Scavenging for Survival

Activists in the United States may have taken up
diving as a means of protesting wasteful consumption
, but for
some people living in developing countries such as Senegal and the
Philippines, scavenging through refuse is a necessary survival
skill. The bleak lifestyle of these recycleurs is on
display in a Montreal exhibit — Mines d’ordures (Garbage mines) —
compiled by French photographer Paul-Antoine Pichard, whom Patrick
Lejtenyi profiles in the
Montreal Mirror.

One of Pichard’s photos shows a boy in flip-flops descending a
mound of refuse with a sack of trash on his back. On what is no
doubt a daily mission, the young child appears oblivious to the
myriad hazards and diseases underfoot that can afflict rummagers —
and sometimes kill them, notes Lejtenyi. Polluted water, cholera,
and the plague are commonplace. And as happened in the Payatas dump
in Manila, sometimes landfills simply collapse, burying their
inhabitants alive.

Naomi Schwarz reports for
Voice of America that as many as 150
people inhabit Dakar’s Mbeubeuss landfill in Senegal. Local
scavengers have an organized system of storing, selling, and
repurposing materials from their ‘home’ to make a living.
Plastic remains are sewn into sheets for roofing, and soap
remnants are boiled and formed into new bars. One man, Schwarz
writes, supports a family of 14 with his income from

This work not only keeps the recycleurs alive, it also absolves
the government of responsibility for waste management. As Pichard
tells the Montreal Mirror, Manila’s government takes no
interest in cleaning up its toxic mess because it knows the
scavengers will manage the task for them. And Schwarz reports that
statewide collection efforts in Dakar are so poor that garbage
oftentimes doesn’t even reach the landfill. The city is literally
drowning in its own trash heaps, leaving residents to fend for

Without measures on the horizon to clean up this problem, the
stark reality remains. However, Pichard opposes viewing these
recycleurs as mere victims, regardless of their plight or the fact
that most will spend their entire lives scavenging. ‘They are very
proud. They consider what they do a real job,’ he tells Lejteny.
‘But,’ he adds, ‘it’s still the human condition at its worst.’

Go there >>
Life on the Trash Heap

Go there, too >>
Senegalese Scavengers Get Busy Recycling
Mounting Trash in Dakar

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