The Recycled Orchestra

Cola Landfill Harmonic


In Cateura, Paraguay, hundreds of gancheros, or recyclers, search through massive piles of rubbish dumped around the outskirts of their town every day. Amid tossed out washing machines, refrigerators, commercial insulation and more, they work tirelessly to locate scrap metal and plastic that can be traded in for enough money to feed their families. Meanwhile, the men, women and children of the impoverished landfill city must live among the garbage, facing the daily hardships presented by their environmental situation.

Through an effort to lift the spirits and brighten the futures of young children and teenagers in Cateura, local musician Favio Chavez and conductor Luis Szaran partnered with area landfill worker Nicolas Gomez to begin building musical instruments from rubbish. Never knowing that their selfless endeavors would win their group international attention, they have worked diligently to edify the young minds of local natives in the art of orchestral music. From the wreckage of the country’s largest garbage dump come priceless symphony-worthy violins, flutes, cellos, trumpets, guitars, basses and drums, each with a unique purpose and value to a child in the orchestra. The constantly growing group is called The Recycled Orchestra or “Landfill Harmonic” and their future as a successful musical troupe is becoming brighter every day. Invitations to perform in other countries have been pouring in and numerous shows have been scheduled in countries such as Norway, Palestine, the United States, Japan, Argentina, Canada and London.

A New Meaning of Trashy Music

A landfill like the one beneath and surrounding the city of Cateura poses a number of health and safety risks for the people and animals who live there. Shards of glass and jagged pieces of sheet metal and steel litter the ground. Hazardous and potentially deadly chemicals pool together in areas with poor drainage, combining to form combustible cocktails that leech into water sources. The creeks that wind their way through the city offer very little water that is safe to drink, especially during the warmest months when plastics begin to melt and contaminate the soil along the banks. Plants that manage to grow in the ground dirtied by the products of the dump are insubstantial and may even prove harmful to wildlife in the area.

Aside from presenting the obvious danger of physical harm to local humans and livestock, a landfill of this magnitude contributes negatively to the global environment as well. Carbon dioxide and methane are produced on a nearly unbelievable scale as organic materials decompose above and below the ground level. Greenhouse gases such as these continue to contribute to global warming and the deterioration of our planet’s naturally protective ozone layer.

Though the youngsters and their leaders are certainly excited to play and entertain onstage for hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the world, their primary purpose still shines through as the important message they hope to spread. Through their ability to transform seemingly worthless garbage into something that attracts the attention of people worldwide, The Recycled Orchestra have proven that major sociocultural changes are possible, even when your starting point seems insignificant. If their mission is successful, these pupils and their teachers, along with a number of environmental advocacy organizations, will show their country and the world the truth about the conditions in their hometown. In time, perhaps enough of the world will be behind their cause and ready to help make the changes that are so desperately needed in Cateura, Paraguay.

Learn More About The Recycled Orchestra

To learn more about The Recycled Orchestra, here is an article from The Sierra Club, one from the blog of, and a short clip from the upcoming documentary Landfill Harmonic.

Author: Jason Giroux