Something Must Be Done


In countries around the world, hundreds of thousands of poor people face daily hazards to earn meager livings by scavenging for recyclable goods.

young scavengers search for recyclable material

Officially, it is the Steung Meanchey landfill site, but those who live here call it Smokey Mountain. Steung Meanchey dump is a seven-hectare mountain of smoking garbage on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Stung Meanchey landfill, nicknamed by residents as “Smokey Mountain”. Stung Meanchey opened more than 15 years ago to serve as the city dump and today some 2000 registered workers, including 600 children, work at the site sifting through roughly 700 tons of waste that arrives each day. The World Bank states that 35% of Cambodia’s population of around 14 million exists on less than $.50 USD per day. Since an adult who spends 12 hours per day scavenging through this sea of waste may earn as much as 10,000 reil, or the equivalent of $2.50 USD, many of the workers come to work at Stung Meanchey to escape the crushing poverty and undernourishment found in several areas of rural Cambodia. Their newfound wealth comes with a heavy price however, as they are forced to breathe in heavy air polluted by the constant smolder that generates toxic byproducts from the flaming heaps of garbage.

In developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, garbage scavengers are among the poorest workers. In Cambodia, they typically earn about one dollar a day. Most of the scavengers live in wooden shacks around the dump. There is no access to clean water or sanitation and epidemics are commonplace.

The risks here are high. Sharp-edged metals and broken glass leave nasty wounds. And garbage scavengers suffer high rates of serious diseases, such as hepatitis, tuberculosis and even AIDS. A number of scavengers have been killed or seriously injured when they were run over by garbage trucks. One young girl says it is very dangerous to work here – people can step on metal shards or nails for example or get hit and crushed by the dump trucks. She says she has injured herself with many things, like old needles.

Children Living in The Garbage

It may be hard for many people to imagine what it would be like to live in such conditions, but that’s the daily reality for the thousands who live at the Payatas dump. Payatas is a barangay located in the 2nd district of Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. Many of the residents of Payatas make their living by digging through the influx of “fresh” trash, scavenging for plastic, cardboard, paper, wood, glass, metal and other items that can be sold to recycling agents.

The meager earnings made by one person are not enough to buy food for even for a day. Whole families are forced to climb the mountain each day, hoping that together they can earn enough to feed everyone. Children as young as four years old must work in their daily struggle for survival.

Living off of Landfills

Hundreds of thousands of the world’s poorest citizens live and work on landfills, deprived of education and access to basic social services. In Indonesia, for example, more than 2,000 families live on the Bantar Gebang landfill that lies outside of Jakarta, selling or consuming salvageable materials in order to survive.

In Baguio, Philippines, a 2011 typhoon caused the wall of the Irisan Dumpsite to collapse, killing three people. Though there are high incidences of death and disease among those who live on or near landfills, most of them lack other opportunities and are forced to live amongst waste to survive.

The GreenFire vision is to produce opportunities for the landfill pickers to stop being “invisible” and start using the resources that are available to be a global presence.


How Do You Build A Landfill Village