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Wasting Away: An Earth Day Look At Living Among Garbage

  • On the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, pickers scavenge for recyclables and other usable items at the Trutier dump.
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    On the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, pickers scavenge for recyclables and other usable items at the Trutier dump.
    Spencer Platt/Getty Images
  • A woman gets paid after sifting through a mound of garbage at the main dumpsite in Nairobi, Kenya.
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    A woman gets paid after sifting through a mound of garbage at the main dumpsite in Nairobi, Kenya.
    Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
  • Sorters look for recyclables at the Bordo Poniente landfill on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico. The landfill has since been closed.
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    Sorters look for recyclables at the Bordo Poniente landfill on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico. The landfill has since been closed.
    Christian Palma/AP
  • People sift through trash at a garbage dump in Baghdad, Iraq.
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    People sift through trash at a garbage dump in Baghdad, Iraq.
    Karim Kadim/AP
  • Afghan refugee Shafiq Mohammed, 9, and other children search through a dump on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan.
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    Afghan refugee Shafiq Mohammed, 9, and other children search through a dump on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan.
    Muhammed Muheisen/AP
  • Ragpickers comb a garbage dump on the outskirts of Jammu, India.
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    Ragpickers comb a garbage dump on the outskirts of Jammu, India.
    Channi Anand/AP
  • Trash clogs a canal on the edge of Beijing, China.
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    Trash clogs a canal on the edge of Beijing, China.
    Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

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This Earth Day, the Environmental Protection Agency is focusing on environmental justice, the "fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people" when it comes to environmental regulations and policies.

Around the globe, waste can tell both an environmental and social story. Here are some reports of communities living in, among and off of others' trash:

India: 'Putrid Landscape'

In New Delhi, families make $1 to $2 a day picking through trash in a landfill, The Los Angeles Times reports.

The paper describes Ghazipur landfill as "a post-apocalyptic world where hundreds of pickers climb a 100-foot-high trash pile daily, dodging and occasionally dying beneath belching bulldozers that reshape the putrid landscape."

The city produces about 9,200 tons of trash every day, according to the L.A. Times. That's 50 percent more than it created in 2007 and expected to double over the next 12 years.

Venezuela: 'Empty Bellies'

An indigenous community in southern Venezuela says it is being marginalized by the government. They have turned to scavenging trash dumps to survive, Al-Jazeera reports.

In an Al-Jazeera video about the Warao, men, women and children pick through piles of garbage.

"They chase, from dawn, refuse trucks to grab the most valuable garbage first: metals to sell, clothes to wear and food to eat."

The community has built homes and a school at the site.

"We have to go to the dump every day. We've got no food. We're not made of iron," Raimundo Maica tells Al-Jazeera. "The government says they'll come and meet us on a specific day, specific hour. And we've waited with empty bellies."

Al-Jazeera/YouTube

Mexico: A Closed Landfill

In February, The New York Times reported on the closing of the Bordo Poniente landfill in Mexico. While officials were looking forward to new ways of recycling, burning and composting waste, there was opposition.

"... [That] European-style vision of handling garbage stands in sharp relief to the needs of the 1,500 trash pickers, or pepenadores, who rely on the refuse at Bordo Poniente every day for their livelihood."

Overall, Hector Castillo Berthier tells the paper he estimates some 250,000 people in Mexico City rely on trash.

"He ticks them off: street sweepers, garbage collectors, pepenadores, junk dealers and the families they support."

Haiti: 'Ubiquitous Piles Of Garbage'

NPR's Richard Knox has recently reported on the health risks plaguing Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Among the problems: lacking a sewer system.

"The cumulative sewage of 3 million people flows through open ditches. It mixes with ubiquitous piles of garbage," Knox reports. "Each night, an all-but-invisible army of workers called bayakou descend into man-sized holes with buckets to remove human waste from septic pits and latrines, then dump it into the canals that cut through the city."

This means the waste goes into the environment and eventually into the ocean. It's also dangerous for the people, especially in a time of cholera. Knox reports:

"Since cholera was introduced into Haiti 18 months ago — most likely by United Nations peacekeeping troops from Nepal, where the disease is endemic — more than a half-million people have gotten sick and at least 7,050 have died."

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