Ambitious Matuail landfill ‘Eco Town’ on the cards

Tender to be floated at the beginning of 2022, feasibility study yet to be completed

The Matuail Sanitary Landfill authorities plan to build an Eco Town as part of a project to expand the landfill. 

Under the project, the Eco Town will be an intermediate treatment zone with facilities for recycling, biogas production, composting and other methods of converting waste to energy (WtE). The proposed Eco Town, one of ten components in the third phase of the landfill upgradation program, is at a very early stage of planning. 

The plan aims to achieve zero waste production through the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) method. However, this project seems highly unfeasible according to some industry experts and officials of the city corporation authority itself. 

The Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) is set to start the tender bidding process at the beginning of 2022 with the hope to recycle 48% of all waste by 2032.

Currently, only 9% is recycled.

Also Read - Dhaka landfill emits 4 tons of methane per hour

Depending on another WtE to deal with the waste problem 

The proposed Eco Town at DSCC aims to recycle at least 2113 tons of waste a day by 2033. It will consist of five treatment facilities, namely a recycling plant, a composting plant, a two-unit biogas plant, a construction waste recycling plant, and a thermal recycling plant.

The recycling plant will treat 300 tons of dry waste from households, commercial establishments, and businesses in the 75 wards under DSCC each day, according to the plan.

The composting and biogas plants are expected to recycle 200 tons of organic waste per day, the construction waste recycling plant 460 tons, and the thermal recycling plant 1,000 tons.

Generating electricity from waste has been a long-term target of the government to reduce the pressure on landfills. However, numerous earlier initiatives have failed despite the enthusiasm of the authorities. 

 “This is a very ambitious project. To my knowledge, waste to energy conversion has never been successfully implemented in our country, but it is not impossible. We are not saying that our plant will produce electricity certainly, rather we are focusing on producing energy, which has many forms,” said Sufiullah Siddik Bhuiyan, executive engineer and project director of the Matuail Sanitary Landfill Land Development Project.

Also Read - In pictures: The never-ending Matuail landfill

Experts: This technology is never going to work in Bangladesh 

According to experts, the foundation of any WtE plant is the incineration of waste. As most of the waste in the country contains 60-70% moisture, it is virtually impossible to incinerate it efficiently.

Md Sahadat Hossian, professor at the department of civil engineering of the University of Texas in Arlington, US, and director of the Solid Waste Institute for Sustainability (SWIS) at the university, said western technology should not be followed blindly. First, the government must assess differences between the countries.

“Most of the waste in European countries is relatively dry, with large amounts of plastics, paper, and wood, making it a good source of combustible materials. On the other hand, waste in Bangladesh is mostly wet, biodegradable waste, which is great for other recycling purposes but not energy production,” he said.

Project Director Sufiullah Siddik Bhuiyan also acknowledged that there were differences that made incineration less likely to succeed in Bangladesh. 

“The waste must generate 1500 kW of heat energy to produce electricity, but local organic waste generates only 800 kW. To compensate for that difference, we have to add other chemicals and components to our waste,” he said. 

Siddika Sultana, executive director of Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO), opposed incineration altogether due to environmental concerns. 

“It’s commendable how the government is thinking about managing the waste, but we believe there could be other ways than incineration. Burning waste only generates more harmful elements, which will pollute the air, water and soil in the surrounding areas and make people suffer even more.” 

According to Prof Sahadat, a typical WtE plant would generate about 20% bottom ash from burning the waste. This would amount to Matuail producing 200 tons of highly toxic bottom ash a day. 

“In most cases, there are no plans for managing the generated bottom ash in an environmentally friendly way. Even our neighbouring India failed to do so. There are also serious health concerns as incinerator emissions are a source of particulate matter (PM 2.5) that can lead to decreased lung function, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death,” he added. 

According to statistics from the Indian think tank Centre for Science and Environment in 2019, 15 WtE plants have been set up across India since 1987, and seven of them have since been shut down. 

The Matuail Landfill Eco Town will be built on 31 acres of land with funding from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The DSCC will open a tender for this project at the beginning of 2022, but it is yet to complete the feasibility study to finalize the plan. 

In November 2020, the government approved the country’s first waste-based 42.5MW power plant at Dhaka North City Corporation’s (DNCC) Amin Bazar landfill for a period of 25 years. China Machinery Engineering Corporation is implementing the project with the Power Development Board (PDB).

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