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    Volume 9 Issue 24| June 11, 2010|

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Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Normally, entering a photography exhibition, the last thing a visitor might expect is the corner of the gallery filled with what supposedly looks like trash from a teenager's room. Among other things there are discarded soft drink PET bottles, some paper cases, old newspapers, empty toothpaste packets, a broken watch, and a poly bag with a sticker on it that says, “ One of our ministers have banned poly bags and they are no longer available in this country.” Apparently the honourable minister was wrong, it seems like they are still available.

Despite these anomalies, this is a photography exhibition with a novel approach that is truly admirable as is the intent of the photographer to strive for a cause that is genuinely beneficial for society. The photographer calls his exhibition, “used and re-used.” Zaid Islam, is a promising Bangladeshi photographer with the intention of making a difference. The exhibition is currently being held at the premises of Dhaka Art Center located at Dhanmondi, road no. 7A. The exhibition will continue till the June 16, from 3-8pm with Mondays closed.

Left: Bhangari units run across the country in an organised structure. Right: This young lady works at a place in Islambag where different plastic materials arrive.

June 5 was World Environment Day and it was no coincidence that Zaid Islam chose this day for inaugurating his exhibition. The objective of this exhibition is to raise awareness among people, concerning the environment with a special emphasis on recycling. Hence the strange pieces of used materials at the corner of the room, bound to amaze and impress the visitor, for the sheer creativity of the photographer.

The display of used materials is of course not the only attraction of the exhibition. There are many moving photographs. One shows a city corporation worker at the top of a rubbish heap apparently hiding his face to conceal his identity. “These workers never want to give away their identity and they never want to be seen in photographs. I know this sounds strange, because Bengalis, especially those belonging to this class of society are more than enthusiastic to have their pictures taken. But for these guys it is different.” says Zaid Islam.

“ They are afraid that people at their home villages will find out they are garbage workers. It is a matter of prestige for them. When they go back to their villages, their community is going to rebuke them.” He suppresses a sigh, knowing fully well as we all do in our subconscious minds, that without the efforts of these people whom society condemns to a precarious, contemptible existence, no society can function. The culture of looking down on garbage workers is prevalent in all societies that include the so-called civilised societies. But in this sub-continent, this culture is more rampant and takes a different dimension. Traditionally in India and Bangladesh, the work of cleaning garbage is designated for a particular Hindu caste, known in colloquial language as “Mathor”. These people, belonging to the lowest caste in the Hindu religion are looked down upon in Muslim Bangladesh as well, although the caste system does not formally exist in this country. What has happened in the last few decades is that Bengali Muslims, victims of natural calamities and other tragedies have been forced to come to the cities and have ended up in this profession. Unfortunately, these people who do so much for society, are looked down upon by society as a whole.

Left: The faithful Nightguard. Right: The unique exhibition room at Dhaka Art Centre.

Another arresting picture is the photo of the process of recycling. The photo in itself is very normal, displaying a few workers processing used materials for recycling. What is interesting is the story behind the photograph. “ I tried very hard to convince the owner of the factory about my good intentions,” Zaid Islam says with a smile. “ I just could not do it. He thought I was here to take a photo for negative purposes. He just would not believe that I thought recycling used materials and reusing them is a good thing. Eventually he agreed to let me in but not very willingly.” It seems that the entrepreneurs who are involved in this industry, are themselves not aware that they are doing a good job for society.

The concept of recycling and reusing has been Zaid Islam's habit since his childhood days, and he desires to spread this practice among others. The source of his inspiration is his grandmother, “when I was 6 years old, she used to make toys out of orange peels and we would play with them for hours. Long before I went to school, I learnt to recycle and reuse. Even the Milk Vita packet was sought after for reusing. As an awkward teenager, I was often embarrassed to accompany my mother to a wedding ceremony where we would give a gift, wrapped in recycled paper. Now I am ashamed that I ever felt like this.”

Displaying the typical “ Bazaar bag” Zaid Islam says, “ I know this looks unfashionable but this is the most environment friendly thing we have around. The young generation can hardly be convinced to use this outdated thing. However, I shall encourage everyone to use this. Nowadays, there are lots of great designers in Bangladesh. If they can improve the appearance of this bazaar bag, many people can be encouraged to use it and that would be really good for the environment.”

“ The 3 Rs- reduce, reuse and recycle. This is the message I want to spread. I know the message is nothing new, it is typical NGO jargon but the message is really important. By reduce, we mean that use as less as you can. By reuse, we mean when you are using anything, use it as many times as possible. Then a time comes, when you cannot use something anymore, that is when it should be recycled so that it might be used again.”

Recycling is a big part of the ongoing battle against environmental hazards and climate change. For Bangladesh, it is especially important not only because in a poor country, the intelligent thing to do is to make maximum use of scarce resources but also because the country is at the front line against the adverse effects of climate change.

Zaid Islam has his own opinion considering environment and climate change, “ … in the 1990s the awareness programmes became trendy, and celebrities campaigned and made promises. Then came the Millennium Development Goals, one of which is to ensure environment sustainability. A deadline was set up but even now, global leaders have been unable to come to an agreement. And finally, climate change is a bonanza for NGOs and development consultants. It has almost become a corporate cash crop.”

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