Close up of a pile of used batteries ready to be
recycled. The pile shows all kinds and sizes of batteries which
are recycled here. This includes the most common battery
brands that are used in Western countries. Big D size batteries
are mostly locally made.
There are hundreds of informal factories and workshops
inside and on the outskirts of the city of Dhaka, the capital of
Bangladesh. The industry employs thousands of women and
One person gets between US¢ 0.5 to US¢ 0.8 for
breaking and cleaning 1000 carbon rods.
One person can clean, separate and arrange between
3000 to 5000 rods per day earning around US¢ 25 to US¢ 45
Day in and day out,
women and children as young
as six or seven open
discarded batteries with
hammers in order to remove
the recyclable pieces of
They extract carbon
rods from the center of the
batteries, zinc casing, and
coated brass contact caps.
Once separated, these materials are sent to battery
manufacturing factories and workshops that either reuse them or
melt them to make other useful materials.
Using water that is pumped from river Buriganga, a
young girl washes pencil-like carbon rod that comes out of the
used batteries, in a battery recycling workshop on the outskirts of
A woman arranges reusable pencil-like carbon rods
that come off from the middle of used batteries.
Waste that cannot be recycled is burnt. Sitting on a hill
like pile of waste from recycled batteries, children extract
remaining zinc from ashes. This waste is eventually dumped into
the river and used as a way to claim land from river. This is a
very common practice in Bangladesh.
Noorun is only 15 years and she has been breaking
batteries for three year. She studied up to grade 3, but had to quit
going school, because her mother wanted her to help. She has
two brothers and two sisters. Her mother also works nearby in a
plastic/polythene recycling workshop and earns around US$ 23
Hajira -8 years old- sits in a workshop where she
recycles thousands of size-D dry cell batteries, by breaking them
-one at a time- using a simple hammer. She works with her
mother in the workshop and also helps look after 3 and 1 year
During a short break from her work, Hajira laughs
standing on the door of workshop. She is carrying her three years
old sister in her arms.
While it still rains, Hajira baths her younger sister in
coolish and polluted water of river Buriganga. Cold or not,
cleaning up after spending entire day at the dusty environment of
battery recycling workshop cannot be avoided.
Shehnaz -3 years old- sits on the window of battery
recycling workshop. She cleans carbon rods that come out of the
center of D-size dry cell batteries. Her mother Noor -19 years old-
also works in same workshop. Both mother and daughter have to
work to supplement family’s income to assure survival.
Making sure not to touch it to her lips, Minara -13
years old- drinks water from a steel mug that everyone who
works at the battery recycling workshop shares.
She studied up to grade 5. She has stopped going to
school since she started working in the workshop. She said. “My
education did not help me a bit. One does not need to
pass grade 5 to break batteries or clean carbon rods. I
wish I could be a doctor, but tell me what is the point of
wishing such non-sense. No benefit for such wishing. Is
Kulsum -14 years old- sweats due to heat and humidity
in battery recycling workshop in Dhaka where she works from
7am to 7pm.
When asked if she dreams, Kulsum said, "Dream
what? I don't dream. I get so exhausted by the end of the
day, I just sleep. I think I will break batteries as long as I
can, or maybe I will do something else."
While their mothers work in battery recycling
workshop, older children are usually responsible to look after
their younger siblings, and often means used to do so could
be very inadequate, cruel and dangerous. The environment in
and around the workshop is full of carbon dust and other
waste. Children play in the factory area until they are tired and
ready to sleep.
Treating it as an ordinary balloon, a young boy blows a
used condom by blowing air into it, outside a battery recycling
workshop in Dhaka district.
Most children who either work or play near workshop
area, have chest and eye infection. Environment is so polluted,
most children suffer from one or more kinds of infections all the
Sathi’s -8 years old- face is blacked with carbon
dust from recycled batteries. She earns less than USD$ 3.5
per month. She lives with her mother and older sister in a little
rented bamboo structure constructed over the river
Buriganga. All 3 together make around USD$ 15 per month.
As she cleans the carbon rods from exhausted D-cell
batteries, Marjina holds her young child on her lap and gently lulls
her to sleep. She migrated from the countryside to Dhaka, the
capital of Bangladesh with her son and four daughters after her
"Regardless of how hard my children and I work,
we accumulate more and more debt every month. I don’t
know what to do. I have nothing that I can sell to pay off
An infant sleeps on a piece of jute bag. As child is very
young, her mother that works in the factory, brings him along so
she can look after him while she works.
Many women bring their children along so they can
look after them while working. However, the quality of childcare
that is possible in and around the workshop area leaves much to
Women and children in these workshops face some of
the worst condition of life anywhere in the world. None of
the children go to school. In the process of breaking the batteries
they inhale carbon dust from the batteries throughout the day.
Although they work hard and need nutritious food, they hardly eat
much. It’s amazing that they still look happy and manage to
crack a smile every now and then.