NEZAHUALCOYOTL, Mexico – A young woman who has been working in different Mexican landfills since the age of 7 dreams of learning to read.
“I don’t know how to read straight, I still stumble a lot, but I keep trying,” Abigail Olvera told EFE.
The 33-year-old woman works at the Neza III landfill in Nezahualcoyotl, a city in Mexico state, which surrounds the Federal District and forms part of the Mexico City metropolitan area.
Olvera lost her father at the age of 7 and had to leave school, surviving by working at the landfill.
“The trucks come and dump their organic waste, and they give us what they feel like,” said Olvera, who earns a few dollars a day.
Olvera helps separate the organic trash into piles as part of a composting program organized by the municipal government.
The young woman and her husband earn about 500 pesos ($27) a week at the landfill, where hundreds of people eke out a living picking through the trash for recyclable materials that can be sold.
The 30-hectare (74-acre) Neza III, located in the city of Nezahualcoyotl, receives 1,200 tons of trash a day and is near capacity.
Olvera’s story reflects the difficulties faced by the 11.4 million people, or about 9.5 percent of Mexico’s population, classified as living in extreme poverty by the government.
Many of the pickers at Neza III often do not even earn Mexico’s daily minimum wage of 80.04 pesos ($4.25), one of the lowest in Latin America.
“I would like my children to study, to be somebody, I’m paying for their schooling with this here, because they study. I want them to improve themselves so the family they have won’t find itself in the same situation as us,” Olvera said.
The Neza III landfill is in the Bordo de Xochiaca area and handles only local trash now, but when the Neza I and II landfills were open, it took in trash for 30 years from Mexico City, one of the largest urban areas in the world.
Officials estimate that Neza III has only an operational life of two or three years left, but the pickers said they would continue working at the landfill until it closes.