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Reporting on a Trash Site in Kenya Making Women Sick Prompts Change

The Fuller Project’s Louise Donovan and Moraa Obiria visited a massive dumpsite in Kenya, where waste pickers, most of them women, make a living by sifting through trash collecting recyclable items to sell. As the world generates nearly two billion tons of household trash each year, an estimated 20 million waste pickers around the globe often are able to recover more recyclables than formal waste management systems. But scientists say not enough attention is being paid to the toll this work is taking on this workforce’s reproductive health. They warn that it is an issue of global concern.

A hub of criminal activity, Nairobi’s dumpsite is a particularly challenging environment to report from for journalists. After spending over a week breathing in toxic air, the journalists were sick and experienced ongoing headaches.

Once published, the story was shared with those involved in negotiations for the first-ever treaty to restrict the growth of plastic pollution. The findings were also discussed at a UN conference on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, a global treaty designed to protect human health from chemicals in the environment (the specific talk focused on how chemicals impact different genders).

In order to reach a wider audience, the story was published both internationally, with VICE World News, as well as in The Nation, east Africa’s largest newspaper. The reporting prompted additional media coverage, with journalists in India and across Africa writing follow-up stories highlighting the same connection between toxic trash and waste pickers’ reproductive health, drawing further attention to the issue.

Donovan also shot, edited and wrote the script for a video to accompany the story. With over 11K views, it’s The Fuller Project’s most watched Instagram video to date (the second highest has just over 1,000 views). 
The story was co-bylined by reporters from Kenya and the UK. Obiria is a gender reporter for The Nation, while London-based Donovan is a Fuller Project reporter covering labor issues. The pictures were shot Brian Otieno, a Kenyan photographer. Every source and expert quoted in the story, bar two, is Kenyan, ensuring the reporting highlighted the voices and perspectives of those impacted by this issue.

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