Aires are endangered due to discharge of  90,000 tons of pollutants, the weight of approximately 15 elephants, into local rivers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, drastically degrading water quality.

As the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires is one of South America’s most populated cities with a population of around 15 million people.

Located 150 miles away from the Atlantic Ocean on the shore of Rio de la Plato, Buenos Aires is an important port and national center of commerce, politics, industry, technology, and culture in Latin America.

Yet despite its importance, Buenos Aires continues to face a major catastrophe that has accumulated over the centuries and resulted in the pollution within the land, water, and air. 


As the largest city in Argentina with a huge population and a small recycling system, Buenos Aires contains tons of garbage that have overfilled the landfills and polluted the land.

  • Everyday, Buenos Aires contributes to more than 5,000 tons of garbage and approximately 90% of it is dumped into landfills causing it to overflow. 

People that live near the Matanza Landfill say that there are illegal mountains more than twenty meters tall. 

These mountains of garbage not only creates a horrible odor to nearby residents but also seeps into the soil, polluting local rivers, such as the Matanza-Riachuelo River. 

  • Approximately 12 million plastic bottles are thrown away in Argentina and only 15% of that waste is recycled. As the capital of Argentina with the largest population, Buenos Aires contributes to a great part of the pollution.

One of the dumps, in José León Suárez, to the west of the city, receives 11,300 tons of garbage a day, and the foul odours can be smelled several kilometres away.


Containing one of the most polluted rivers in the world, Buenos Aires is severely polluted by industrial waste that flows into the waterways, delivering toxic waste and harmful bacteria to the rivers.

64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo river which flows through Buenos Aires has been identified as one of the worst cases of industrial pollution in the world.

  • The languid Riachuelo River carries a fetid mix of heavy metals, chemicals, and organic waste through fourteen municipalities within the Argentinian capital.
  • As one of the most polluted rivers in the world, the Riachuelo River has faced 200 years of pollution and received approximately 90,000 tons of harmful pollutants each year.
  • As many as 15 industries contribute towards the contamination of the river, with the chemical industry being the largest, making up more than a third of the pollution within the river.

Judith Argon, an inhabitant of Villa Inflamable near the edge of Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires, attempts to use as little tap water as possible due to the contamination present within the Riachuelo River. Although supplied with bottled water from the local government, it “isn’t enough for personal hygiene.”

According to Leandro Garcia Silva, an Ombudsman specialising in environmental human rights, “The Riachuelo as a river is absolutely overloaded with contamination as compared with its size – it’s a small river with a big city around it.”

  • In 2008, the severe pollution within the river prompted Argentina’s Supreme Court to proclaim it as a hazardous threat to the residents and ordered the “complete rehabilitation of the entire Matanza-Riachuelo Basin.”
  • Of the 5 million residents living near the river, 25% of the children contain lead in their bloodstream and even more people suffer from “respiratory and gastrointestinal illness.”


As one of the main problems in Buenos Aires, pollution from vehicle emissions and power plants have caused severe degradation of air quality in the city.

  • The combination of 2 million driving vehicles along with 3 thermal plants contribute to most of the air pollution present within Buenos Aires. 

The two most frequent air pollutants in Buenos Aires city that occur at moderately high levels are carbon monoxide (CO) and the nitrogen oxides (NOx = NO + NO2).

  • Every year, approximately 234, 386 tons of carbon monoxide emissions are emitted from vehicle emissions, which makes up around 96.43% of the total air pollutants. 
  • Power plants, on the other hand, emit around 26,300 tons of nitrogen oxides per year, making it the lead source of air pollution from nitrogen oxides.


  • In 2005, the Argentinian government passed the Zero Garbage Law which banned landfilling of recycled waste. This law encouraged more people to recycle and properly separate waste.
  • Currently, the Autoridad de Cuenca Matanza Riachuelo (ACUMAR) is supervising a 1.2 billion dollars cleanup, sponsored partially by the World Bank, for the cleanup of the Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires. The cleanup mainly includes the installation of a sewage system to reduce the amount of organic raw waste discharged into the river. 


Every night, an estimate of 8,000 to 40,000 people rise and invade the avenues of Buenos Aires. They scrounge the streets for recyclables, often fishing them out from garbage bags. 

These people are the cartoneros.

As a result of the collective efforts from the cartoneros in Buenos Aires, approximately 10% of the waste in Buenos Aires is recycled instead of ending up in the streets or the landfills.


  • Greenpeace Argentina is a global organization dedicated to defending the environment. In 2014, after two years of public campaign, Greenpeace Argentina managed to protect one of the most important urban reserves in Argentina.
  • On September 17th, 2016 SAVE THE FROGS! Buenos Aires along with volunteers from the Buenos Aires community participated in the 1st Census and coastal cleanup of the Costanera Norte Ecological Reserve (RECN).


To solve the problems of pollution within Buenos Aires, Argentina, a circular economy approach is necessary to reduce the amount of trash, chemical discharges, and vehicle emissions.

A circular economy is an economic system in which goods and materials retain its maximum value. Instead of the traditional “take-make-dispose” linear system, a circular economy closes the loops and creates an economy where waste is minimized through recycling, reducing, reusing, restoring, and recovering.


The release of pollutants and the piling of landfills are the main sources of pollution within Buenos Aires, Argentina. Besides stricter regulations on discharges from industries and a more efficient recycling system, other circular economy based solutions are needed.

  • To reduce the harmful effects of heavy metals from chemical discharges, a circular economy approach can be taken through bioremediation processes
  • Crop rotation, a process in which different types of crops are grown in the same area across different seasons, can be utilized by farmers to replace fertilizers and therefore reduce water pollution.
  • Since 40% of destined waste in the landfills are compostable, the establishment of a compost system that recycles compost as nutrients for agriculture can both reduce waste and benefit the agricultural industry within Buenos Aires. 
  • By establishing community recycling drives and more recycling plants, this solution not only reduces waste but also motivates local residents to recycle and segregate waste.
  • Hosting large cleanup events and fairs to inform local residents of ways in which they can reduce waste.


Hosted by the Earth5R team in Powai, the Act Powai Lake Clean-up drives recovered tremendous amounts of plastics and educated residents and children on the importance of waste segregation and recycling.

The goal of the cleanup drive was to clean and recover as much plastic from Powai Lake while, simultaneously, equipping resident volunteers with the knowledge and skills to segregate waste properly and make environmentally aware decisions in the future.

Throughout the cleanup, the Earth5R team educated resident volunteers on the difference between different types of waste, biodegradable waste, and the process of recycling. From this circular economy based cleanup, beneficial environmental, social, and economic impacts emerged.

  • Environmental: Less waste landing in rivers, more plastic recycled
  • Social: Education of sustainable methods of waste segregation and proper recycling
  • Economic: Possible income from recycling and upcycling waste

From the Act Powai Lake Clean-up Drive, resident volunteers learned ways to live sustainably through:

  • Segregating waste properly
  • Recovering plastic from the river
  • Recycling biodegradable items

Therefore, circular economy based solutions are necessary for a more sustainable and cleaner future for not only the residents by the filthy Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires but also everyone else in the world.

Reach out to Earth5R to know more about solving environmental issues by creating circular economy based sustainability projects.


Earth5R is an environmental organization from India with its head office at Mumbai. It works with the NGO sector, Companies and helps them conduct environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across India. Earth5R specializes in circular economy based projects. Earth5R also offers short term and long term environmental courses.

Earth5R’s Global Sustainability Hub is a cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an excellent opportunity for governments and the private sector to engage with communities, use Sustainability-based models to drive economic changes, and create social and environmental impact.

Reported by Claire Hsu, edited by Mehfil Mubarak