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A scavenger at a landfill in Indonesia. Photo by Tom Barnes. 

Photos of the People Who Live and Work at Some of Indonesia's Biggest Landfills

Without any protection, they scavenge mountains of trash with their bare hands.
November 18, 2019, 7:07am

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

Garbage dumps were created to manage our trash, but now, they are also damning evidence of the excessive waste we produce. Just look at Indonesia's Bantar Gebang, a dump site that services Jakarta and surrounding areas, that is said to be the biggest uncovered landfill in Southeast Asia.

It’s an 80-hectare site containing over 39 million tonnes of rubbish that have piled up into an over 40 meter-high mountain. Many of the area’s 100,000 residents work in the dump as pemulung (scavenger), sorting through trash to find materials, such as plastic, that they can sell.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine what they go through everyday, but award-winning photographer Tom Barnes provides a preview of what it’s like, through intimate portraits of these workers. For this, he traveled to Bantar Gebang and two other landfills — Suwung in Bali and Piyungan in Yogyakarta — in October.

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 Bantar Gebang, a landfill in Bekasi, West Java, is said to be the biggest one in Asia.

The scavengers Barnes met at Bantar Gebang live and eat at the dump site without any protective clothing. They also did not wear respiratory masks to filter the stench and fumes from the waste piling up in the hot weather.

Using their bare hands, workers go through the waste to find plastic or other valuables they can exchange for money. For every kilo they collect, the workers are only paid Rp 6,000 ($0.43).


Many work well into the night at the landfill, which runs 24 hours a day. They then return to their houses built with wood that they salvaged from the piles of trash.

In Piyungan, a significant number of cows roam the area and eat their own weight in plastic. The meat from these cows are sold in cities around Yogyakarta to residents unaware that they came from trash-eating cows.

 Bantar Gebang a landfill in Bekasi biggest one in Asia.

Last year, the Jakarta Post reported that the Bantar Gebang landfill is almost at full capacity, and that Jakarta would have to find a new place for its garbage by 2021.

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US$1 = RP 14,068.00

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