Photographed 2006. Stung Meanchey is an industrial neighborhood on the southwestern outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Every day around hundred people scavenge through Phnom Penh’s daily refuse. Most are looking for recyclable materials which they turn in at small local recycling businesses earning themselves an average daily income of about 4000 Cambodian riels (US 1). Most of the people there are teenagers but also kids and adults well in there 50s.
As each truck arrives, several people crowd near the back, inches from the wheels and truck bed, ignoring the warning of the ever-sounding truck horn. The trucks drop their loads slowly providing opportunity for some of the braver scavengers to jump in the back to get a head start on the garbage that hasn’t yet had a chance to hit the ground. Others stand at the edge chopping at the garbage with their picks. Once the garbage does hit the ground, the crowd quickly lays siege to the fresh pile, attacking it with their picks, shovels, hands, whatever. Speed wins and, surprisingly, aggressiveness does not. It’s survival of the quickest here.
This dump has moved to a different place now and is guarded by security, and it’s not allowed to take pictures there. But I am pretty sure that the work conditions didn’t change.