The heat from the sun rising over the mountains of garbage makes the stench yet more intense. The ground underneath me is soft lie a swamp and has a colorful, irregular pattern. The air is thick with flies. Men, women, old and young work side by side. Some of them as young as four years old. This is Bantar Gebang. Situated just outside of Jakarta, Indonesia, it is one of the worlds largest landfills. Over four thousand people live and work among the waste here.
Everyday, around 100 trucks arrive at the site. The scavengers sift through the loads for items that can be sold on to other businesses. Many of the trash pickers used to be farmers but have over time moved on to picking trash rather than rice. For one thing is certain. Farming is seasonal but trash is constant. It is an industry fueled by Indonesias demand for cheap raw material.
In Jakarta the scavengers are scattered out across the city. A majority have found home in illegal slum settlements along the railway tracks, under highway bridges and on riverbanks. Most live without electricity and clean water. They work for a Lapak, which acts as an agent between the pickers and the buyers.
The people on the landfill can pick up to 50kg of salable waste on a good day, that would give them 500 rupiah per kilogram. Less than $3 per day. Despite this the scavengers play a very important, although not recognized, role in society. It is estimated that in parts of Indonesia, trash pickers can reduce the daily waste up to one-third. An impressive amount considering that Jakarta alone is producing a staggering 50’000 tonnes of solid waste every day. The scavengers are part of one problem and solution to another.