How to turn trash into trash carts


In Belgrade, Serbia, the traditionally nomadic Roma people are creative recyclers, collecting cardboard, scrap metal and anything else that can be sold. They also use this reclaimed material to make handcarts, bicycle carts and, the ultimate in trash-collecting vehicles, recycled cars. To assemble these jalopies, they use parts from tractors, small cars (usually Skodas or Ladas) and heavyweight carts.

81_garbage_trucks_illus1There are around 3,200 landfills in Serbia and one of the largest is in Vinča, 13km southeast of Belgrade. The 1,300 tons of waste Belgrade’s 1.2 million citizens send there every day is a prime resource for the Serbian capital’s 20,000 Roma.

Living in the Deponija and Padina colonies (“landfill” and “slope” in Serbian) to the southwest of Belgrade, these Roma people make a living collecting cardboard, cables, copper and iron from the city’s streets, materials that they then sell on to recycling plants 3. They can earn €10 to €20 (US$15-30) each a day, selling a kilogram of copper for €4 (US$5.70) or a kilogram of iron for €1.50 (US$2.10). But to transport such loads they need rugged, cheap, and extremely fuel-efficient machines. Luckily they’re experts at screwing, unscrewing, hammering, smashing, dismembering and ripping out the entrails of old, broken vehicles to create ones that work.

In winter it’s very hard to travel on this thing.
Robert, 38, Belgrade, Serbia

“The vehicle has changed my life, but it’s still very hard to be traveling the whole day during the winter on this thing,” says Robert about his vehicle, named “Roberto Carlos,” after the Brazilian football player. Robert moved to Belgrade from Macedonia 30 years ago and uses his car to earn a living to support his four children. He built the car a decade ago after years of pushing a handcart; it took him one month to build. “I am proud of her,” he says. “I cannot live without her.”

Robert now dreams of getting proper registration for the vehicle since Belgrade’s police have been clamping down on unregistered vehicles and many have now been confiscated. And with owners not compensated for their loss and risking fines or jail time for driving them, Robert says that until then he’ll be taking as many back roads as possible.

Out on the dump there are no blueprints, laws or copyright telling you how to build your car, so check out other Roma’s vehicles. Get some ideas, ask for advice, and then build your own.


81_garbage_trucks_illus3FRESA TRACTOR

Plowing by hand is backbreaking work. That’s why the Fresa tractor was so popular in rural Yugoslavia during the rule of Communist leader Josep Broz Tito. Also known as the walking tractor because, like a lawnmower, it needs to be pushed, the machine has a powerful engine and allows for efficient plowing. For your car you’ll need the engine, handlebar and front axle. If you can’t find an abandoned one you’ll need to part with a year’s earnings – in the secondhand market it will cost you around €500 (US$715).

81_garbage_trucks_illus4RUSSIAN LADA

Scour the streets of Belgrade for a Russian Lada, the older the better – and haggle with the owner. You only need the wheels and the chassis, so don’t pay more than €100 (US$140). You don’t want to make too much of an investment since soon you might not even be able to use your homemade car – a law banning owner-created cars from public streets is supposed to come into effect in June 2011.

81_garbage_trucks_illus5BED FRAME

New steel costs around US$850 a ton. But there’s plenty for free in most landfills (in Australia 2.5 percent of landfill waste is steel). Bed frames, shopping carts and other bits can be welded together to make a cage for the back of your truck. Once that’s done you’re in business. Team up with a friend – while you drive, your business partner can dip into the roadside bins. And don’t forget to wet any cardboard you collect before taking it to the recycling plant: it will make it heavier and you’ll get a better price.


From the pages of COLORS #82 - Shit.