In what is being touted as a television first, UK Channel 4 television has just begun a completely new and potentially fascinating twist on the reality show, as eleven volunteers attempt to live off a landfill site for three weeks.

The programme, “Dumped”, aims to highlight the millions of tonnes of waste that the UK produces each year, and what happens to it. Although there may be an element of car crash television to it, I’m actually looking forward to seeing how the group copes, and particularly how their attitudes to the task and the facts underlying it change over the course of the challenge.

The selection process began in February 2007, and the group has been engineered to contain a diverse range of ecological awareness and opinion, from devotees of low impact, sustainable living, to participants completely unmoved by environmental issues. All believed they would be participating in an arduous ecological challenge, but the exact nature of the programme was kept secret until they arrived at the landfill.


The chosen eleven will have to make the site their home and scavenge what they can to build shelter and make their existence more comfortable. Although this is a way of life for many in the developing world, ultimate reality had to be sacrificed a little so as not to endanger the volunteers. All were vaccinated against tetanus, polio and hepatitis before the start, and protective clothing was provided for when they were scavenging. A medical team was on hand in case of emergencies.

Certain essentials of life also had to be provided – clean water for drinking, and a limited amount of hot water for washing was available. Food was provided daily, to the value of £424.00, the value which is thrown away per person each year in the United Kingdom. The producers originally wanted to have food donated by supermarkets, items which have passed their “best before” date, but are still within the “use before” date, but every chain declined. Some 500,000 tonnes of such food is wasted each year, and although some is given to charity, most is wasted. Interestingly, none of the supermarkets would give a reason for their refusal.


The site is a working landfill, near Croydon in Sussex, which has received around two and a half million tonnes of rubbish since it opened in 1999. It also contains a recycling plant, undertaking amongst other things commercial composting and sludge management for Thames Water. It is unusual amongst such sites for the numbers of rare birds present, as part of the site is a nationally recognised conservation area. Many other sites actually employ falconers to deter scavenging birds.

All the volunteers were free to leave at any time – and the first to walk was after only one night – it sounds very much as though a group made it to the end. Those that stuck it out managed, though reluctantly, to come to terms with the horror of the composting toilet they had to tend, and even tried to construct a solar water heating system to reduce their dependence on the little hot water provided. All the while they had to endure the noise from dumping trucks six days a week and the stench of rotting rubbish and the nearby sewage farm.

I genuinely expect this series to be engrossing. It is intriguing that some must have made it to the end even though they could have gone home, and I assume that they must have found enough value in the experience to continue. You can watch the series trailer here.
Perhaps it isn’t all such rubbish on the box, after all.



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