Rummaging through rubbish as acrid smoke fills their lungs – the rubbish pickers of Bangladesh who sift through dumps for anything they can sell

  • Rubbish pickers earn a meagre living in the city of Sylhet by sifting through leftovers and medical waste
  • Business is booming in the city – one of the richest in Bangladesh – and there is investment in western luxuries
  • Young children pick through waste to find items they can sell at market, as well as food to feed their families
  • Half of all children are underweight in Bangladesh and it’s estimated that 7% under the age of 14 are working

A television bringing a smile to a child’s face is not an uncommon sight, but usually they are watching their favourite programmes rather than peeking through a broken screen in a rubbish dump.

Meet the children who live and work in the landfill site in Sylhet in Bangladesh, earning a living by picking through other people’s leftovers and medical waste.

Their smiling faces mask a hard life of dangerous work, long hours and the struggle to make ends meet in one of the country’s richest cities.

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Smiles: These children take a break from searching for items in the dangerous rubbish dump to pose for a photograph with a broken TV

Rubbish dump: Acrid fumes from burning waste fill the lungs of people living and working on the dump in one of the richest cities in Bangladesh

A young girl heads home at the end of the day carrying vegetables she found in the landfill site among medical and other waste

Sylhet is a mayor city on the banks of the Surma River in north-east Bangladesh, and is home to more than half a million people.

While there is investment in western-style hotels, shopping malls and luxury housing estates, and business in the city is booming, there are still people sorting through rubbish dumps to survive.

Many find themselves sifting through the rubbish wearing sandals or no shoes at all, usually without gloves.

Back-breaking: The scavengers sort through the piles of rotting waste to earn enough money to survive. Many find themselves sifting through the rubbish wearing sandals or no shoes at all

Most of the waste-pickers are illiterate and work 12-hour days for very little money, despite living and working in one of the richest cities in Bangladesh

Recycling is a lucrative industry in Bangladesh, with close to 200 factories processing plastic bottles and the end products being exported to China and Thailand, according to the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers.

Most of the waste pickers cannot read or write and work long hours for very little money. It is known some earn between £1 and £1.50 for a 12-hour day in the capital city of Dhaka, where there are believed to be almost 100,000 working among the waste.

Millions of children in the country are malnourished and nearly half are underweight. It is estimated that 7% of children under the age of 14 are working, according to the charity ChildHope.

Hazardous: These pickers wear no gloves or protective clothing as they sort through the junk, which can contain dangerous waste from hospitals 

Piled high: A man walks barefoot through the rubbish dump in Sylhet alongside a truck. There is rubbish as far as the eye can see 

Source: Daily Mail