Living on a Landfill

In the rich West we usually forget where all the waste we throw away ends up, unless there is a landfill site not too far away from our house, in which case we might be concerned about potential health consequences, or the occasional unpleasant smell.

Yet around the globe hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, including many children, live and work on landfills and rubbish dumps, scraping a living from what the rich of their own societies throw away.

All live in desperate poverty with little in the way of health care or education, most are illiterate, and some will never have ever left the landfill on which they live.

In Indonesia over 2,000 families survive and make a living on the Bantar Gebang landfill outside Jakarta, typically earning the equivalent of £2.20 a day from the recyclables they scavenge. In Nicaragua, over a 1,00o people live and work on the huge La Chureca landfill, in a community which includes a school. At the Stung Meanchey landfill in Cambodia, 2,000 resident workers, more than 600 of them children, work, live, eat and play among the rubbish.

The disturbing winner of the CIWEM Environmental Photographer of the year 2011 competition depicts two young children clutching each other on a landfill in Kathmandu, Nepal. In the words of the photographer, Chan Kwok Hung:

“Every day they searched the junkyard for something useful that they can resell for money so they can buy food. If they don’t find anything their grandmother blamed them seriously. Unfortunately, they had found nothing for a few days, the little boy felt very hungry. I gave them some money and a biscuit after taking this photo. But who knows who will help them afterwards.”

The videos below show a child’s eye view of a life lived on two of the world’s landfills.

Photo by Marco Bullucci via Flickr

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  1. I very much appreciate this post. Currently I am in conversation with an excellent organisation working in slums of Asia, concering a vacant position. If ever confirmation were needed that it’s a good conversation to have, this post provides it. It is a bitter irony that the poor of Indonesia and many other countries pick over the rubbish of nations corrupted by serial tax avoidance ( Our rich are miserly with their wealth but liberal with their refuse.

    • Thanks Phil – you make some good points.

      Most of the images of other people’s lifestyles we surround ourselves with are of rich and famous celebrities, and I generally feel if we were more familiar with the lives of the world’s poor we’d be both a little more appreciative for what we already have, and perhaps a little less greedy for what we don’t. You never know, we might even collectively decide to do something about it.

      Hope your discussions go well.

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