Rio's Garbage Pickers Lose Their Jobs

One of the world's largest open-air landfills will be shuttered. What does that mean for the 1,700 people who worked there?

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Reuters

It's been a seaside eyesore and a source of income for thousands. But after 34 years of service, one of the world's largest open-air landfills will be shuttered.

Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Gramacho will close in advance of the United Nations sustainable development summit in the city. Built in 1978, it has functioned for nearly 20 years with little oversight. The Associated Press calls the vast, malodorous dump a "symbol of ill-conceived urban planning and environmental negligence."

Environmentalists blamed Gramacho for high levels of pollution in Guanabara Bay. But 1,700 depended on the spot for their income, picking through the trash to find recyclables. Here's how one describes it to the AP:

"When you first get here, you're like, 'Ick, I don't know if I can do this,' but then you get used to it and you make friends and you find it's good work," said Lorival Francisco dos Santos, a 46-year-old from Brazil's impoverished northeast who spent 13 years at the landfill.

 

About the Author

  • Amanda Erickson is a former senior associate editor at CityLab.