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Trash talk

  • Published at 03:47 pm December 9th, 2019
Climate tribune_November 2019_Pg 22-23
Photo: Rajib Dhar

How a sustanibale waste mmanagemnet can improve the lives of informal workers 

Rapid urbanization has made solid waste management a serious problem today. In Bangladesh, solid waste causes incredible environmental hazards and social problems in the lives of people living in the cities. On October 22 to 24, the Fourth Annual National Conference on Urban Resilience to Climate Change was held at the Institute of Architects Bangladesh (IAB), Dhaka, where this issue was discussed. 

During the conference, one of the parallel sessions was on Waste Management for Socioeconomic Empowerment of Informal Workers. This session’s objective was to learn about the good practices from informal waste workers and their business cooperatives. These groups lead the practice of waste collection and recycling, supporting municipalities environmental waste management and contributing to making cities more resilient. Furthermore, the session explored the ideas and recommendations from relevant stakeholders on how informal waste-worker led business models can be scaled up for operationalization of the 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) strategy and how Bangladesh can achieve the target set in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC).

During the discussion, there was a range of compelling key messages raised by the waste workers. 

The first message from the discussion was that women workers want to drive the vans that are used in the waste collection process. Women are willing and wanting to access different livelihood opportunities, and these women believe this is one opportunity to expand their livelihood options. Women are often the most neglected and most undermined in this male-dominated society. Women are working hard, but their salary is always lower than men, even for the same work. For that reason, women believe that if the Government or any private organization gave them a chance for the alternative livelihood position, like van driving training, they would be able to increase their financial stability. The message portrayed in the discussions was that they want to show their availability and their hard-working expertise.

The second message that came through was that small actions could help raise the awareness of the challenges informal workers face s. Women and underprivileged children are working as sweepers or sorting and processing for recycling. However, there was no initiative for the health and safety issues they face. Although occurring in small quantities, hazardous solid waste can have significant negative impacts on human health and the environment when improperly disposed of. Hazardous waste poses a substantial present or potential hazard to humans or other living organisms because they are non-degradable, are persistent, or are lethal. Most of the time, solid waste was not separate; solid wastes are any discarded or abandoned materials. Solid wastes can be solid, liquid, and semi-solid or containerized gaseous material. Women workers who have the lowest paid positions often have the most difficult jobs are exposed to these chemicals and toxic waste, with little understanding of the impacts this can have on their health. Nor are they giving and training as to how to handle and dispose of this waste safely. Over time they face terrible health and safety impacts. 

Government and private collaboration are one of the most useful ways to contribute to the upcoming eighth Five-Year Action Plan. It was proposed through this plan; the Government can create a knowledge-sharing platform to engage all municipalities and develop a coordinated strategy for waste management. Solid waste management is one of the significant concerns in Bangladesh because of the lack of waste dumping stations and proper waste management. In Bangladesh have no article and also no enough rules and regulations, so, we have to establish article because a rules and regulation can raise the social awareness.  

On the other hand, some issues came out that were more relevant for sustainable waste management for Green Cities. For the creation of resilient green city there is a need to build our awareness and maintenance infrastructure. Bangladesh is now continuously developing but our waste collection and management is not yet well developed. To make a resilient city, we should be focused on proper waste management and maintenance. As well as different training arrangements for informal workers, where their work environment feels secure.

As a country that has developed its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) with a time frame for completion in 2030, Bangladesh is required under the Paris Agreement to submit an updated NDC by 2020. Bangladesh is committed to taking a progressive approach to developing its economy through a low carbon pathway. In Bangladesh, sometimes the mismanagement of solid waste management is contributing to increasing GHG emissions because of waste burning. At times people in Bangladesh believe that the soil fertility will increase when the dirt waste is burned and added to the soil. However, this perception is wrong and as a result people unknowingly apply this wrong knowledge to the environment. 

This session was vital because informal workers had the ability to collaborate and speak with development practitioners, experts and people in Government. Workers were allowed to express their issues and explain their experiences from the ground level.   In their whole life, these informal workers have been working in the same sector, and they have better experiences than others at the field level. First of all, informal workers are working in the field without health and safety and also working late at night, where unforeseen issues are complicated. Secondly, they are working hard, based on that they do not receive enough money for the work they are doing from municipalities. The amount of money workers receives is too low and is not enough to survive; they have no alternative livelihood option also. Moreover, they have the right to a better working environment within the waste management sector and also have different kinds of training which would aid in improving their livelihoods.

Throughout the discussion, government officials, experts, researchers, and academics all agreed that no one could do anything on their own. What if all of these stakeholders work together? Then the goals the current Bangladesh seventh five-year plan and the upcoming eighth five-year plan would be able to be achieved. Bangladesh is now developing, and its economic development is continually expanding. However, there is a lack of motivation and a lack of knowledge-sharing platforms which would contribute significantly to the growth of Bangladesh. A focus at the policy level, creating leadership at the municipality level and also awareness building at the community level would encourage development in a positive. And we hope one day we should say Bangladesh has its capacity so, now anyone can follow our strategy

Md Hafizur Rahman is Project Officer at  the International Centre for Climate Change and Development.