The city of Dhaka has a river that runs through it. A river that is so dark that it is safe to say that what goes in it should not come back out. A river that must leave you feeling dirtier after washing in it then when you entered it, yet children call this river their playground and families call this river their washing machine. It is a source of life for the people, yet it is filled with dead, decaying, rotting contents. It bubbles from the chemicals that leak into its waters. This river is surrounded by many industries that recycle plastics as well as tanneries. Both industries that have been mostly outsourced from “1st world” countries for environmental reasons.
Other work that can be found in and around this river is often done by women and children who sort through the garbage carried downstream. In doing so they pick through piles of garbage looking for plastics. The plastic that is found is put into bags where it is transported out to be sorted even more thoroughly by its color and type. Then it can be taken to plastic processors depending on what kind of plastic. The plastic then goes through a refining process, chopping, melting, grinding, and coming out in pellets. These PVC (poly-vinyl chloride) pellets find their way into the hands of plastic manufacturers and become one of the millions of plastic products that we use every day. The industries that produce these plastics are known for their extremely hazardous working conditions. The ventilation is terrible, the machines are unsafe, there is no safety or protective equipment, and the workers make barely a $1 a day.
It is stories like these that we are trying to capture for our upcoming book. Before leaving Bangladesh, however, we also captured a story about a women who spends all day untangling plastic wires and feeding them into a chopping machine which proceeds to chop them into pellets for shipping and recycling. If you make a mistake and slip too far, the machine takes your fingers along with the plastic mesh. So far she has lost two fingers and when that occurs she of course loses her job until her hands heal. No fingers, no work, no money to feed her family. Of course when she returns to work, everything has remained the same. No safety measures, and the harsh conditions by her machine continue.
The work that seems to be created from the filth of the river goes from one bad extreme to the next. It is hard to calculate how many people are affected by the chemicals and contaminated water, how many diseases and infections the river is responsible for, but it contributes to the suffering of those who look to it for survival. They must continue to destroy their environment and risk the health of their own bodies in order to survive and feed their families. it is because they are not provided another option, another way. These are the lives we do not want to forget, the lives we want to provide with a better option.
All Photos by George Rosenfeld.