In a landscape of burning plastics

Pondu Landfill

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In India, almost all the waste goes to landfills, since people are really bad at recycling. In fact, half of what goes to the landfills in India is organic waste that should have been composted. A consequence of the lack of waste segregation is that PET-bottles, paper packaging and other items that should be recycled are contaminated by rotting food, making the items worthless.

In the midst of all the garbage, cows and dogs and a large flock of crows are feeding. Their presence make the scene feel surreal to me. I imagine cows should be on green meadows, not on dump sites? The surrealistic feeling is enhanced by a thick, toxic smoke coming from a number of small fires at one end of the dump. People in search of recyclable metals have set piles of electronic waste on fire in order to melt away plastic components and free the metal. Tomorrow they will come here to go over the ashes with magnets.

Pondi Landfill

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Just next to a big cow, I see an old woman picking up some aluminum foil and putting it into a sack. We walk over to her. Turns our she’s 70 years old. She earns her livelihood from finding recyclable items like paper, plastic and metal on the dump and selling them to a local scrap dealer. In a day she earns about 100 rupies (approximately 1 Euro or 1.6 USD). Just one step away from where she stands is a big red plastic bag. The color indicates that it contains medical waste from a hospital, in other words syringes. We ask the woman if she’s afraid to injure herself. Oh no, she replies, pointing to her flip-flops, implying that they are sufficient protection for her feet. And then she shows us how she’s using a small metal stick when digging in the garbage.

I shudder at the sight of it. She’s not even wearing gloves. Personally I’m terrified of dirty needles and the risk of being infected with HIV or Hepatitis – or for that matter catching any disease from bacteria that might thrive on a landfill. I’m only centimeters away from accidentally stepping on a dead puppy. I tighten the scarf covering my nose and mouth, but I cannot shut out neither the stink nor the pain in my heart from all that I see. In my sturdy jogging shoes I head back to the rented bus that will take me home to my neat and tidy hostel room. But the Pondicherry Landfill stays on my mind. The old woman in the orange sari has no rented bus to take her home tonight.

A short film clip from the landfill


Post written by: Åsa Ljusenius, Linnaeus University