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Recycling’s Dark Side

Bangladesh houses one of the world’s largest ship dismantling yards. Located in Chittagong, this vast area along the coast holds enormous vessels no longer in service that are waiting to be taken apart and recycled.

Some of the largest maritime vessels retire here, awaiting their exhaustive tear down and reprocessing phase. When seeing the sheer scale of some of these floating giants, it would be unimaginable if they were not reclaimed. The metal and every part possible from the ships are recycled and sold in markets and to companies.

There are reportedly thousands of laborers that work at this particular shipyard which creates 80% of its country’s steel, making it an economic stronghold on the impoverished nation.

While recycling endeavors on this scale are essential, what is most inconceivable is the process and working conditions endured in order to tear down and salvage every piece. Without proper equipment, safety gear or adequate protective clothing, workers toil to bring down the massive ships mostly by hand.

Though whispers of reform and regulation have been wisped about, talking about it doesn’t take away the fact that an injury occurs every day and it is estimated that an individual loses their life each week due to the extremely dangerous working conditions.

Though the toxic waste is supposedly drained out of the ships before being scrapped, there are still residual oils and pollutants released in the ocean and shoreline as they are torn down; therefore it is highly impossible to even begin to account for the amount of contaminants that end up seeping into the environment, nor their immediate and accumulative harmful effects to the health of the assigned manual laborers. Fatal falls, explosions, and being crushed are just a few of the higher work risks, with injuries like disfigurement, burns, blindness, respiratory problems and poisoning also as ever looming hazards. As if these unethical, inhumane conditions were not enough, add child labor into the mix.

The photographs of shoeless workers in the disassembling zones tell the story on their own, but reading about the complete absence of humanitarianism that exists and that this abominable dissociation of the importance of human life for profit is shrugged off as a shear necessary evil, is both heart wrenching and infuriating. It is shameful that these ships that once floated about for financial gains are left behind without a thought for the workers who are given the huge task of dismembering them so that every portion can be reprocessed, again for a profit.

The devastation shielded in the name of proceeds screams the question why this type of working environment is allowed?

Vidal, J. May 5, 2012. Bangladeshi Workers Risk Lives in Shipbreaking Yards. Retrieved from: The Observer
Image: guardian.co.uk by: Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis

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