Turning a rubbish tip into a home to highlight waste meant a heap of problems.
Turning a rubbish tip into a home to highlight waste meant a heap of problems. By Michael Burns

It's not the most appealing TV dare - try to last three weeks on one of the biggest rubbish dumps in Britain with only waste food and junk to provide sustenance and shelter. However, planning and running the green-themed experiment was as big a challenge for creator Outline Productions as it was for the participants.

The series in question is Dumped, presented as a documentary running over four consecutive nights of Channel 4's Green Week in September. Outline's joint managing directors, Helen Veale and Laura Mansfield, were inspired by hit Norwegian TV show Paradise Lost, which saw teams competing in elimination challenges on a rubbish tip.

'We were really excited about the premise of people living on a dump as a way of highlighting important issues on a very human scale, so optioned the format from its creators, Strix,' says Veale. C4 commissioning editor Andy Mackenzie was keen on the basic premise but felt that the 'gameshow' elements weren't right for Channel 4.

Accordingly, Dumpedwas stripped down to one key challenge: could a group of ordinary Brits live for three weeks on what the rest of us have thrown away?

'When it was pitched it felt like a compelling and entertaining idea - not 'green' homework,' says Mackenzie. 'Like all the best ideas it has you asking 'can you really do that?' I felt I'd watch it to see how people cope - what challenges and human dramas are involved with living on a landfill site - and then on a secondary level to learn about waste.'

Up until now, Veale says, TV has too often provided a sermon when it comes to green issues. 'The environment has proved to be a difficult subject to deal with on screen without falling into the trap of being too preachy and alienating all but the most hardcore green viewers,' she says.

'We wanted the experience to really speak to a broad audience, so it was essential to have people with a whole range of viewpoints on the environment, rather than just green activists. We wanted the challenge to be genuine and that meant months of preparation.'

Although living on an actual landfill wasn't possible due to health and safety considerations and the presence of deadly gases and heavy machinery, the participants were confined to a living area composed of genuine rubbish next to a working dump near Croydon.

Filming took place over three weeks in June of this year, during which time they were free to leave the show at any time - but not to return.

'The health and safety of the participants and crew was key, but we also had to take care of the environment,' says executive producer Helen Hawken. 'Prior to putting any rubbish down anywhere we had to have a specially engineered clay pad built to ensure that any items we stored didn't leach chemicals into the ground to pollute the soil or the ground water.'

The team wanted to reflect on the waste that is thrown away by individuals and businesses, so it had to come from a variety of sites, but Hawken says this incurred a lot of red tape - even to move a bag of rubbish around.

A major setback occurred when none of the major supermarket chains were willing to take part in highlighting the UK's food waste problem. 'We were able to achieve the same point by giving the group a huge mountain of food at the beginning to represent the£424-worth of different types of food each Briton throws away per year,' says Hawken. 'Without a fridge they had to work out what to eat quickly
and pace out the rest.'

Participants and crew were given protective clothing and preventative vaccinations and a nurse was hired for the production. As washing was going to be a major issue, unlimited fresh drinking water and a hot tap were provided. Aside from these essential concessions, the conditions at the dump still demanded a huge amount from the participants so in a show of solidarity, series producer Iain Hollands and the directors insisted that the crew slept in a 'shanty town' production village on site.

'It was a big ask of the production team and the crew,' says Hawken. 'And not everyone we spoke to or interviewed was prepared to work in those sort of conditions but the level of commitment and buy-in from the team we worked with was crucial. Everyone on the team put in a superhuman effort and the team morale was incredibly high.'

Transported to the dump on the back of several large lorries, the village was put together on site at the last moment to reduce costs - but this was the very day that the heavens opened.

'The ground turned into a swamp, the makeshift road we built had literally been washed away, and there was no way we could get the production village to where it needed to be,' says Hollands. 'There was a real danger we would be starting the shoot without any infrastructure.

'However, the indefatigable production designer and production manager managed to get enough help and materials together to rebuild the road in three hours flat. The production village just about got in and the shoot could go ahead.'

After that, all the crew needed to contend with was the heat, dust, stench and plagues of flies. 'The cameramen and directors were labouring on with gritty bloodshot eyes, members of the team were sleeping on site in conditions which weren't much better than stifling metal boxes, and the generator was always packing up just at the moment when someone was half way through taking a shower or trying to complete a vital document,' recalls Hawken.

In spite of all of this, it's clear the experience has had a lasting effect away from the dump site too. Veale and Hawken say many of the production team now think far more about recycling and green issues, with one of the camera crew even going as
far as selling his car as a result
of working on the programme.


Broadcaster: Channel 4
Production Co: Outline Productions Ltd
Start: 9pm, 4, 5, 6 and 7 September
Length: 4 x 60-minutes
Commissioner: Andrew Mackenzie
Executive producer: Helen Hawken
Series producer: Iain Hollands
Creative director: Helen Veale
Producer/directors: Claire Lasko, Katy Lock, Sam Grace
Production manager: Barbara Browne
Production designer: Clint Mclean
Post: The Farm