15 million people
were estimated to live and work in garbage dump communities worldwide as of 2017, and this number was on the rise in 2019. It’s estimated to continue to rise as the pandemic impacts already vulnerable communities around the world.
A carefully maintained structure built into or on top of the ground, where waste is disposed of through regulated, systematic burnings.
A place where garbage is dumped illegally and/or without the careful regulations of a landfill. Instead of being burned, garbage in garbage dumps is left to rot.
About garbage dump communities
Garbage Dump Communities are, most simply put, the communities that rely on the world’s garbage dumps to survive by either working or living within them. The families that we work with specifically make their living as “recyclers” or “pickers”, combing through the garbage by hand and finding items to sell or keep. Those who live here have to be incredibly resilient because this way of life does not pay well: nearly all garbage dump community members live on less than $2 a day, putting them below the United Nation’s line for extreme poverty. Living in garbage dump communities also has extreme adverse effects on both physical and mental health, combined with extremely high barriers to access to healthcare, education, proper food and shelter, and employment opportunities outside the garbage dump.
The average life expectancy in these communities.
– National Autonomous University of Mexico
will die before reaching early childhood.
– Hiroshi Shinomiya with UNESCO
The dangers that families in garbage dump communities face
Garbage dumps are incredibly dangerous places to live and work, with dangers that we don’t think about in our day-to-day lives. The minority of deaths in garbage dumps are natural. Causes of danger and death include:
Methane gas buildup causing spontaneous combustion
Getting swallowed into garbage landslides and suffocating
Illness from contaminated food and water, toxic air, and lack of sanitation
Serious and/or gangrenous injury from glass or shrapnel
Being run over by garbage trucks/crushed by contents
Disease and disability caused by medical waste dumping
Gang violence and blackmail based on region
Trauma and mental illness related to severity of the conditions
our most frequently asked questions
Q: Why would someone live here?
A: Because they have no other choice.
- Garbage dumps are mostly inhabited by vulnerable populations, including those who face extreme poverty, severe illness and/or disability, and lack of educational opportunities.
- Garbage dumps are the only place in these areas where people can live for free and find items that they can keep for their families or sell for profit, which incentivizes vulnerable populations to stay there.
- In almost all garbage dumps, recycling garbage offers opportunities for small wages for those willing to filter through the contents – a wage that allows individuals and their families to survive, but not a high enough wage for them to leave.
Q: Why don’t the people here leave?
A: Because they can’t afford to.
- Families get trapped in a cycle of generational poverty because the wages offered by recycling are not high enough to cover even their most basic needs.
- Most garbage dump communities don’t have access to schools. Without access to formal education or jobs that offer enough money to relocate, those living in garbage dumps cannot afford to live or work elsewhere, or save money to invest in their futures.
- Living and working in the garbage dump often leads to sickness, disease, or serious injury, further trapping generations of families in the garbage dump.
The locations that we work in
Repi in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Also known as Kore or Koshe, which means “dirty” in Amharic, this dumpsite began in 1964 and holds the trash of 5 million people living in or near the capital. About 500 people make a living at the site.
El Ocotillo in San Pedro Sula, Honduras
San Pedro Sula is the most dangerous city in the world, with an average of 187 murders for every 100,000. The dump site in San Pedro is controlled by gangs.
El Trebol in Guatemala City, Guatemala
The largest dumpsite in Central America, El Trebol began in 1966 and receives about 300,000 tons of waste each year. It is estimated that 2,000 recyclers work at the site.
Riverton City Dump in Riverton, Jamaica
A series of massive fires starting in the dump ravaged the community of Riverton in recent years, and some community members say that Riverton is still rebuilding. Still, more than 3000 community members rely on this dumpsite.
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International Samaritan is a nonprofit organization with the designation 501(c)(3). Our headquarters is located in Ann Arbor Michigan.