Photo project

One Man’s Trash: Garbage Collectors in Mario Gert’s Project

While travelling through Africa German photographer Mario Gert discovered a city that was built on a massive garbage dump

Mario Gert, 38 years old

Lives in Ehrfurt, Germany. He is an economist by education and works in a bank. Devotes his leisure time to documentary photography. He has travelled to 77 countries in the world and created several projects about the lives of African tribes.

I shot my first project in 2008 after a 4-year journey around the world on a bicycle. During two of those four years I was traveling around Africa. I was struck by its harmony, strength, and amazing people. In 2008 I promised that I would definitely return. Now every year I return to that continent and feel myself at home.

Garbage dump in Dandora

During one of my trips I visited Nairobi. A long time ago I heard that one of the largest garbage dumps in Africa is located on the outskirts of Nairobi in Dandora. It is the size of a small German city. Just as in a run-of-the-mill town people live there and work. A young local boy rode with me for five days through the garbage dump and told me a shocking story. This place is genuine hell on earth and around 3,000 people live in this hell, right in the middle of the dump. They work there and give birth to children and then die.

Their lives depend on this dump, because they have no other sources of income. They go in whole families across the massive territory of the dump searching for plastic, metal, paper, rubber and other things they can sell for money in the stinking piles of garbage.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_02.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Heavy equipment works here on a 24-7 schedule.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_03.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Teddy Bear in the garbage dump as a sign that waste from western countries is dumped on this site. For many of these dumps it is much cheaper to burn waste in Kenya than in Europe.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_04.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Sometimes there is a lively atmosphere at these garbage dumps: people, pigs and birds hunt for valuable waste.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_06.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Every section of the garbage dump is controlled by a guard whom people must pay a fee to enter the territory.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_07.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Every garbage collector has a specialization: plastic, metal and perishable waste.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_01.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Dandora — this is hell with fuming mounds of garbage that supports local inhabitants.” }

The garbage dump is divided into a thousand small districts. Each one has its own guard. In order to enter the territory one must pay him a duty of EUR 2. Every day around 300 dump trucks bring waste to this dump. Local residents know exactly when the dump trucks arrive and get in line. When the trucks approach people jump into the dumpster filled with trash and dig into it in search of food to feed their families and, as a strange as it may seem, to feed their pigs. Almost every family owns a pig that also needs to be fed. Fisticuffs often break out near the dump trucks.

Garbage collectors

During my trip I met different people. Every day was for me an eye-opener. In one of my photographs a mother with her son that was born on the garbage dump. She takes him from school and together they go to dig into the garbage heap in order to make money to buy school uniforms and textbooks for the child.

One time I met a woman that every morning came to the dump well-dressed in high heels and a short skirt. She changed into tatters and spent the entire day at the dump as if it was her standard workplace. In short, the dump is the main workplace for thousands of local residents and they are not ashamed of it. Every one of them has their specialization. One collects cardboard and paper waste, the other collects plastic and rubber and another collects metal. At the end of the day, they carry overloaded bags to the reception point where intermediaries weigh the goods and buy them. Then the collected material is sold to companies that process waste. The collectors earn no more than $3 per day.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_08.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “A mother with her 20-year old son, who was born on the territory of the dump. To this day they work together and share all the spoils of their hard work, a la fast food.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_05.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “They found most of their clothing in the garbage dump.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_09.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “A handful of dried fish that was most likely thrown out from the kitchen of some hotel is dinner for them.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_10.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Every day more than 300 dump trucks full of trash are burned at the dump. The waste that is brought in from European countries is the most interesting for the local residents.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_11.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “Men, women and children have to dig deep to find the treasures of the wealthy.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_12.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “A young boy rests after a hard day’s work.” },
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/holy_13.jpg”, “alt”: “Garbage dump in Dandora”, “text”: “” }

Something is always burning at the dump. It is clear that nobody is concerned about the toxicity of the smoldering waste. Nobody thinks about this. All that matters is to survive. Every day children dig for packages of leftover yogurt. So, what we throw out has great value for them. After this project I began looking at many basic things in a different way. The entire world is a game of contrasts. My next destination is Zanzibar. Kenya and Zanzibar are not far from one another, though there is a huge difference between them. While Kenya has such hellish places as the garbage dump in Dandora, Zanzibar can be boldly described as paradise.

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