The accident involving the Zaldibar refuse dump exposes an unsustainable model

Mar 02, 2020
On the 6th of February, 2020 a landslide occurred in the Zaldibar (Bizkaia) refuse dump. Almost half a million tonnes of industrial waste collapsed onto the A-8 motorway, burying two of the refuse dump’s workers. The rescue work had to be interrupted after a few hours due to the presence of asbestos, a substance that is carcinogenic when inhaled. The situation became more complicated due to the instability of the land and a fire that broke out in it, affecting the air quality.

Zaldibar has become a crisis with many edges. The collapse of the refuse dump and the death of two workers hide: a model of waste management, the privatization of public services, the impulse to private business, cronyism and corruption, the lack of control and labour and environmental safety, the irresponsibility of the Basque Government, its lack of humanity and the arrogance of the President.


  • At this point the two workers are still missing. The search should have been a priority for the Basque Government, but this has not been the case.
  • The Zaldibar refuse dump, managed by Verter Recycling was not authorised to receive hazardous waste, but hazardous industrial waste was taken there.
  • Some waste deposited in Zaldibar was dumped directly, without any prior treatment. This is categorically prohibited.
  • The refuse dump did have an authorisation to receive asbestos, but it did not follow the protocol established for this.
  • When the landslide occurred the authorities’ priority was to re-open the A-8 motorway as soon as possible, without guaranteeing the health and safety of those involved in the rescue work. The work was not stopped until the motorway was re-opened; therefore, the essential safety measures that had not been adopted in the beginning could only then be implemented.
  • The information was concealed from the town next to the refuse dump and the first explanations (which were highly deficient), came when the recommendations due to the bad results of the air quality measurements were given and people began to take action.
  • In view of the recommendations given to the town, people working in companies and work centres located in the area around the refuse dump should also adopt specific breathing protective measures. However, the administrat6ions have not established any regulation for those working near the refuse dump.
  • In his appearance in the Basque Parliament, the President and the ministers involved confined themselves to justifying their (bad) management; they gave no explanations. Meanwhile, an attempt has been made to impose a code of silence on the people working in the Department of the Environment.
  • Only 5 of the 15 refuse dumps existing in the Basque Country have public management. The others are in the hands of private companies and their tremendous greed. How many other cases are there like Zaldibar? We don’t know, because they don’t want to give any information on this point.
  • The Department of the Environment is obliged to control, inspect and when necessary, sanction those who manage Zaldibar. The department has not fulfilled this and it is responsible for this disaster.
  • At the inspection carried out in 2019, they detected 23 deficiencies, which have not been corrected because this matter was not amongst the Administration’s priorities.
  • Although these problems involving waste generation have been known for some time, the administrations are doing nothing to reduce them. While they were talking about the circular economy, they were hiding industrial and hazardous waste in Zaldibar.
  • In 2018, 3.5 million tonnes of non-hazardous industrial waste was generated in the Basque Country, along with 320,000 tonnes of hazardous waste. A large part of this ended up in Zaldibar. Where will all this waste be taken now? The generation of waste must be limited, because there is too much and it is hazardous.

The occurrence in Zaldibar shows what is behind waste management. They have been doing business for many years at the expense of the environment and the health of people, starting with that of their own workers, two of whom are still missing, buried in rubbish. Never again. Zaldibar argitu orain.