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Inventive Recycling: The Landfill Orchestra

Let’s face it: very few of us give a second thought to where our rubbish goes once our wheelie bins are emptied or our skips are collected, outside of some vague notion of a landfill site somewhere full of seagulls and cellophane. Yet for some people around the world, other people’s rubbish is very much part of everyday life.

Cateura, Paraguay, is one such place. Essentially the designated landfill site of the country’s capital, Asunción, Cateura is the home to a small community of people who make a meagre living by recycling anything of worth that comes through the tip before selling it on. Some items, however, they keep for themselves…

Los Reciclados – The Recycled Orchestra

It all began with a local ecologist and musician by the name of Favio Chavez, who, while working on a waste management project at the site between 2006 and 2008, decided to set up a music school for the children of Cateura. Luis Szaran, the director of Paraguay’s National Symphony Orchestra, got behind the orchestra early on, utilising his own Sondidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Land) organisation to help fund Chavez’s school.

“I came here once and saw a woman holding a newborn child with one hand and picking up rubbish with the other,” Szaran explains. “I told myself this could not go on; this is how everything started.”

As the scheme took off, parents within the community began to notice the positive effect the orchestra was having in keeping their children away from the drug pushers and local gangs, and the school’s numbers began to swell. Without sufficient instruments to go round, someone had the novel idea to utilise the raw materials found in rubbish around them, eventually creating a violin from a discarded shell and other scrap fragments.

It soon became clear that building instruments from scratch was the way forward; not just as a solution to the existing shortage, but also as protection from theft of professionally made violins and cellos that cost more than houses in Cateura. Consequently, Los Reciclados (The Recycled Orchestra) was born.

In the years since its creation, Chavez and Szaran’s work has seen the orchestra travel across South America and beyond, performing Beethoven, Mozart and Beatles classics on guitars built from sweet potato cans, violins crafted from aluminium salad bowls and bottle caps for saxophone keys.

The Landfill Harmonic

An upcoming documentary feature about the project, entitled The Landfill Harmonic, is littered with heart-warming tales of battling adversity in the harshest conditions, and it’s true that many of the children that make up the orchestra have found a new lease of life through the music they play. However, it’s important to stress that trash heap living is still very much a reality for this community and others like it across the globe, and the story drives home a few truths about the negative fallout from wasteful consumerism worldwide.

Woodford Recycling:

Fortunately, there aren’t too many instances of communities being forced to scrape a living from rubbish tips in the UK. But knowing that waste is being treated in the most environmentally friendly way possible is still a concern for many, which is why the professionals at Woodford Recycling operate an on-site recycling facility that allows us to process over 70% of the waste we collect from construction and household clean outs.


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