Landfill Harmonic


Cateura residents make a living by sorting through trash.
Image: Shutterstock

There exists a community in a remote region in Paraguay that is doing amazing things.  The tiny town of Cateura is filled with garbage pickers.  These people make their living sorting through things other people throw away.  This profession exists all around the world.  What is different about these people is that they turn much of their garbage into perfectly usable musical instruments.

Not only do they make instruments, but they formed an orchestra using all of those instruments.  It really makes you stop and think before you put one more thing in the trash.  What else could this item be used for?

That’s what this community was so good at – recycling.  Seattle is a city which pioneered the recycling program, but they were not thinking on the same level.

The system got started when a local musician tried to open a music school in the city barrio.  There just wasn’t any money to buy real instruments.  Favio Chavez then began working with the people to make instruments from trash.  They started out making violins and cellos from oil drums, flutes from water pipes and spoons, and guitars from packing crates.

Recycled Orchestra

The Recycled Orchestra performs in Rio de Janiero in 2012.
A. Einsiedler /

While children are often creative and pretend they are drumming using pots and pans, these were turned into professional grade instruments.  When you listen, you can’t hear any difference in the quality of sound they produce.  There is something transcendent in the journey from garbage to pitch perfect harmony.

Things just evolved from there.  The children in the “Recycled Orchestra,” as they are called, went on a world tour showcasing their work and love of music.

“Life would be worthless without music,” said one little girl.


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