Tip Off

 Report from the largest landfill site in Novosibirsk  09/13/2013, 21:22
Tip Off
Photography by Vera Salnitskaya

Early morning at Gusinobrodsky rubbish dump: fog hangs in the air above piles of rubbish, crows, pigeons and seagulls circle overhead, lushly coloured vegetable marrows bloom on the slopes. All in all, an epic picture. Despite the dawn hour, bulldozers drive over the hills and refuse trucks circle back and forth. People come running up to each new vehicle from different angles, racing to rake through stacks of rubbish that the machine hasn’t even managed to fully unload. For them, it’s a way of making money: they collect cardboard, plastic, aluminium cans and metal parts for recycling. Sib.fm’s correspondents found out what happens to Novosibirsk’s rubbish.

Refuse collector Anton is drinking an energy drink: his working day starts at about midnight and ends depending on the amount of rubbish in the containers. On average, his shift lasts 12 hours. He drives his truck along a predetermined route from the dump: each driver is responsible for a certain area and the total number of bins is divided between them all roughly equally. The courtyards are crowded with parked cars, but the truck confidently tackles the narrow passages. Anton got the job 14 years ago, right after his army service. He says that at first he wanted to get some work experience in a truck, but ended up staying.

«Stories about valuables found in the rubbish pop up from time to time, but I personally haven’t found anything valuable. Once I saw a hundred roubles stuck to a wheel at the tip, and then homeless people found another 200 in the same place. As for gold and diamonds, that doesn’t happen. You won’t find them, even if you want to. But there are dead bodies. People hide them in containers and you unload them without looking. Then the homeless find them at the dump. Well, then we have to call the police, they start to work out which courtyard it was taken from and continue to investigate. It’s happened three or four times as far as I can remember,» says Anton.

20 rubbish containers fit into a truck

The truck driver’s wages depend on the number of containers unloaded. They say that the average is about one thousand roubles ($30) a day. Each one has two days off a week. Not at the moment though. Work goes on during the holidays and they even have to go out on New Year’s Eve.

«There’s more rubbish in the holidays, of course.

The worst holiday is New Year. People do nothing but eat and drink for ten days and the bins are full of bottles.»

It’s hard to compress the rubbish in the winter as well. Normally, the worst weather is extreme cold or rain, when you can’t shake anything out of the containers," says Anton.

In total, Novosibirsk has four landfill sites, where rubbish from all around the city is collected. Gusinobrodsky is on the balance sheet of municipal enterprise «Spetsavtohozyaystvo», the oldest in the industry.

The company emerged in 1927 and for some reason was originally part of the NKVD secret police.

There is a distinctive smell on the way to Spetsavtohozyaystvo: it’s located next door to the dump. The solid domestic waste recycling plant, which recently changed its owners for the third time, can be seen from the window of Victor Kravchenko’s office. Kravchenko has been working at the company since 1964 and, according to him, Gusinobrodsky landfill has broken down more than 40 tonnes of waste over nearly half a century.

48 acres is occupied by the Gusinobrodsky landfill site

«We used to be the largest company in the industry. Now the situation has changed: there are many private organisations that also deal with refuse disposal and our market share is less than 30%. Rubbish is transported to the landfill, where it is rolled out by bulldozers and starts to decay. In an average year, about two million cubic metres of rubbish are brought here. There should be enough space to last for about ten years. But if we extend it to ten hectares, it’ll last for longer,» says Kravchenko.

The world’s largest tyre dump is located in Kuwait

He tells us that a modern landfill site is a rather complex technical structure that is designed to specific standards with a waterproof base, drainage shaft and degassing system.

There aren’t any of these in Novosibirsk yet, but construction is planned.

43 employees work at the dump

A landfill site is reclaimed when it comes to the end of its useful life: at first, it is covered with a layer of clay soils, then a layer of fertile soil, where certain kinds of grasses and shrubs are sown. According to some information, the decomposition of rubbish can last up to a hundred years.

«We have to be realistic: there have always been homeless at the dump, they’re there now and always will be. We used to catch them and take them to the police station. They’re washed, cleaned and get medical care, then come straight back. They have every container under surveillance: they pre-sort them and fish out everything of value, which we’d like to thank them for, of course. They collect everything that can be recycled or that people will buy off them.

At the end of the day, the homeless are helpful — they maintain order, extinguish fires and find all sorts of things like explosive items and corpses.

Sometimes someone loses an important document or accidentally throws away something valuable and they help to look for it. They’ve found money too. If you can’t get rid of this mess, you have to control it somehow,» says Kravchenko.

In addition to the homeless, rats, dogs, crows, sparrows, pigeons, gulls, vultures and even ducks live at landfill sites. They hover over the rubbish heaps looking for food, although there is a lot less of it now than there used to be: the big supermarkets no longer bring out-of-date products to the dump, but dispose of them themselves, normally by burning.

It seems that migrant labourers have almost completely forced out the homeless in the struggle for scrap at the dump. Women and young girls work alongside men. Many have expensive phones and other devices.

«I came from Kyrgyzstan, there are people here from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan too. We each collect one thing: waste paper, plastic, bottles or scrap metal. We just give it to the foreman and don’t know where it goes. The amount of money varies, sometimes it comes to one thousand ($30) a day. I work for a month and go home, then come back again when money runs out. You get used to the smell quickly: you’ve got to find some way to survive though,» one of them says.

The migrant workers work selflessly, throwing themselves under heavy machinery and racing to rake out anything from the heaps that might have some value. A group in rags sits nearby, looking at the newcomers and sipping beer from a plastic 1.5-litre bottle that they pass around.

«Don’t film us, we’re Russian,» they shout.

Most local residents cover their faces at the sight of our camera, scared that they will be recognised.

The word «bulldoze» first appeared in the late 19th century and originally meant «something intimidating or bullying»

«They walk around, get under the bulldozers. It’s dangerous, you know, especially at night. I need to roll out the rubbish and they lie down right in front of me, cover themselves with cardboard boxes and go to sleep. Then you can’t see them at all,» fumes bulldozer driver Grigory.

«Everyone has their own boss for plastic or metal. They take it in for further processing,» says one of the workers. «Don’t take my photo, my friends will recognise me. Although I’m from Kazakhstan, I grew up and did my studies in Novosibirsk. This is just part-time work for a lot of people. They have a normal job and place to live in the city.»

According to the director of Spetsavtohozyaystvo, the amount of waste at the landfill site depends on the prosperity of the population:

«The volume of rubbish grew strongly, but has normalised since about 2007. Now, according to our calculations, there’s roughly two cubic metres of waste per person per year. If it increases, that means the quality of life has improved.»

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