Pushing a makeshift cart constructed from wood scraps suspended on worn tyres, Séraphin Kapo goes door to door collecting household waste. Like most Ivoirians his age, he lacks a formal job. Yet, the 26-year-old is financially independent - thanks to garbage.
Every day at the break of dawn, Séraphin starts his walk around La Djibi and La Septième Tranche, two neighbourhoods in the Cocody district of eastern Abidjan. Wearing a pair of gloves, he pushes what he calls his "reliable companion", a garbage cart.
Almost seven years ago, because he could no longer afford the tuition, Séraphin dropped out of high school. For years, he survived on sporadic informal jobs like shoe shining, laundering and washing dishes at small restaurants. Then he turned to trash.
Informal workers are a crucial link in Abidjan's waste removal chain. And despite their vital importance - and omnipresence - they are rarely acknowledged.
Séraphin carefully sorts the waste he collects in different bags. "Recyclable materials like iron, plastic and aluminium can fetch a good price on the market. I sell them to increase my income," he explains.
Business savvy has helped Séraphin's enterprise. "I've developed an informal subscription system with some residents in the neighbourhoods where I operate," he explains. "They pay me every two weeks. In return, I remove the garbage in front of their houses every two days."
Making a living
Séraphin takes the garbage to a large waste dumping site known as 2 Plateaux-Bleu Marine. For access to the site, he pays a monthly fee of 7.50 euros.
Séraphin can make up to around 110 euros a month. That's almost double the guaranteed minimum wage, which has for years stayed fixed around 55 euros (despite interest groups' various attempts to have it increased).
"Thanks to the money I've managed to make through this activity, I have a decent life. I can guarantee payment for my mother's treatment, as she suffers from rheumatism. I also helped my fiancée start her own business, and I pay the school expenses of my six-year-old daughter," says Séraphin with confidence.
Amélie Kouakou, a La Djibi resident, praises Séraphin's professionalism."He is punctual and diligent, and with him, our garbage is removed almost immediately."
Fellow district resident Donatien Kobenan also appreciates the workers. "The garbage trucks almost never pass by our streets, so informal garbage removers help us keep our doorsteps and our neighbourhood clean," says Kobenan. "They are vital for the hygiene of our homes."