Jardim Gramacho, the waste land of Rio
Jardim Gramacho is known as one of the biggest landfills in the world. 7,000 up to 12,000 tons of garbage arrive daily making up 70% of the trash produced by the metropolitan of Rio de Janeiro. The gigantic dumpsite is an economy itself.
In 1970 the landfill was established as a sanitary waste facility. During the economic crises of the seventies and eighties the ground became home to an anarchic community of scavengers. These so called catadores live and work in the garbage, collecting all kinds of recyclable materials. They established the slum Jardim Gramacho around the landfill, where thousands of people are living nowadays.
In 1995 Rio’s sanitation department began to rehabilitate the landfill and formalize the job of the catador. The department granted licenses to catadores and enforced basic safety standards, like the banning of children from the landfill. They also began a pilot project to create a carbon negative power plant fuelled by urban solid waste.
The catadores themselves formed the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho (ACAMJG). Since then ACAMJG has created a decentralized system of recycling collection in neighboring municipalities; the creation of a recycling center, professional recognition of the catador, enabling catadores to be contracted for their services, the creation of a 24 hour medical clinic, and the construction of a daycare center and skills training center.
Necessity and ingenuity led this socially excluded community to supersede the paradigms associated with garbage and seize the opportunity for an honest and dignified means for survival. Although their work continues to be largely unrecognized it is of tremendous social and environmental value, as the city of Rio and its municipalities do not officially recycle. The current administration has condemned the landfill citing imminent risks of environmental disaster, putting the livelihood and way of life of thousands of families in question. Now the landfill is scheduled to close in 2012 and groups like ACAMJG are fighting to raise support to provide skills training to catadores.
Photographer: Chantal James