It seems our world is overflowing in every sense. Products, buildings, people, food and their after product are growing to unmanageable amounts.
In parts of the world that do not provide structured municipal recycling services they employ “pickers,” who spend their days in the overflowing landfill picking out valuable recyclable material. Materials all have value attached to them and pickers make it their living. In the award-winner documentary, Waste Land, director Lucy Walker shows a side of the world rarely on anyone’s radar.
Rio de Janeiro was home to the world’s largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho. Before its closure just last week, the landfill had over 3,000 pickers working day and night to save 200 tons of material from its unsustainable fate. It had one of the highest recycling rates in the world.
The renowned artist Vik Muniz was born and raised in Rio and it was time for him to give back to his roots. He spent two years working with pickers to create powerful portraits of these people out of materials from the landfill. The process is astonishing to watch and it is even more powerful to see the life of these people change before your eyes. Muniz makes a point to say that he could have been a picker himself if his life had gone another way. You watch carefully as the first work of art is auctioned off in London. One hundred percent of the proceeds is donated to the Pickers Association, and when the average per day wage is $25 US, it changes the value of just one penny. The bid rises higher and higher and finally sells at $50,000. So many lives have been changed forever by that one piece of art. The transformative power of art is brilliantly showcased in this film.
Waste Land places a new value on recycling. I watch people on the streets of New York City dig through trash removing plastic bottles, aluminum cans and glass bottles to exchange them for money. I can’t help but use the cliché, “someone’s trash is another person’s treasure.”