A Childhood in Trash Dump

Alia | May 29th, 2012 - 12:08 am

June 1, only a few days away, is the International Children’s Day, a day when children under the age of 14 can enjoy one day off in China. It’s a day to expect for many children in China because Children’s Day often means new clothes and new toys. For children featured in Netease’s new visual report “A Childhood in Trash Dump”, it’s probably also a day to expect because they may find used toys dumped by those who got new ones.

[Source: Netease]

In Guangzhou suburb, there are children growing up in the city dump. The clothes they wear, the food they eat and the toys they play with are all picks from the trash heap.

Whenever a garbage truck unloads, flocks of waste pickers would rush over and start to salvage potentially valuable or reusable materials from the pile, among them, many are underage children.

Here, children grow up in stench, like wild grass.

An opened soft drink from the dump. There was still something left so he picked it up and drank directly from the package –he is very used to such life.

Their joy got me. I forgot about the stench and focused on the shooting. Gradually, they no longer felt intimidated by a stranger like me.

Not sure what kind of future is waiting for the children raised here. Are they able to go to school? Will they carry on the jobs of their parents?

Hope they can have a different life when they grow up – to leave the trash dump and live a better life.

On the trash heap, a boy was running in joy because he found a toy he liked.

They live in temporary shelters built beside the trash dump with no running water or electricity. Dinner time is usually when the odor from the dump smells the worst during the day. All construction materials and furniture are picks from the dump. The well is also recently built.

Children here haven’t realized what a tough life they are living. In their eyes, a photographer like me is a complete outsider.

The city of Guangzhou has 100 thousand waste pickers. Can the children of waste pickers afford dreams at all? They don’t know enough to dream about clean waste incineration plants in Vienna; they don’t know enough to dream about waste picker co-ops in Brazil, either, but they surely dream about a childhood with schools.

Their parents were out picking waste. These unattended children were left to take care of each other.

Trash in the dump is burning all the time, leaving the entire area covered in smokes and ashes. The sun rarely shines through.

In the dump, these children run around, climb up and down and play around, just like in a carnival. They cannot choose where they were born, but as long as there are food and shelter, the crave for happiness in their nature stays on.


Waste management in China is very Third-World. Sorting and classification haven’t become the social norm. Recyclables and regular waste are typically disposed of in the same bins. In many regions, there is even no regular waste collection at all. Waste picker is an old profession in China. In the old days, they would visit homes one by one to collect recyclable or valuable wastes. Even in early 90s, one can still occasionally hear shouts of “colleting waste” in residential communities. Now, waste pickers gradually disappear from China’s urban settings and primarily work on regional dumps. In many cases, they are the main force of China’s waste management system.



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2 Responses to “A Childhood in Trash Dump”

  1. Chandricka K Pasupati says:

    I am both heartened and ashamed by this story. It makes me realise how warped western values are. We grab so much for our own needs that we force others to live such abject poverty stricken lives; yet the joy of these children living in the dumps is unparralled.

    All I hear when I go shopping are the spoilt screams of children clambering to want even more; or rebelling against their parents restrictions imposed on them. Joy for a toy never lasts more than the first few hours at most after receiving.

    Money and riches spent on yourself can never buy lasting happiness.

  2. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

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