Garbage collector reveals job’s dirty secrets

Most of us put on a jacket when it’s cold, especially when we’re leaving home in the early morning, but this man’s jacket zip is open because his work soon makes him hot.
All of his clothes are dirty, from his shoes up to his hat. And even though he’s standing in a truck full of filthy garbage, he often doesn’t bother to wear a mask as he is all too familiar with the fetid smell around him.
This is how Luang Phonsa, 30, and his friends spend several hours each morning as they do the rounds of household rubbish collection.
In any country working on a garbage truck might be considered the worst and dirtiest job, but in Laos it’s especially bad because most people don’t separate their rubbish before putting it out for collection, so everything gets in a mess.
Garbage trucks go to every village but not always on the same day and in some areas it can be once or twice a week.
Where I live in Donkhoy village, Sisattanak district, the truck always comes on a Saturday morning.
On Saturdays people often get up a bit later than usual if they don’t have to go to work. So quite often when I awake my rubbish has already been collected.
I’ve often asked myself why anyone would take on this work. How much are these men paid for doing such an unpleasant job?
I’m quite sure most people would prefer to do something that involves wearing smart clothes and earning a decent salary. But of course not everyone has this opportunity

Luang Phonsa and his friends collect household garbage in Vientiane.

and many people are unable to do the job of their choice.
Luang has been working for the Lao Garbage Company for a few years now and every day he goes out on a truck with four or five other guys to collect garbage from people’s houses.
He starts work at 4am and finishes at 7am on weekdays because by then the garbage truck is stuffed full of mucky waste and shouldn’t be on the streets amongst a lot of other vehicles.
Luang said the men were organised into two teams, with one collecting garbage from houses and the other from markets.
Markets generate a lot of waste but in general it’s not so messy because it’s removed every day. But in residential areas the situation is different because rubbish is collected only once a week, so it contains a lot of rotted food that’s full of maggots.
Newcomers to the job invariably retch to start with and some can’t eat anything when they’ve finished their shift, but they soon become accustomed to the nauseating stink.
Sometimes you’ll see some of the men wearing a long jacket, trousers, gloves and a mask. That usually means they’re new to the job, but before too long they’ll stop wearing protective clothing.
Luang says some householders make the men’s job harder because they can’t be bothered to separate their rubbish into recyclable and non-recyclable bags, and sometimes the bags they put out get ripped apart by cats and dogs so the rubbish all spills out onto the road.
If you’re still wondering, the men are paid 1.5 million to 1.8 million kip a month.
They typically don’t stay for long and will leave as soon as they can find another job, Luang says.
But it’s hard for most of them to get other work because they are poorly educated and don’t have much experience, except perhaps in the construction industry.
Luang says he too doesn’t want to work on a garbage truck, but he is illiterate and feels lucky to have any job at all.
I don’t know whether these men realise they should be wearing protective clothing for the sake of their health, even if they can tolerate the terrible smell. But I feel they should be careful about what they breathe in and handle, as health issues could arise later on.
Their employers should discuss the matter with them and give all workers free gloves and masks.
Another problem with this job is that all the garbage trucks in Laos are very old and dirty. I don’t know if they are ever cleaned but it would create a better impression and make things more tolerable for everyone if the vehicles were clean at the start of the day.


By Patithin Phetmeuangphuan
(Latest Update March 26, 2018)

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