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  • Uncovering the truth of waste with photojournalist & Nikon Europe Ambassador, Kadir van Lohuizen

  • As part of Nikon’s commitment to supporting photographers that are constantly pushing boundaries, we’ve helped Nikon European Ambassador Kadir van Lohuizen pursue an issue close to his heart – the management of waste across the globe. 

    In this blog, Kadir shares his insights and learnings from this Special Project as he looks to raise awareness of the role waste management plays in the future of our bustling cities and our planet.

    “As a photographer, I have been lucky enough to travel the world. I have visited some amazing countries and had the opportunity to immerse myself in many diverse cultures. However, alongside the beauty of these different places, you’re also exposed to the problems that they have.

    Environmental and climate change issues impact every single one of us, regardless of where we live. And today, waste – and the management of waste – is a major challenge that we have the responsibility to address.

    We tend to talk about waste without knowing what it is – a lot of things we throw away could be re-used and recycled, for example. It is astonishing to look at the volume of ‘waste’ we produce.

    In developing countries, such as India and Indonesia, waste issues are noticeable. However, in Europe and parts of the USA, individuals do not seem concerned about their waste. We put our rubbish in the bins, which are collected and then taken away. Most of us do not know what happens to our waste after this step – it seemingly just disappears.

    I wanted to find out what happens from this moment where we throw it away; to compare the ways different countries around the world handle their waste disposal. To do this, I investigated six major cities; Jakarta, Tokyo, New York, Amsterdam, Sao Paulo and Lagos.”

    Jakarta

    Armed with the D810, Df and some of Nikon’s most flexible lenses, the first stop on Kadir’s journey was Jakarta, Indonesia

    “The city has seen major economic growth and a rapid increase in population over the last decade. Research shows there’s a correlation between the standard of living and the amount of waste a country or city produces – as the standard of living rises, so too does the amount of waste. Jakarta is no exception to this rule.

    In Jakarta, the vast majority of the city’s waste goes to the largest landfill site in the world, a 108-hectare tract of land in the neighbouring municipality of Bekasi. This dumping ground has caused endless dispute and the citizens living in the neighbouring provinces want Jakarta to start handling its waste problem itself.”

    Jakarta's waste dump captured by Nikon European Ambassador, Kadir van Lohuizen
    The scale of the plastic waste problem in Jakarta – captured on D810 + AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED | 1/640 sec. | f/3.2 17 mm | ISO 160 | © Kadir van Lohuizen

    “There’s no established recycling system in Jakarta but a huge, unregulated market. Thousands scavenge the garbage belt for plastic and other recyclable goods, which they then sell to make a living. Plastic is so sought-after in the city that if you drop a plastic bottle on the street, the chances are it will be picked up by someone within ten minutes in order to sell it on.”

    New York

    The next stage of Kadir’s cross-continent journey was New York; a ‘super city’ with a significant waste problem.

    “Although its issue is perhaps not as visible as Jakarta’s, it cannot be ignored. In fact, it may surprise you to know that no other city in the world produces as much waste as New York does. It produces fifteen times more waste than Calcutta in India and much more than Mexico City, the second on the list. Landfills in New York are full that it has resorted to exporting waste to neighbouring states, where it is then incinerated or dumped on landfills.”

    A man in New York collecting plastic bottles from the street to sell on to make a living - captured by Nikon European Ambassador, Kadir van Lohuizen
    A man in New York collecting plastic bottles from the street to sell on to make a living – captured on the D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G | 1/1250 sec.| f/1.4 35 mm | ISO 250 | © Kadir van Lohuizen

    “The amount of plastic waste in New York is one of its biggest environmental issues and an obvious problem to anyone that’s spent time in the city. Supermarkets, for example, still give you a plastic bag for nearly every item you buy. There are plans in motion to address issues like this but implementing a momentous change, especially a behavioural change, in such a large city does not happen overnight.”

    Waste being shipped out of New York city, captured by Nikon European Ambassador, Plastic waste being collected and shipped out of New York city to its neighbouring states – captured on Nikon Df + AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED | 1/2500 sec. f/5.6 22 mm | ISO 160 © Kadir van Lohuizen
    Plastic waste being collected and shipped out of New York city to its neighbouring states – captured on Nikon Df + AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED | 1/2500 sec. | f/5.6 22 mm | ISO 160 | © Kadir van Lohuizen

    Tokyo

    However, Kadir’s project showed us that not all cities are battling against waste management. In fact, as he shares with us, there are cases where waste is managed quite effectively.

    “The next stop on my ‘journey of waste’ was Tokyo, Japan’s bustling capital and one of the world’s most successful countries for recycling plastics.

    Despite being the biggest city in the world, Japan has been able to make progress in plastic recycling because waste-processing agencies have won the support of manufacturers. This is where many countries struggle to make headway. And, although this success isn’t necessarily as ‘visually exciting’ when you compare it to places like Jakarta or New York, it helped me capture the global balance of the waste problem – those places that are handling it well, compared to those that don’t manage it at all. With this project, there was the danger of waste just looking like waste, but when recycled differently, the visual transformation is dramatic.”

    Showaglass recycle depot, captured by Nikon European Ambassador Kadir van Lohuizen
    Panoramic view of a recycling depot in Tokyo, Japan, captured on D500 + AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED | 1/2000 sec. f/10 26 mm| ISO 320 | © Kadir van Lohuizen

    Lagos

    Next, Kadir travels to Lagos where recycling has saved the city, “Lagos, although one of my favourite cities, is not the sort of place you can just turn up and start taking photos. In fact, if you did that, you would certainly run into trouble. I was lucky enough to work with a brilliant local fixer, who helped me navigate the city safely and confidently.

    Capturing Lagos’ waste management was interesting. Although the excessive amounts of traffic and people give an apocalyptic feel to the place, the landfills and waste dumps are very well-organised. If those thousands of people weren’t recycling correctly, the city would have drowned in its own waste a long time ago. It was really inspiring to see that the correct disposal of waste does matter to its local people, even informally. Saying that, there is still a long way to go.”

    The Ojata landfill, captured by Nikon European Ambassador, Kadir van Lohuizen
    Residents of Lagos searching through a rubbish van. Captured on the D500 + AF-S NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED | 1/250 sec. | f/13 17 mm| ISO 160 | © Kadir van Lohuizen

    The final leg of Kadir’s journey is Amsterdam – his hometown, and the ideal place to see how Europe’s waste management compares to other regions. As he shares with us, “Many countries are sinking in waste – unable to manage it properly and running out of space. On the other hand, there are places in control, imparting a sense of responsibility to its people when it comes to recycling.

    I hope this project will encourage people to understand the environmental issues cities across the globe are facing, especially in the case of something like waste, which simply isn’t well documented.

    It’s my ambition – through this project and others I embark on in the future – to inspire people to consider how they manage their waste and how doing so fits into the wider picture of protecting our planet.”

    To find out more about Kadir’s Special Project, please visit europe-nikon.com

    You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit his website