The Landfillharmonic Orchestra

Have you ever wondered what happens to the rubbish that you throw away? In the UK, about 43.5% of waste is recycled (link: which means that well over half of the plastic, metal, glass and food that we buy is simply thrown into landfill at best, and at worst dropped on the ground and left to blow away. Some of the rubbish that gets into the environment, especially plastic, causes very serious problems to animals and thereby, on a larger scale, the ecosystem as a whole.

Much of the world’s wasted, unrecycled plastic makes its way into the oceans, which is causing nothing short of devastation. In the oceans, there are five areas where natural wind movements draw floating material into one place, called gyres. In each of these gyres there are millions of tonnes of plastic, which will take hundreds of years to break down. In the meantime, they are being eaten by fish and sea mammals, leading to illness and death and potentially even putting humans at risk via the consumption of contaminated fish.

The problems aren’t just hidden away in the middle of the ocean of course. Beaches are awash with a combination of rubbish tossed over the sides of ships, dropped by people while enjoying the seaside or washed down in rivers from further inland. If you want a typical statistic on the issue, the BBC reports that along just a 100m length of British beaches could be found 42 crisp packets, 40 glass items, 35 cigarette stubs, 31 pieces of string and 27 baby wipes. (link:

None of this is particularly fresh news, of course. The results of plastic pollution are well known, as is its continuing presence. But there are still plenty of us attempting to change that, both here in the UK and abroad, even if it is a long and difficult task. And as part of this process, many people are working on innovative ways to make use of what other people have thrown away. Constructive industries have grown out of creating new products from old materials and in education the Internet is packed with craft ideas for kids where rubbish is turned into something new (link: ). One incredible project, though, is taking this latter concept to a whole new level.

In Paraguay, South America, a music teacher wanted to help children who were actually living on landfill sites. They and their parents were eking out a bare living picking plastic, metal and glass from the dump and then selling it. These children had no chance of an education, no chance of improving their lives, and in a town where a violin cost more than a house, the music teacher had some big problems.

However, this teacher also had big ideas. By teaming up with a hugely talented musical instrument maker, they both began to create functional, beautiful instruments from rubbish on the tip. The instruments – from cellos to clarinets – were given to the children of the landfill, and together with the Maestro they created the Landfillharmonic Orchestra (link: The Landfillharmonic Orchestra has travelled the world, had a movie made about their experience (link: and even opened across South America for Metallica!

This amazing project has given the children of their small village the chance of a different life, while re-using valuable materials which would otherwise have been thrown away. If that’s not an inspiration to us all, what is?

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