Bangladesh Plastic city

Published in the dossier of October 2018

In the Islambagh area, a slum of 10,000 inhabitants has developed an entire economic activity based on plastic recycling. It is organized like a real industry: there are those who transport and those who sort and dry the plastic, those who melt it to produce a new material, and those who produce new objects, along with supervisors, accounting officers, and even quality managers. The working conditions there are particularly difficult: the health and safety conditions are substandard, substantial amounts of waste litter the streets, earnings are less than €2 a day and are not enough to lift workers out of extreme poverty, etc.
Nonetheless, the momentum that has begun here may represent a seed of hope: when it is well supported, the informal sector can make a decisive contribution to meeting the plastic challenge.


At a very young age, Jules Toulet discovered a passion for photography during his first trip to Varanasi (formerly Benares) in India. He was 20 years old and became an independent reporter. At the same time, he works in a photo laboratory in Brussels, where he produces analog and digital prints, organizes exhibitions, etc. He is also a photojournalist for the Belgian press.

Jules Toulet, smitten with Bangladesh

Jules Toulet has been attracted to the Indian subcontinent from a very young age. He has made many reports there on social issues such as the impact of rising sea levels or the textile industry. While Jules is highly aware of environmental questions, it was entirely by chance that he discovered the slum of Islambagh while walking along the banks of the Buriganga River.

“I delved deeper with an interpreter and I found one surprise after another, discovering that a whole district survived on recycling,” he remembers.

More than 10,000 people work with plastic, many of them in hot conditions surrounded by toxic vapors, some with modern machines. The objects produced are destined for both the local market and export.

Jules Toulet attempts to see things from a “humanist [perspective], while keeping my distance from the subjects. I avoid the maudlin and the dramatic; I try to be both neutral and human.”

For this report, the photographer concentrated more than usual on the shot and postproduction.

“I varied my angles even more. And as many of the photos were taken inside, I always tried to ensure that there was enough light.”

The result is these beautiful chiaroscuro photos, in which the aesthetic effect nonetheless never overshadows the information.