Waste pickers

The remarkable economic growth that Laos is experiencing contributes to the shift of part of society from a traditional, subsistence-based lifestyle to an urban, modern lifestyle, highly oriented to consumption. Consumerism and waste production are two faces of the same coin, and in Laos, waste is a rising concern. In the capital as well as in the largest cities, waste-related services are still limited, and informal workers play an important role within waste value chain. In Vientiane, waste that is not burnt, buried or disposed in the open, is collected by the municipality and transported to the disposal site located thirty-two kilometers outside the city. The landfill site, has no membrane to protect the underlying soil, meaning that once the leachate (the liquid generated from water percolating through solid waste) leaves the waste, it flows directly to the groundwater, contaminating waters and soil in the surroundings. Since the solid waste disposed at the landfill is not separated, informal workers collect and segregate waste on site as a livelihood. The gathered materials are eventually sold, at a daily rate, to the recycling center that operates within the disposal area. Plastic is the most common material collected, followed by copper. While the number of daily waste pickers at the landfill is not clear, more than one-hundred and fifty workers live in poor sanitary conditions beside the disposal site, highly exposed to leachate-contaminated water and soil, which could lead to serious health complication.