Families living near Sabah landfill scavenge for scraps to survive

PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

KOTA KINABALU - For the families living near a landfill in Sandakan, they often keep an eagle eye on recyclable items to earn some cash for a decent meal.

The trash at the landfill is a source of income and even food for an estimated 200 families who are mostly undocumented people without the means to get proper jobs or go to school.

Some of the children could be seen opening up packets of half-eaten food such as buns. They would also sip from unfinished packet drinks.

For them, it seems normal. In fact, they would smile upon finding food at the landfill.

A father of two, when met while scavenging for usable items, said his family had been living there for years.

He said his children and him would start their search at about 6am every day.

"Sometimes they can find clothes. Or food and drinks that can still be consumed," he said.

He was well aware about the lack of hygiene.

"But I don't know how else to keep my family alive," he said.

Family members of people living near the Batu Gajah garbage disposal centre scouring for items that can be salvaged.Photo: The Star/Asia News Network

In search of a decent meal: Family members of people living near the Batu Gajah garbage disposal centre scouring for items that can be salvaged.

"Here, we find items such as bottles, aluminium cans and metal to sell," said the middle-aged man who did not want to be named.

"On a good day, we can get about RM20 from selling plastic bottles and cans."

Nearby, two eager boys - Damisah Amit, 10, and Cabang Hasbi, 11, were seen running around barefoot collecting cans and other recyclable items.

Asked why they were so excited, they said if they could get more money from selling trash, they might have a chance to buy new clothes.

"We try to work more than usual because we hope to get some extra money for Hari Raya," said Damisah.

New Sandakan MP Vivian Wong, when contacted, said she needed time to understand the whole situation before commenting further.

"We will try to find the best solution for everyone," she said.

The landfill is situated not too far from the Sandakan town area.

According to the Sandakan Municipal Council, these people have been advised to stay elsewhere.The Immigration Department carries out regular operations to catch illegal immigrants. Whenever that happens, the area would be clear of them for a while.

It is learnt that many would return while some are newcomers to the site who are there, living from hand to mouth.