Pemulung

The Pemulung are scavengers, working on the dumps in Indonesia scouring through the waste to try and collect plastic to sell, or anything they can use. They work outside under brutal conditions, the smell is horrendous, the heat unrelenting and they have no protective equipment. There is no shade apart from homemade shacks, and they work constantly – the sites operate 24 hours a day. With heavy machinery and ground giving way underfoot means its an incredible hazardous job and that is before we start talking about the trash they are picking apart.

Aiming to collect plastic to sell for processing, the Pemulung can earn about 6000RP/kg (Indonesian Rupiah) which is about £0.34/kg. If they find other things, they can use or sell that’s a bonus, and many have collected makeshift building materials and created shacks to live in on the dump. Their homemade carriers and tools help them to pick through the rubbish, tear open bags and carry huge amounts of plastic down the mountains of rubbish to sell.

This series shows the pemulung as they go about their daily work on the dumps, working in the most miserable of conditions but always smiling. The scavengers work back-breakingly long shifts in the worst possible conditions, surrounded by rotting rubbish they have some of the most resilient immune systems in the world and rarely get ill.

The portraits were taken at three major landfills, Bantar Gebang (Java, servicing Jakarta), Piyungan (Java, servicing Yogyakarta) and Suwung (Bali, servicing Denpasar) Each of the landfills differed in size and number of workers, Bantar Gebang is the largest of the three, at 200 acres and it is thought that over 100,000 people live on the dump.

I have to say a huge thanks to the wonderful people who stopped to have their portraits taken, you really are some of the most incredible people I have ever met. A massive thanks to Dery, Yusak and the local crews we met along the way, and thank you to the staff at the dumps for allowing us to shoot.

Tom Barnes  Pemulung - Doryanta stands on one of the trash mountains at Bantar Gebang
Tom Barnes   - Muijasih smiles as she collects plastic, using scarves to stop the fumes and a wide hat to block the sun
Tom Barnes  Pemulung - Sutar stands in front of the methane catching covers at Bantar Gebang where they are trying to stop the fumes escaping.
Tom Barnes   - Yahya is only 18 years old and has been working on the dumps for years.
Tom Barnes   - Carinih sorts through her mornings collecting.
Tom Barnes   - Jaenal walks off the mountain to empty his carrier and sort through the plastic he's collected.
Tom Barnes   - Rohendi shows off his haul and incredibly pleased that he's found a cows head.
Tom Barnes   - Wanti stands in the loading area as a new load of rubbish is being emptied from the truck
Tom Barnes   - Karsono was walking between zones on the huge area of Bantar Gebang
Tom Barnes   - Rasmadi was trying to find a spare tyre for his motorbike
Tom Barnes   - Nurul lives at Bantar Gebang and has worked here for years collecting.
Tom Barnes   - Fajar stands on the waste truck as he helps deliver a new load to the dump
Tom Barnes   - Rini has covered her face with a t-shirt to try and block the fumes
Tom Barnes   - Kurniawan shovels digger loads of rubbish into the processing plant to be cleaned and sorted
Tom Barnes   - Darsam works in the processing plant - it is easier to drag rubbish on these sheets as they don't have heavy equipment
Tom Barnes   - Puji works in the processing plant packing recovered soil into bags for use as fertiliser and top soil.
Tom Barnes   - Dodi stops for a portrait as he walks between zones to start work
Tom Barnes   - Sardono stands on one of the mountains at Bantar Gebang overlooking huge methane catching covers
Tom Barnes   - Sudar sips iced tea from a bag as he finishes work for the day and takes his bags away to get processed
Tom Barnes   - Iskander carries a haul to be collected and sent to processing. His helmet is padded to help him deal with the loads
Tom Barnes  A pemulung smiles as he has his picture taken - Wagimin takes a break to joke with us, he's wearing a shirt of traditional local print
Tom Barnes   - Ponirah has been working on the dump for years at Piyungan
Tom Barnes   - Ponirahs hands hold her hand made picking tool
Tom Barnes   - Rustam is collecting bags from the Pemulung on the dump to take it to processing
Tom Barnes   - Sarjono sits on his truck as he drops waste off at the dump
Tom Barnes   - Dedi smokes a cigarette on his bike after working the morning on the dump
Tom Barnes   - Ponirah was one of the most lovely and happiest people I met on this trip.
Tom Barnes   - Ponirahs hands, she has been working for years with no protective equipment.
Tom Barnes   - Karsadi stands in front of the area he uses to store his bags whilst picking
Tom Barnes   - Sarmi sits in her house, she's made this out of materials reclaimed from the dump
Tom Barnes   - Nur shows her home made picking tool as she stands in fresh rubbish at Suwung
Tom Barnes   - Darmaji takes a quick break at Suwung in the main pit area where the new loads are dumped.
Tom Barnes   - Slamet covers all his limbs to stop getting burnt by the unrelenting sun
Tom Barnes   - Cahyo stands by the huge bags of plastic he has managed to fill, he'll take these to be sold and processed.
Tom Barnes   - Mukti works incredibly long hours on the dump in Denpasar.
Tom Barnes   - Marno uses his motorbike to get his finds around, balancing them delicately.
Tom Barnes   - Using a wet stone to sharpen his hime made picking tool
Tom Barnes   - Gatot sharpens his picking tool at Suwung dump
Tom Barnes   - Rudi balances his collection to take it to to be processed and sold