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Themes of Trash include income disparity, waste, and corruption. The contrast between the three dumpsite boys and the wealthy people that live in the same area is startling. They have to sort literal trash to find enough money to scrape by while the wealthy dine on delicacies and live in palatial estates. Two of the dumpsite boys live with extended family who can barely afford to keep them. One of the dumpsite boys, Rat, has no family at all; instead, he lives alone in a slum and derives his nickname from the rodents that occupy his space. These are young boys who don't have a lot of other options to pull themselves out of poverty. It's clear that the wealthy elite could make a real difference for them—and yet they choose not to.

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Corruption is another major theme in the book. The police and politicians work for the wealthy rather than for the well-being of the people. Of course, there are people who genuinely want to help. For example, there are charity workers who actually want to help the kids and use their limited resources to do so. There are family members who are willing to stretch their resources to include another mouth. Ultimately, though, the gap between the poverty the children experience and the wealth of the elite is the basis of the corruption. The wealthy want to maintain the status quo that lets them do whatever they want from theft to murder.

Waste is another theme in the novel. One of the dumpsite boys says that you can climb the mountains of trash for days without reaching the top. They—and many others—spend time scouring the refuse to find something to subsist on. The extreme amount of trash is another way to show just how much goes to waste when there are so many who are in need. Even little scraps of plastic from other people can help the boys make enough money to fill their bellies—and yet it's still dumped into the trash.

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