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A dirty affair

  • Published at 11:26 pm August 2nd, 2018
Mehedi Hasan

Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh is growing fast in terms of population while facilities needed are struggling to keep up. It is hard to travel around the city and not come across exposed waste. Authorities claim that they are doing to provide their best with limited resources. Otherwise, experts believe the system must be updated with strong foundation of guiding principles and introduction of public-private-community partnerships. In these two-reports Weekend Tribune looks into the waste management system currently in place in the South and North city corporations.

Why segregation is important

First step of collecting garbage from households are done by private sector referred as primary collection service provider. Md Zahid Hossain, Chief Waste Management Officer of Dhaka South City Corporation said, “It is not based on any economic agreement. The reason is shortage of manpower. We are handling 3200 to 3500 tonnes of waste per day with about five thousand manpower.”

Waste is collected throughout the city everyday from roads and from various sources during the night till dawn. Hossain says the city gets back to its uglier face with every passing hour because of widespread littering by the people. This is further complicated because of not following waste collection timing. “There is a designated time to collect wastage from home by Primary Collection Service Provider (PCSP), yet people are reluctant to abide by the rule and subsequently end up throwing garbage outside the selected places or on the road,” Hossain said. 

Regarding the prevalent challenges in dealing with the waste management in DSCC he pointed out the increasing population as the biggest one: “The population density of the city is one of the biggest challenges. For numerous reasons, the capital city has to encounter with influx of people from other places of the country. The  absence of minimum knowledge about waste management among the city dwellers exacerbates the situation.”

Director at the Department of Environment, Subol Bosh Moni, also director of Implementation of 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) told Weekend Tribune that back in 2013 the Department campaigned to promote waste segregation from household and distributed 60 thousands bins to families, where each family was given three types of bins. “However that initiative did not go any further,” Moni said.

Co-founder and Executive Director of consultancy organization Waste Concern, Abu Hasnat Md Maqsood Sinha said that the sorting process is futile if it is not carried all the way through. “If people separate the waste but discover everything gets mixed up in the later stage, no one would continue it,” Sinha said.

Sinha, however, refused to put the blame on the citizen for littering. “The entire responsibility cannot be put upon citizens' shoulder. Where do they discard the waste if the system itself has flaws such as insufficient number of bins, improper placement of bins or containers or to some extent no such service in close proximity? Also, city corporation shouldn’t take all the responsibility by itself,” Sinha said. 

Urging to stop blaming each other, he said, “It is vital to involve the citizen communities in the source segregation in order to manage the system in a decentralize manner.” He further said that the method of managing waste must focus on the source of waste generation to reduce production of harmful elements such as multilayer packaging, instead of taking responsibility of managing those after being produced. 

Although the DSCC authority believes raising awareness about these issues among citizens, including about segregation, is pertinent, there is currently no plan in place for such awareness raising. 

How effective are the Secondary Transfer Stations?

Large metal containers that occupy the places of old fashioned cement-walled dustbins are a common sight around Dhaka. The Chief Waste Management Officer Zahid Hossain informed Weekend tribune that they are on the process of gradually removing all of those from roadsides, and instead setting up 25 Secondary Transfer Station (STS) in different locations in DSCC. At present 19 STSs have started their operation in different location. Zahid Hossain informed that another four STSs will very soon start operation. So far, DSCC and DNCC have set up a handful of STSs in public parks, such as Panthakunja in Karwan Bazar and Sheikh Russell Children’s Park beside Dhanmondi Lake. Meanwhile, a writ petition has been filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) against the construction of STS inside the park.

Regarding the selection process for STS locations, AHM Abdullah Harun, executive engineer of the waste management department of DSCC said, “Due to shortage of land we couldn’t set up STSs according to logical planning. We have requested the government to provide spaces from empty lands owned by different government departments for more STSs.” Harun said that DSCC has plans to build STSs in every  ward.

Agreeing that the land scarcity for STSs is a big problem Abu Hasnat Md Maqsood Sinha, Executive Director of Waste Concern said that placement is important since it is not possible for primary collectors to cover long distances on three-wheeler vans. Also, he pointed out, that the City Corporation never had the chance to select the locations systematically.

“Lack of appropriate scientific approach in managing waste inside STS have made these places mere big dustbins. Instead of 100 there is now one big dustbin,” He said.

Saying that sorting waste after collection is not a big issue, as it can be done through modern technology easily, AHM Abdullah Harun, executive engineer of the waste management department of DSCC confirmed that certain small-scale sorting is conducted informally by the private collectors and cleaners in between transporting the raw waste to landfills by truck. “Currently the city corporation authority is collecting the waste from STS together with different designated places to dump it directly to the landfill in Amin Bazar for DNCC and Matuail For DSCC without proper segregation,” he said. 

Sanitary Landfill or just crude dumping ground?

“100 acres of Matuail landfill is almost full. The mound of waste stands at 20 feet high. And it is not possible to go higher because it will then tip over. The remaining area where waste is still dumped will fill up in two years,” DSCC Chief Waste Management Officer Md Zahid Hossain said.

According to Abdullah Harun, executive engineer of DSCC , “At Matuail, we are scientifically treating leached water to the level where it's usable only for irrigation.”

At the two landfills, DNCC and DSCC are trying to treat the leached water, as contamination of underwater water by leached water and contamination of the surrounding area is a matter of serious concern.

However raising concern about proper monitoring on treating leached water by appropriate authority Sinha, Executive Director of Waste Concern said, “Even though the city corporations claim that these sites are sanitary landfills, it is apparent that they are just crude dumping grounds. On paper everything is shown working according to standard, but how much evaluation and monitoring is actually happening?” The monitoring and enforcement wing of the Department of Environment could not be reached for a response.

“The aim must be to divert waste away from lowland, water bodies and drains through reduce, recycle and reuse,” Sinha said.

DSCC has future plans to expand its landfill for 81 acre, where 50 acre of thearea will be dedicated for landfill and the remaining 31 acre for Eco-Town Project.

Eco-Town Project

Still in its early phase, the Eco-Town Project of DSCC entails setting up different types of plants including recycle, incinerator and bio-gas focus on waste reduce, recycle and reuse. “We are assuming it will take at least four to five years to start operation of the Eco-Town Project. In addition to recycleling the daily production of waste with these plants, we will be able to process waste from our existing landfill and gradually clean up the entire 150 acre, laving it free for daily waste.” Md Zahid Hossain, Chief Waste Management Officer told Weekend Tribune.

Ongoing Big projects

Talking about building one compost plant for each city corporation under the 3R project funded by Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund (BCCTF), Subol Bosh Moni,  director of the project said, “With six corer budget to build compost plant in both city corporations, we are hoping to start the construction at the end of August. If everything goes according to the plan, the operation of the plants may start from end of 2019. The plants will be able to produce 30 tonnes of fertilizer from wet waste.” 

Apart from that Subol said that they have plans to train homemakers and other related stakeholders in order to raise public awareness about waste reduction. He also informed that they are negotiating with manufacturers to take effective measures of the surplus from consumer goods.

Producing fertilizer from organic waste is currenly being carried out by the 'CDM Project Using Municipal Organic Waste of City Corporation/Municipality', a project under the Department of Environment. Under this project organic municipal waste is converted into fertilizer. “We get the waste in a raw form and we have to segregate it before using.” Abul Kalam Azad, director of the project said.

Policy and future

To solve waste management related environmental issues National 3R Strategy for Waste Management was formulated eight years ago, but yet to see implementation. Sinha of Waste Concern said, “Although it’s a government strategy, there is no rigorous mechanism to made the concerned authority accountable. The end result is no progress in waste management.”

Agreeing with this view, Abul Kalam Azad, deputy director, DoE said, “Lack of proper guideline about waste management that can bring all the stakeholders under one strong regulation is the prime hindrance to progress.”

For solution, Sinha urged promotion of innovative incentives among stakeholders and introducing public-private-community partnerships to direct the waste management cycle systematically. DSCC has to spend 24.51 crore per year in transporting the waste. “Promoting these will create a win-win situation. Without such steps only budget will expand, without bringing any real change,” Sinha said.

“We are open to working in partnerships with private sectors. Already a private company expressed interest in taking 60 tonnes of waste for their compact plant. We are interested to work together no matter how big or small the initiatives are,” Md Zahid Hossain, Chief Waste Management Officer of DSCC said.