Indonesia’s garbage pickers risk lives to earn a living

As negotiators in Paris thrash out a new climate agreement, developing countries like Indonesia struggle with the most basic of environmental measures.

In Jakarta, households do not separate their waste or recycle — so the garbage of 10 million people is dumped straight into one giant landfill.You smell Bantar Gebang before you see it.

The mountain of trash at Jakarta’s main landfill has to be one of the worst workplaces on the planet, but one of the workers here, 42-year-old Tarkidin, does not see it like that.

He has been earning a living here since he was a teenager.

“I like it here. I feel comfortable here,” he said.

“There’s nobody telling me what to do here. I mean, when I want to sleep, I sleep.

“When I want to work, I work. Nobody controls me.”

Tarkidin is a garbage picker. As Jakarta’s giant orange rubbish trucks disgorge their loads at the tip he pounces, sifting through the fly-blown, fetid pile for anything of value to recyclers.

He hooks his catch with a metal spike and flicks each piece into a wicker basket strapped across his back.

“I’m collecting plastics and whatnot, toys, tin, whatever I can sell I’ll take them,” he said.

7003966-3x2-700x467PHOTO: About 3,000 people rely on picking through the rubbish at Bantar Gebang for a living. (Reuters: Beawiharta)

Jakarta has no organised household recycling, so this dump collects the plastic and metal discarded by the city’s residents.

It is mixed up with organic waste, like garden clippings, and the city’s toxic garbage. I spot a syringe, nappies, a pair of high heels.

The city’s inefficiency provides a living for about 3,000 pickers.

The scavengers sell their finds to plastic and scrap merchants and earn a wage that’s half-decent by Indonesia’s standards: the equivalent of $4 on a bad day, $10 on a good one.

I’m not too concerned about trucks and tractors — I am more worried about the rubbish hill collapsing.

Indonesian garbage picker Tarkidin

But even with their efforts, they harvest just a fraction of the recyclable waste that does not belong here.

Standing high on the terraced landfill, you can look straight into a cross-section of the buried rubbish: here, it seems to be made up mostly of plastic.

The orange trucks dump their waste at the foot of the mountain, and it is then lifted to the top of the pile by a production line of yellow excavators.

Each machine scoops its own pile of garbage and lifts it over a group of pickers standing on each level of the terrace.

They do not seem bothered by the giant steel buckets and arms swinging around within a few inches of their heads.

Danger lurks from every angle

Ewok, 40, has been picking garbage here for nine years.

“In the past I got bit by the digger in this area here. The bucket hit me. I was unlucky,” he said.

“It was an accident, I was unaware and I got hit and got thrown but thank God I was OK. That’s the risk of working here when you don’t get hit by the equipment you can get hit by the people or anything.

“Many things can happen here. More than 10 people have died here that I know of.”

Tarkidin has his own tale of injury.

“My foot was crushed by the shovel more than four years ago,” he said.

“But it’s healed now. It took a year to heal.

“I’m not too concerned about trucks and tractors — I am more worried about the rubbish hill collapsing.”

The decomposing waste here produces one of the worst greenhouse gases — methane.

Some of the methane is harvested and is used to generate power at the dump’s plant.

But the biggest environmental problem here is the sheer volume of waste.

About 900 trucks a day unload their rubbish at Bantar Gebang, and with no household recycling program on the horizon, there is no danger of work running out for garbage pickers like Tarkidin.

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Source:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-05/indonesia’s-garbage-pickers-risk-lives-to-earn-a-living/7003840

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