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Gulshan Khan

Independent Photographer, Writer, Artist
Life in Plastic
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Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Nationality: South African
Biography: Gulshan Khan is a South African photojournalist and visual artist. Her work traverses the multiple layers of identity, humanity, memory, transition, belonging; justice and the dignity of people. She is inspired by the concept of healing through... MORE
Public Story
Life in Plastic
Copyright Gulshan Khan 2022
Updated Aug 2022
Location South Africa
Topics Spotlight
Life in Plastic

While Plastic pollution has become a dangerous global problem, for some, recycling means the difference between a meal or going hungry every day.

Poverty, unemployment seeking better opportunities far from their homes and often drug dependence has caused many people to turn to the urban informal economy for survival; a life that especially for waste pickers mean living on the fringes of society.
While South Africa slowly moves toward formalising the recycling sector, working in the informal waste economy results in waste pickers face numerous challenges everyday from exposure to unhealthy working conditions, stigmatisation, volatile changes to the market and even turf fighting.

A study by the University of the Western Cape shows that South Africa generates about 54 425 t a day of waste and that there is about R17-billion worth of waste that goes to landfill every year, which remains uncollected for reuse or recycling.

The informal waste sector employs an estimated 60 000 to 90 000 people, who are self-employed waste pickers, collecting a high percentage of South Africa’s recyclables and on average work between 8 and 14 hours a day, earning between a meagre R50 ($3,5) and R100 ($7) a day.

This short story is about the waste pickers / reclaimers (street surfers) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
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Also by Gulshan Khan —


Guns and Rhino (The New York Times)

Gulshan Khan / South Africa


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Home and Isicathamiya (upon the death of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Joseph Shabalala)

Gulshan Khan / Ladysmith South Africa

Lana and Tariro fetch water

Gulshan Khan / Masvingo, Zimbabwe

The things we carry with us

Gulshan Khan / South Africa
Life in Plastic by Gulshan Khan
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