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.