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Dernière mise à jour : 10 sept. 2022

La Duquesa, Santo Domingo - Aurélien Ernst

We have all gotten into the habit of taking out our trash cans without really worrying about their outcome. It's as if the last packet of chips that we had emptied vanished as if by magic once passed the door of our houses.

Although we hear more and more about recycling, it remains insufficient, even almost non-existent in certain regions of the world, such as in the Caribbean for example.

I therefore decided to go to the largest landfill in the Dominican Republic, called La Duquesa, in order to illustrate the social and environmental impact that poor management of our waste is likely to cause.

Located just 12 km from the city center of Santo Domingo, the Duquesa extends over an area of ​​several kilometers in which more than 3,500 tons of waste of all kinds are unloaded every day.

Run by fraudulent contractors, this landfill is sadly known to Dominicans. For years, she has not undergone any real health or safety checks. This led to the contamination of nearby lands and waters and many people in the area fell seriously ill.

La Duquesa really started to cause controversy in May 2020 when it caught fire. The fire was so powerful that it took firefighters 6 days to bring it under control. The thick toxic smoke emanating from this tragedy was even visible there from Puerto Rico located a few hundred kilometers away.

Since then, actions have been taken by the company in charge and by the government, but the situation remains deplorable.

Access to the landfill.

Landfill La Duqyesa, Dominican Republic, Aurélien Ernst
Young Haitian immigrant hanging from the back of a dumpster to get to the dump faster. By following the trucks closely, he makes sure to arrive at the place where the dumped waste is the most recent in order to increase the chances of finding food, metals or even valuable objects.

Getting to La Duquesa is tough. The dirt road is either very dusty on arid days or muddy on rainy days, leaving holes and ditches. These conditions are feared by dumpster drivers who regularly find themselves stuck with several tons of waste in the back of their vehicle.

The closer you get to La Duquesa, the more the earth mixes with the countless waste left by the trucks that go there daily. The smell given off by the recycling center can be felt for several kilometers.

The landfill.

La Duquesa is made up of several hills of rubbish, each more imposing than the other. If the smell of this open-air trash can be felt in the adjacent villages, it becomes unbearable once you arrive there.

La Duquesa, Landfill, Aurélien Ernst
Because of the unlimited access to food, many animals such as horses and cows have found refuge there.

In the middle of these mounds, one can come across runoffs of extremely toxic products generated by the decomposition of the detritus and the human waste that is dumped there. It was the flammable gases generated by this runoff that caused the fire at the landfill two years ago.

Aurélien Ernst - Dominican Republic
Black flow of toxic products coming from the hills of rubbish and seeping into the land.
Landfill, hills of rubbish, Santo Domingo - Aurélien Ernst
Trash stream at the top of one of the Duquesa hills.

Since the fire of 2020, some of these hills have been covered with sand in order to avoid another disaster and limit access to divers.

Aurélien Ernst - Dominican Republic, Landfill, Documentary photography
Security officer keeping an eye on the activity of the landfill to ensure that there is no landslide or the start of a fire.

The Divers.

Barrio Gualey - Aurélien Ernst

The landfill is also a whole parallel economy and hundreds of people who depend on it. Throughout the day, you can see people from the surrounding poor neighborhoods coming to the hills of garbage to find out any valuables.

Equipped with their large fabric bag, these people, often of Haitian origin, call themselves divers (“buzos” in Spanish). This name was given to them because they "dive" into the hills of rubbish to find objects.

The surroundings of La Duquesa

All around La Duquesa, there are dozens of recycling centers for paper, plastic and metals. Divers come there after their hard day of work to sell, for few pesos, the objects they have been able to find. Although, these centers are illegal, the state prefers to let them act - It is better to have clandestine recycling than not to have it at all...

Illegal recycling center, Aurélien Ernst, Dominican Republic
Illegal plastic recycling center at the landfill exit.

Haitian family, slum, ghetto, Aurélien Ernst, Dominican Republic
Haitian family living in the poor neighborhood Los Barrancones de los Cazabes, near La Duequesa.

La Duquesa, Aurélien Ernst, Dominican Republic, portrait, documentary photography

La Duquesa, Aurélien Ernst, Dominican Republic, portrait, documentary photography
Portraits of people who depend on La Duquesa.


Text and photos by Aurélien Ernst.

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