Landfill is not the answer

Landfills and dumps are not the answer. Not even close.

These series of photos are from one of the villages we work in, in Cambodia. The landfill is right near town and on the rice fields that people eat from. This is the Ek Phnom dump in the Battambang province. 

The toxic sludge it has created seeps its way into the local river ways. The people working here earn about $3 a day they told us. A lot of them are drunk on cheap red wine to be able to bear the stench and fumes. 30 of these truckloads you see pictured enter this one site per day. Though there has been tireless work to get the kids here into schools – and it’s really worked – there are still kids here that help and live here.

We watched cows drink from the water here. The same cows the meat for the local people living here comes from. We spotted one fishing net in the waste water right next to the dump catching the tiniest fish for a desperate meal. Many of the people living in this area survive off the small fish they can find, an ever depleting stock, for meals for their family. We watched the juvenile fish hop about in the netting knowing they would be full of micro plastics and chemicals. 

We followed the water where it hits a little river way and continues underground all the while spreading its toxins. We watched birds eat little fish from these spots. We watched them descend on the dump, scavenging. Heartbreakingly we watched people do the same.

Walking around it was easy to see nearly all of it was plastic. Over 90% we’d guess. The rest was mostly textiles (thanks to the fast fashion industry everything is terrible quality). One of the biggest problems is all those laminated single-use food wrappers. They are pervasive and most can’t be recycled (though some facilities take them so check your local area!). For the developed world this is simply a matter of convenience – and it has to stop. It’s a choice – and you can spend a few minutes making a different one. For the developing world, it’s a matter of cost. The small servings mean you can pay for it on low wages. That’s a complex problem.

Styrofoam containers litter the ground everywhere. They are the backbone of the food industry here. We are attempting to source the environmentally friendlier alternatives of recycled papers and compressed leaves but we run against a constant battle; cost. These plastics are so cheap that everything else is more expensive and when we’re talking about such small profit margins even 10c per package more is a huge dent in the profit for a small salary each day.

Ultimately companies upstream have to be held responsible for this. They should be taxed for environmentally irresponsible offerings. Certain items should simply be banned in many places and inevitably more eco-friendly alternatives will quickly be found (companies love to make money after all).

Throwing everything into the ground is actually crazy. Give it a second pause and you’ll realize this is an insane way to go about life. Burning plastics is not the answer. Neither is landfill. It has to stop long before it ever gets here. There will be generations who look back on this utterly confused at the madness of mining the ground, destroying forests, stealing land, killing animals and ruining the ecosystem so we can buy goods; only to throw them away back into the ground full of petrochemicals. 

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