‘I collect and sell anything’: Waste-picking a means to an end for Philippines’ poor

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A man sorting garbage he collected outside his home in the Payatas Dumpsite.

It may be one of the most unattractive sources of livelihood, but scavenging through garbage is what has provided Richard Lluz and his family with a better life.

Mr Lluz, 34, is a waste-picker, and has been for over 10 years.

He lives with his wife Mercy and their five children in a community at the Payatas Dumpsite in Quezon City — the Philippines’ largest open rubbish tip, which runs a vast 20 hectares and receives around 1,200 tons of garbage a day.

Richard, his wife Mercy, and their five children at their home at the Payatas Dumpsite.

Along with some 6,000 other waste-pickers in Payatas, Mr Lluz waits for the trucks that deliver their garbage haul from the city every day and then rummages through mounds of rubbish in search of recyclables — anything from used bottles, cans and newspapers to plastics, metals and tyres.

Some Filipino waste-pickers choose to push carts through the streets of Manila to collect recyclables, while others still pick trash straight from bins.

But Mr Lluz chooses to collect directly from the dumpsite, where he cleans the recyclables, organises them, and then sells them.

“Bronze is the most expensive. I sell it for almost $US4 ($5.30) a kilo. Paper is the cheapest — it’s worth two US cents ($0.03) a kilo,” he says.

“I collect and sell almost anything.”

For Mr Lluz, scavenging at the Payatas dumpsite is seen as a more financially lucrative job prospect in comparison to his days as a factory worker.

A scavenger and waste picker at the Payatas Dumpsite.

“I earn almost $US7 from waste-picking the whole day,” he said.

“My daily wage at the factory was only a little over $US4. And it’s a fixed amount. I can earn more when I collect and sell recyclables. One can’t be picky or lazy at the dumpsite.”

Richard Lluz weighs his collection of recyclables for the day.

Working at the dumpsite could be loathsome, and would never be considered an option for most — but for Mr Lluz, it has improved his way of life, and that of his family.

“Because I earn more, my family eats three meals a day. And I am able to send my five children to school,” he says.

Mr Lluz says working with garbage could be disagreeable and distressing, but it does have some pleasant surprises.

“I once found a gold necklace at the dump. And I sold it for $US152 ($201.55),” he says.

The Payatas Dumpsite was originally opened in 1976.

Aside from being a controlled waste disposal facility, a power plant and a biogas emissions reduction project have since been developed in the area.

In July, 2000, tragedy struck when a hill of garbage gave way amid heavy rain and covered an entire community of waste-pickers in a landslide — almost 300 people died and hundreds of families were left homeless.

Mr Lluz and his family were settled in Payatas then, but thankfully, he says, “my whole family was spared, and was safe”.

A community which hosts families of waste-pickers.

However, being a member of a community group called the Civilian Country Guard Action Movers, Mr Lluz rushed to the scene to respond and help.

The situation and engagement with the community eventually led to Richard becoming a full-time waste-picker himself.

Over 10 years later, Mr Lluz says he believes waste-picking will allow him to fulfil his simple dreams, such as putting a roof over his head and sending his five children to school.

He also hopes to see his children complete a university degree one day — a dream he says he was not able to achieve because of economic difficulties.

If a better job prospect came along, Mr Lluz says he “just may grab it.”

But for the time being, he says he is happy to stay working at the Payatas Dumpsite.

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