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Dirty work: a photo essay

Photo: Benjamin Lowy/Getty

A young girl stands defiantly amid the Agbogbloshie dump’s burning fields near Accra clouds of toxic smoke rising behind her. From dusk until dawn, workers usually young, male migrants from Ghana’s northern Tamale region burn automobile parts and electronic waste in order to reveal their copper components in exchange for money for food. According to the Seattle-based NGO, Basel Action Network, millions of tonnes of e-waste from industrialized nations are ‘processed’ at Agbogbloshie each year. Less making a living from waste, more simple survival. 

Photo: Mehedi Hasan/NurPhoto

A man swims his way through thick, white foam as he collects what recyclable items he can find in the Yamuna India’s most polluted river near New Delhi. Considered ‘beyond redemption’ by the country’s Central Water Commission, the river is a disastrous cocktail of household and municipal waste, run-off from commercial and industrial sites, eroded soil, and chemical wash-off from fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

Photo: Mehedi Hasan/NurPhoto

A Bangladeshi woman at work in a plastic recycling factory in Dhaka. Despite being the first country to ban single-use plastic bags, Bangladesh has a booming plastic recycling industry. However, it’s not the country’s own plastic that workers sort day-in and day-out. It’s often a share of the 22 million tonnes of recyclable waste shipped over from the UK. And, not dissimilar to Bangladesh’s notorious textile factories, workers are frequently underpaid and exposed to harmful fumes.

Photo: Ueslei Mardelino/Reuters

Palestinian fisherman Mouad Abu Zeid (right) and his friends bring in his improvised fishing boat made of plastic bottles on a beach in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Zeid tied the 700 empty bottles together with thread from damaged fishing nets to make a boat which, although it cannot sail too far, enables him to catch seven or eight kilos of fish each day.

Photo: Ueslei Mardelino/Reuters

Deoclides Nascimento Brito and Valdineide dos Santos Teixeira, who work as catadores de lixo (collectors of recyclable material), pose for a photo after their wedding at Lixão da Estrutural – formerly South America’s largest rubbish dump, in Brasília, Brazil. The dump was closed in January 2018, shortly after their wedding. With plastic pollution clogging Brazil’s waterways and contributing to deadly floods, community projects help raise awareness and support those who make a living from collecting recyclable waste.

New Internationalist issue 516 magazine cover This article is from the October 2018 issue of New Internationalist.
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