Valuing Waste, Valuing Those Who Depend On Waste


    Open waste dumps are terrible places and reflect a very sad side of humanity. Yet short-term initiatives to close the dump and build a tech-driven alternative rarely work.

    While there are 20 million working in waste informally, there are a further 20 million working in waste management in an “official” capacity. In this era of information, disruption and innovation, now is the time to put our heads together and start making a real dent in the waste crisis, before it becomes even more of a human crisis.

    Rightly or wrongly, depending on where you’re sitting, dumpsites provide a perpetual (though minimal) source of income for thousands and thousands of people. Whole families make a paltry living by scavenging recyclable materials from the dump. A kilogram of plastic, for example, is worth around US$0.30, providing an income of around US$1-2 a day.

    Half the global population (more than 3.5 billion people) lack proper waste management services, and so waste accumulates in open dumps. People gradually move closer, ready whenever a truck arrives to deliver more waste from which they can pick anything of value. Families build their homes from the materials they find on the dump, and eventually entire villages emerge.

    Dump sites create a host of environmental problems, from pollution to climate change, and yet as the outgoing head of Greenpeace, Kumi Naidoo, recently said, “The struggle has never been about saving the planet. The planet does not need saving. If we warm it up to the point where we cannot exist we’ll be gone, the planet will still be here.”

    What I’m understanding more and more is that no waste management revolution will succeed unless we put people centre-stage. To paraphrase Kumi Naidoo, the struggle is not about saving the planet. We need to give a voice to the people on the frontline.

    That’s what photographer Timothy Bouldry is dedicating his life life’s work.
    Unlike photographers who can be accused of exploiting people’s poverty, Timothy lives close to the people in his pictures, building trust over time so that they invite him to take their photo; often posing for remarkable shots worthy of a place in the National Portrait Gallery, and portraying the very human side of the waste crisis.

    Following his moving presentation at last year’s ISWA conference, Timothy was awarded a fund by ISWA to build his own scholarship programme. For under US$35 per month, he is getting children from La Chureca out of the poverty trap and into school. He says it only works for those children whose parents support the idea, and so he’s working on a case-by-case basis, conscious of the risks of children dropping out, and the life-changing chance that they will stay the course.

    He’s combining the scholarships with life coaching, focusing on helping the children see the value in their own lives. “Everyone has value. Life is a special gift and what each can contribute is extremely valuable, once we realise the value in our own lives.”

    Source: Zoe Lenkiewicz