GARBAGEMAN, a youth-led and tech-based recycling company, was founded in Bangladesh in 2018. At a time when sustainable development and waste management is a major challenge for cities like Dhaka, GARBAGEMAN provides a door-to-door waste collection service, where the goal is to stop Dhaka's wastes from being dumped at landfills. The wastes are then turned into recycled resources.
The organisation collects organic wastes, such as vegetables, fruits and bones and inorganic wastes such as plastic, paper, glass and other materials from different homes. Then, they take these to their recycling facilities, where the inorganic wastes are recycled, and the organic wastes are made into compost to produce high quality fertilisers, suitable for using in gardens, organic farms and green factory landscaping.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, GARBAGEMAN has been particularly trying to engage people in behavioural changes. As people are spending most of their days at home, it is a good time to add some healthier practices to people's lifestyles. GARBAGEMAN is encouraging citizens to consciously separate items such as plastic, paper or glass when throwing out the trash, which are being collected by the organisation for recycling. Monstar Lab Bangladesh is also helping them design an app for this purpose, which they will be launching soon. The company is facilitating several other noteworthy programmes, during this pandemic.
Waste collectors fall under the essential workers category. However, this fact is not socially acknowledged to the extent that it should be. For years, they have been vulnerable, working without any safety gear and under extreme conditions.
"There are community organisations that these cleaners work under, but ultimately, the whole sector of recycling waste does not have very formal standards of procedure," said Fahim Uddin Shuvo, CEO, GARBAGEMAN. "We identified that the problem was in the lack of safety gear as well as training, in relation to how and why to use the equipment and an overall understanding of the severity of COVID-19."
The organisation has been distributing safety equipment and daily food to these essential workers, because the pandemic has stopped their earnings from door-to-door garbage collection and selling scraps.
Since GARBAGEMAN does not want this to be a one-time effort, they have also approached the house owners' associations and other community organisations that have these workers on their payroll. In their first phase, they supplied safety equipment and food to nearly 250 of these workers in 14 sectors of Uttara, and 150 workers in Tejgaon. Currently, they're raising funds for the workers in Gulshan. Additionally, they are trying to create a database of information about every worker.
Fahim mentioned that Footsteps Foundation, Socio Economic Backing Association (SEBA), Dhaka Rotary Club, the Global Shapers Dhaka Hub, and Resource Co-ordination Network Bangladesh (RCNB) have been of great help with their initiative. However, he claimed that there are certain limitations.
For GARBAGEMAN, this initiative was an immediate crisis response. It would, perhaps be best if any non-profit organisation took up this project for the long haul. The health risks of waste collectors should be considered on a regular basis, not just during a global emergency. "We need to address their needs and focus on enabling them to enhance their performance. It needs to be a continuous process, which will ideally not be possible without the support of the Dhaka City Corporation," said Fahim.
GARBAGEMAN wants to empower the waste collectors and scrap sellers of Dhaka by creating a model shop for them, complete with safety gear, training and connections to the local communities. They have surveyed a bunch of scrap sellers and hope to invest in them soon, after the pandemic subsides. The organisation goes live on Facebook every Thursday on 'Trash Talk', their newly launched online discussion show. They connect people who have been working in the waste management sector, with individuals who know the socio-economic or technical aspects of it, such as employees from UNDP in Bangladesh.
When asked about the disposal of masks and gloves that has become a hazardous problem during the pandemic, the CEO requested everyone to stop randomly throwing used gloves or masks on the streets to avoid further spread of diseases, or to at least consider covering them before discarding to avoid affecting the waste collectors. He also said that people can wear the reusable masks and gloves, approved by WHO, in order to reduce waste. "We should have designated collection points for these items," concluded Fahim.