12/17/2015

Too Much Garbage


Sifting through a mountain of garbage with her bare hands, a thick cloth wrapped around her face to keep out the stench, Patimah recalled her early days scavenging at a dump on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital the size of 120 football fields.

"I vomited back then," she told AFP while wading through knee-deep waste, swatting away flies as she hunted for plastic bottles amid food scraps and soiled clothing.

But now Patimah, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said the smell no longer bothers her: "I am used to it."

The same cannot be said for people living nearby, who are increasingly angry at the odours wafting from the tip, placing it at the center of a row that highlights the challenge for Jakarta and other developing cities in dealing with their waste.

Virtually all rubbish from Jakarta –- a sprawling city of about 10 million with a booming middle class –- is dumped an hour's drive away at Bantar Gebang, in the city of Bekasi, where towering mountains of trash have risen skyward as the capital grows bigger and wealthier.

The absence of a citywide recycling scheme, and limited public awareness of "going green", means the tip –- already one of the world's largest –- is growing by an estimated 6,500 tonnes per day.

The job of sorting through the mountains of untreated waste falls to a 6,000-strong army of trash pickers, including many young children, who dodge heavy machinery and exposure to disease to eke out a living from the city's filth.

Children at risk
As he wandered around searching for toys and paper as trucks tipped reeking waste nearby, 11-year-old Agung said his father was a trash picker while his mother sorted plastic at one of the many shanty towns that have grown up around the dumpsite.

"I come here after school," he told AFP, as a friend hauled a bamboo basket carrying cans and plastic bottles on his back. 

At the dump's only school –- it also has a dedicated mosque, salon and many shops selling food and cool drinks –- principal Nasrudin fretted over his students, most of whom suffer skin infections, bronchial problems and intestinal worms from working on the tip.

"I am very, very worried about the safety of the children working around such heavy machinery," he said, speaking from the school's newly-built second floor, where the giant trash heaps are visible from classrooms.

"They are still small children, and they are not psychologically or physically ready for such work."
In the 20 years Nasrudin has worked at the school, enrollment has soared as the first garbage mountain was joined by a second, then a third and fourth.

As the tip expanded, so did the shanty towns around it, with whole families relocating to scour for anything to sell on, including plastic, glass and aluminum.      Read more

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