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Recycled Life (2006)

The dramatic and touching story of thousands of adults, children, and generations of families who have been living and working in the largest and most toxic landfill in Central America, the... See full summary »


Nominated for 1 Oscar. See more awards »


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The dramatic and touching story of thousands of adults, children, and generations of families who have been living and working in the largest and most toxic landfill in Central America, the Guatemala City Garbage Dump, over the last sixty years. Written by Leslie Iwerks

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Documentary | Short



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Release Date:

June 2006 (USA)  »

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$150,000 (estimated)

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1.85 : 1
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The life of those of live from and in a Guatemala City garbage dump
19 February 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The main garbage dump of Guatemala City is situated in a sizeable ravine, one of the largest such dump in Central America. More than four thousand individuals -- men, women and children -- make a living by sorting through the many daily trash truck deliveries. Everything that has a potential value is scavenged. During the day, recyclers visit the dump and buy the sorted material -- plastics, glass, metals, etc. The dump economy is in large part driven by those exchanges. About a million pounds of waste is recycled every day.

To save on commuting, many of the "guajeros" live on the grounds of the dump. Some are second generation "guajeros" having lived their whole life there. There are many children, often rejects from society. Such is the case of Carlos: his father died and the mother's new husband rejects her son; he now lives permanently at the dump.

The Santa Clara Nursery opens. I guess funded by charity. Mothers that would normally dump their kids on some pile of trash with a broken toy to play with can now dump them at a civilized place that can educate. The prevalent illiteracy of those kids can now be reversed, we hope.

The star "guajero" is Charlie de Leon. A fluent English speaker (is he American?), he shows us around. His shack is plush compared to the improvised cardboard shelters of others. Probably some of the furniture is discarded IKEA, but I could not tell. He even has an extra bed for eventual guests.

Food is free. The trucks that deliver leftovers from restaurants and markets are recognized. You just have to get behind the truck before the black vultures that fly in for a meal. Hungry? Charlie claims to have found a lasagna still oven-warm. Someone else munches on half-eaten(?) muffins. Hey, Charlie, set the table for the leftovers from the Four Seasons. What I like most is that you don't have to tip.

Fortunately film technology has yet to transmit odors. The stench of the dump will not bother you. Just pay attention to the nifty finds: Mish, a female cat that Charlie adopts (yes, people do dump their pets); sexy lingerie, a chance for poor women to wear Victoria's Secret; a gold(?) watch; an unopened gift that may contain a tie (did the guy break up with his girlfriend so soon after?); an American flag (unburnt I hasten to say); flower pots with flowers, a rare instance of beauty in this dismal landscape.

The dump is not a safe place. Lots of trucks back into the dump to discharge their loads. Children and adults are sometimes ran over. Occasionally the ground gives and swallows people, their bodies sometimes recovered by rescue operations, sometimes not. Methane gas bubbles from the mounds of trash. Breathing of those vapors the cause of numerous cancers.

On January 24th of 2005, the methane catches fire and the entire dump goes up in flame. Finally the authorities decide to do something. They institute a system of ID cards for approved "guajeros", children are no longer permitted in, there are opening and closing times for the newly installed access gates. Inconveniences for the "guajeros". They seem to prefer the freewheeling of yesteryears. But the worse is ahead. The dump has only two more years to go. The "guajeros" will have to move with the trash. At least they know that, as long as modern society functions, there is an inexhaustible source of trash. Their livelihood is assured.

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