Researcher(s): Audrey Mayer, S. M. Mizanur Rahman
Institution: Michigan Technological University
Sustainable Ship-Recycling in Bangladesh
This project will improve the sustainability of the ship-recycling industry in Bangladesh, where millions of tons of metal are recovered from hundreds of beached container ships, oil tankers, and cruise liners annually. We will investigate how recycled metal flows through the metal smith community in Dhaka, and identify improvements that reduce environmental impacts and maintain social networks.
Why This Project Is Important
Every year, thousands of container ships, oil tankers, and cruise liners are beached on the shores of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to be broken down and recycled. In Bangladesh alone, the beaching of hundreds of massive ships contributes over 70% of the country’s metal resources, but contaminates the environment and food resources with heavy metals, oil, and asbestos. The magnitude of the flow of used ships to these coastlines illustrates the global scale of humanity's consumption of oil and resources, and its consequences for the poorest among us. While the metal from the ships represents a critical resource for a growing population in Bangladesh, the manner in which these ships are dismantled (by hand with ropes and blow torches) is damaging to people's health and their environment. Our project will use theories from a field called "industrial ecology" to try to improve the economic, social, and environmental dynamics of this ship-recycling industry, to ensure that it is truly sustainable.
There are about 200-300 ships beached in the Chittagong (Bangladesh) ship breaking yards each year, providing around 1.5 million tons of scrap ferrous metal, more than 70% of the country’s steel demand. Over 20,000 people work as day laborers in the industry, at over 10,000 small and medium business engaged in processing these metals into final products. Bangladesh is assumed to be second largest country, after India, in the world that rips the ships apart. Despite these dynamics, few studies have investigated the social aspects of the industry, and no study has tracked the material flow of the industry across the country.
Scrap metals from the ship-breaking industry in Bangladesh are drawn from Chittagong (where the retired ships are beached) to a community in the capital city Dhaka, five hundred miles away from Chittagong, for further processing. We hypothesize that the relationships among the members of the Dhaka community (and between Dhaka and Chittagong) dictates resource flows. Based on previous studies, we know that metal-working skill, familial and social ties, and long-term reciprocal business relationships can restrain an individual’s competitive mentality and encourage cooperation, and hence resource sharing.
This study will focus on two issues; tracking scrap ferrous metal flows and analyzing the community’s social relations with respect to those resource flows. We will conduct this research by interviewing two groups of people: metal resource contractors of the ship breaking industry (the people who move the metal from the ship breaking yards to the metal workers), and metal working business owners in the Dhaka community (the people who turn the scrap metal into products such as rebar for building construction).
We are expecting to conduct about fifty interviews, each of which may last for about an hour. Our questions will largely focus on the level of family ties among businesses, level of reciprocity, resource processing and collection methods, etc. Interviews will be conducted in the local Bangla language. They will be recorded, transcribed, coded, and then analyzed using qualitative and quantitative methods to understand the level of social relations and cooperation involved and the extent responsible for metal flow direction. We will also interview people who either control the purchase of ships or the distribution of metal recovered from the ships into the metal smith communities. We will trace the amount of metal they distribute by weights and by element on an annual basis. To understand the distribution of metals beyond these key informants, we will largely depend on the intermediaries of those who maintain contacts and orders with both the ship-breaking contractors and the small and medium firm owners of metals recycling businesses. Those people will be identified through interviews of community business people and metal contractors. Finally, we expect to contact local and regional government officials and statistical officials to find data that is relevant to the metal distribution, as well as relevant laws and programs for the industry.