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How we chose the cover of NI516

Waste
Economy

In North-Western Cambodia, near the town of Siem Reap and only 25km away from the popular Angkor Wat temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by millions every year, lies a wasteland called Anlong Pi. The term ‘wasteland’ is meant literally here – Anlong Pi is a dump.

But while Anlong Pi and Angkor Wat might seem worlds apart, in a way they are two sides of the same coin. The tourists arriving in skyrocketing numbers generate huge amounts of waste – tonnes of garbage and toxic waste that are removed from tourists’ sight and come here, clogging the landfill.

Lia is one of the hundreds of people who live by the dump collecting plastic, glass and paper that they hope to sell on. They earn less than €2 ($2.30) a day. Lia is 14, and has been working as a garbage picker since she was 10.

Her eyes demand attention. She makes eye contact, defiant – ‘Yes, this is really what’s going on, this is really what I do.’

‘We wanted to represent that waste does not go away,’ says Dinyar Godrej, the New Internationalist co-editor who edited the Big Story of the latest issue, NI516 – which focuses on waste. ‘When something is binned it is out of sight, but it goes somewhere. It has an impact on other people and on the environment.’

The world produces a staggering two billion tonnes of waste per year, and the number is expected to grow to 3.4 billion tonnes by 2050. In the Global South, some 93 per cent of waste goes into dumps, where 15 million people like Lia make a living picking trash – like they do in Anlong Pi, Siem Reap.

This wasn’t an easy cover to strike. The issue seeks to make it plain that we’re not doing enough. Most of our ways to dispose of waste are inadequate, and recycling won’t save the world – consumers can’t do much when there is a barrage of industrial waste and packaging coming at them.

‘It is a problem created by the global economy and its constant, wasteful and inefficient push for consumption,’ says Dinyar Godrej. ‘Urgent action is needed; what we need is policy stir and a much greater awareness at the policy level.’

Putting that in a picture is easier said than done, and we had the additional pressure of wanting to keep the bar high after our relaunch cover was shortlisted for the Stack Awards Cover of the Year. We had a few front-runners, and then chose this photo by David Rengel.

The in-your-face feel captivated us: all the waste lying there, with children working on it –the flip side of our economy.

As did the fact that the photograph was in Anlong Pi, too, which is removed from tourists’ sight, just like the trash we produce is removed from our eyes so we stop worrying about it. And just like the amount of waste, Anlong Pi becomes bigger year by year.

Want more? Take a look at the contents of NI516.

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