Can we turn the city’s waste into wealth? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 17, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:04 AM, November 17, 2020

Can we turn the city’s waste into wealth?

It’s time to develop a sustainable waste management system for Dhaka

Recently, Dhaka South City Corporation has brought some changes to its waste collection system, unfortunately creating more dissatisfaction among its inhabitants than relief. The DSCC has appointed one primary collection service provider (PCSP) in each ward for collecting waste from all kinds of establishments under its jurisdiction. Until now, DSCC authorities have appointed PCSP in 69 out of its 75 wards. While previously local social service organisations were managing the job of collecting wastes with vetting from the local ward councillors, now the responsibility of collecting waste has been handed over to private contractors. 

Reportedly, residents are unhappy with the new system as they are being charged excessively and getting sub-standard service by the newly-appointed contractors. While previously each household unit had to pay around Tk 40-50 to the service providers, now they have to pay an increased amount of Tk 100 for the same service. There are also allegations against the garbage collectors of charging the residents more than Tk 100.

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Several residents of Jatrabari's Konabari area (ward-64) also told The Daily Star that the newly appointed garbage collectors often dump all kinds of garbage on canals and sewerage lines. Citizens have also raised questions as to why they have to pay the private companies for waste collection as they are already paying different kinds of taxes to the city corporations. The DSCC needs to give its inhabitants a satisfactory answer and immediately solve the problems faced by them.

Dhaka's waste management system has always been very chaotic because of lack of proper planning and foresight. With the city and its population growing manifold, garbage disposal has become an acute problem. Heaps of garbage piled up here and there in any given area of the city is a common sight and the residents also seem to have become nonchalant about the pollution it causes to the environment. The newly elected mayors of both city corporations promised to develop a sustainable and environment-friendly waste management system for the city. Now it's time to see their action in this regard.

Reportedly, around 6,250 tonnes of garbage are produced in both city corporations every day, a major portion of which goes into open drains, canals and water bodies due to the incapacity of the city corporations to collect it. In fact, last year a Prothom Alo report exposed how city corporations hardly had any control over the city's waste collection system and how waste collection became a big business for local leaders and activists of the ruling party who had been earning crores of taka from it annually. (October 13, 2019) After the new mayors took office, has anything changed? Will giving the responsibility of primary waste collection to private contractors improve the service and stop the illegal business with waste?

In developed countries of the world, there are no such organisations like the primary waste collection service providers. People themselves drop off their waste into the designated bins. According to Dr Tanvir Ahmed, director, ITN-Buet Centre for Water Supply, Sanitation and Waste Management, "In the developed cities, waste from high-rise buildings is directly transported to the garbage containers set up by municipal corporations through waste chute system."

Garbage chutes are long tunnels built into the interior structure of the building that end in a garbage container. Each floor usually has its own garbage chute. The residents just drop their tied up garbage bags into the chute through the opening which then directly go to main garbage container.

"Where waste chutes are not applicable, residents themselves drop their garbage bags into the containers. There are different coloured bags for recyclable, kitchen and medical wastes. The specially designed garbage trucks collect the wastes from the containers through automatic loaders. So, no additional labour is needed to segregate, load and transport the garbage."

Since we do not have such a system in place, what we the residents can at least do is drop off our own waste to the nearest garbage bins. Unfortunately, that is not an option for many of us since our city authorities could not yet install enough waste collection containers at convenient locations. Also, we have not yet developed the habit of dropping off our daily waste ourselves.

According to Dr Tanvir Ahmed, in the USA, Canada and other European countries, the responsibility of garbage collection and management is delegated to the private sector. Individual services are designed by the consultants and implemented by the private companies. The local government bodies are there only to make regulations and monitor the entire system.

However, the major challenge for us to develop such a system is that we do not have the skilled workforce; capacity building is a major issue here.

While a landfill is the least preferred option of waste management in the developed countries, unfortunately in Bangladesh, this has always been the most preferred option for dumping all kinds of waste. This is because we could not yet develop a system where each kind of waste can be collected separately. For a sustainable waste management system, kitchen waste, recyclable plastic waste, electronic waste—all must be collected separately. "Unfortunately, what we still do is dump all kinds of waste in the landfills and the recyclable plastic wastes and electronic wastes are collected by the waste pickers from there. Therefore, an important part of waste management goes to the informal sector, which cannot be controlled by the authorities concerned," says Dr Tanvir.

In a standard system, kitchen waste should be used to produce energy and fertiliser while plastic waste should be recycled and e-waste should be managed by the companies who sell them. We need to adopt this basic practice of segregation without which solid municipal waste management becomes a difficult job. According to Abu Hasnat Md Maqsood Sinha, co-founder and executive director of Waste Concern, "A regulation called "Urban Waste Management Handling Rule" is being formulated by the government which is in its final stage. It will provide a complete guideline on how to separate waste at source, how garbage will be collected, transported and disposed of, etc."

Reportedly, the two landfills in Matuail and Aminbazar used by the DSCC and DNCC have almost reached their full capacity. What this means is, soon we will need more land for the purpose of waste dumping, which is not at all sustainable for a city where land is a scarce resource. Besides, these two landfills are causing serious environmental pollution in the adjacent areas, polluting not only air and water bodies but also the groundwater.

In the wake of such a situation, it is good to know about the government's approval to set up the country's first large-scale waste-to-energy plant for Dhaka North City Corporation (TheDaily Star, November 13). The state minister for power and energy has also informed us about a similar plan for Dhaka South City Corporation. These are definitely good initiatives but will only make a difference if we have a complete waste management system which should start from garbage collection and segregation and end in recycle and reuse.

Waste can be turned into wealth through segregation at source and proper management. Are our city corporations ready to work to that end?


Naznin Tithi is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.

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