Thursday, May 28, 2009


by: Toni Kaatz-Dubberke

In a country with limited resources it is possible to make money even from garbage rather than just to waste it by throwing it away. The hundreds of garment factories in Narayanganj are producing a lot of fabric scraps, small patches that remain after cutting the blanks. Unsorted, these scraps find (for very little money) their way to the nearby communities, providing a source of income. The fibers are of good quality and be reused but first they have to be sorted with a lot of patience and due diligence.

One of these patient and careful sorters is Mojiton, who I meet in a storage room close to Rally Bagan poor community. She squats on the ground in a room filled with big heavy plastic bags. She is surrounded by small patches of fabrics of all colors, which she sorts by color and quality. The air is filled with a smoke-like dust of fabric fibers, which colors my nose from inside. When her husband died 10 years ago in an accident at a construction site, Mojiton took responsibility for herself and her two daughters. One of them is already married and lives with her husband nowadays. The other one lives with her in Rally Bagan. Every day she makes about 60 to 65 Taka. “It is not that much, but we can survive on it”, Mojiton says.

(above: Shaheen is sorting plastic and tin garbage)

(above: Shukur sitting in his shop in Rally Bagan)

On the other edge of Rally Bagan, next to the entrance, another kind of recycling business is going on. In front of his small shop, Shaheen and his older brother, Shukur, are sorting solid waste from garbage bags they bought from slum residents. Piece by piece, they separate mainly plastic from tin items. After sorting, they sell it to a bigger dealer, usually making about 10 Taka per kg. They earn 300 Taka per day, on lucky days even 600. However, in the last couple of months the price of recyclable materials, especially tin, is declining. The dealer now pays only 12 to 15 Taka per kg to Shukur instead of the 35 Taka he used to offer. This loss is then passed on to the slum residents they buy from. Shukur is well informed about world affairs and can easily explain the reason for the decline in prices: “I think it is somehow connected to the world market crisis that is going on”, he tells.

(above: Jahanara is pumping water out of the improved tube well)

On the way from Mojiton to the Shaheen and Shukur, yet another tube well attracted my attention. The neck of a plastic bottle is affixed on the tap. This innovation was created by Jahanara (see photo above), who happens to be around when I ask community members who came up with this idea. “Before water from the tap splashed randomly and we could not fill buckets and pots properly”, she says. The plastic bottle funnel was added only one month ago. I wonder why had nobody come up with this idea before.

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