Case Study - Landfill Harvest

The informal economy of waste

Across the globe they go by many names. Waste pickers, garbage divers, rag pickers, trash sorters, and landfill miners are among them. They constitute a mostly informal economy of men, women and children, often among the poorest in a society, who use the discarded resources found in the garbage landfills of the world as a means of economic survival. Working in the smelly, unsanitary, and sometimes toxic conditions of landfills, typically near large urban areas, waste pickers glean recyclable and resalable materials from the trash of others. The sorted recyclable and reusable materials include paper, plastic, metals, and items with residual value. It has been estimated that 15 million people world-wide are waste pickers (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives). In some regions, waste picking is organized, controlled, and monitored. However in many areas, uncontrolled scavenging is the only option for economic survival among the poor and disenfranchised, and child labor is common. The report Observations of Solid Waste Landfills in Developing Countries: Africa, Asia, and Latin America (World Bank, 1999) analyzes landfill operations and environmental impacts in the developing world, as well as the activities of waste pickers.

The four-minute short film Landfill Harvest by the gifted young filmmaker Steve Ramsden communicates the joy of the human spirit among the waste pickers in Cebu, Philippines. It captures the uncommon life of those who work, live and sadly, play in the waste of modern civilization. Ramsden's outstanding videography and editing using a bright palette and hopeful tone contribute to an exceptional artistic and educational work that emotionally moves even the most stoic viewer into the world of those who harvest our garbage. -GM

Notes from filmmaker Steve Ramsden: "I filmed this at the Mandaue City Landfill in Cebu, Philippines. The people who live here make a living selling anything they can find of value in what the richer people throw out. They live in awful conditions but were so happy to see us and so welcoming; they have learned to see the best in everything and be grateful for everything they receive. We could all learn a lot from them." Ramsden, a native of Papua New Guinea, graduated from the University of London in 2009, where he majored in directing screen fiction. He currently lives in the Philippines. Film used with permission.