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            Volume 11 |Issue 17 | April 27, 2012 |


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Starting from the Beginning

DoE's initiative to separate different kinds of household waste is perhaps the first step to deal with our cities' mounting garbage

Tamanna Khan

Last year, as part of an exchange programme, I had to stay at American homes and familiarise myself with their life style. Two things that I found hard to remember were – the American word for dustbins and the type of garbage I was suppose to throw into the two almost identical bins tucked inside the kitchen cabinet.

The three plastic bins provided by government to separate waste at the source. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

In Bangladesh, thanks to the Department of Environment (DoE), people with weak memories like mine, at least do not have to bother about the latter part. Under the Waste Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (3R) Pilot Project (phase-1) implemented in some selected areas of Dhaka and Chittagong, more than 60,000 bins in three different colours – green, yellow and red — have been distributed to more than 20,000 households. On the lids of the bins, the kind of garbage that each coloured bin should hold is clearly written in bold black letters. There is hardly any chance to get confused.

Conventionally, in our country, all types of garbage whether organic, inorganic, bio-degradable or toxic are disposed of at open dumps, lowlands or water bodies. Decomposition of the organic garbage in the dumping sites emits methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas, polluting the air. The toxic waste, on the other hand, pollutes our water bodies, killing aquatic life.

This condition would have worsened had the informal sector not intervened and discovered an economic opportunity in these dumps.

In our country about four to 15 per cent of the total waste is recycled by the informal sector, and about 120,000 urban poor of Dhaka are involved in the recycling trade. However, no safety precautions are taken during the collection or recycling phase. As a result, the trade becomes risky for the people involved.

To ensure proper dumping and recycling and to reduce green house emission, the DoE, under the Ministry of Environment and Forest, has taken up the 3R pilot project. From April this year, the 3R pilot project has been launched in Dhaka's Gulshan, Baridhara, Gonobhaban (Mohamma-dpur), Dhanmondi, Minto Road and Chittagong's Nasirabad, Shugandha Housing, Hill View Housing, Khulshi, North Khulshi, Panchlaish Housing Society, Moushumi Residential Area and Jamalkhan Area. The project is being funded by the Government of Bangladesh under the Climate Change Trust Fund.

The DoE with cooperation from Dhaka and Chittagong City Corporation is distributing three types of garbage bins to ensure source separation of waste. Kitchen garbage or organic waste are to be thrown in the green bin, the yellow bin is for plastic, glass, metal, cans, containers, toys, and paper while the red bin is for battery, electrical goods and other toxic waste. The objective of the project is to create awareness about waste minimisation and ensure participation of citizens in the venture.

Quazi Sarwar Imtiaz Hashmi, director (planning) DoE and deputy director of the 3R project, informs that the organic portion of the waste will be sent to a compost plant. The project plans to build two 20-tonne compost plants in Dhaka and Chittagong and the pilot implementation phase will end by 2013. Hashmi says, “The plastic, metal and other materials that can be recycled will create an extra source of income for the garbage collectors.” Waste separation at the source will also prevent risky scavenging at dumping sites and toxic materials can be dumped in a proper manner, he notes.

Unfortunately, the separated garbage gets mixed up — a problem yet to be solved. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Yet, as the idiom goes, you can lead a horse to the water but you can't make it drink; it is difficult to change an already established attitude or perception. Kulsum Begum, cleaner of a five-storey building in Dhanmondi Road-12A, with 20 apartments, complains that only six houses out of the 20 have used the bins given by the government on April 16. “Only one house gave the red bin and I collected the green ones from six houses,” she says, pointing at the lone red bin she had just collected. The red bin had been loaded with paper and plastic wrapping, toys and other inorganic household goods.

Looking at the overflowing red bin, one may try to justify its wrong contents. It is mostly our house-help who take care of the household waste. Unfortunately, most of them are illiterate. But then, the different colours are meant for those who cannot read. Interestingly, Hashmi informs that the household help have been trained to use the bins.

Three non-government organisations—Uttara Development Programme Society (UDPS), Bangladesh Association for Social Advancement (BASA), and Shukhi Bangla Foundation (SBF), are helping the DoE with the survey, distribution and training. Md Shahidul Islam, senior coordinator of BASA informs that they started the field level survey work to collect data on the households in December 2011. Currently, they are helping the DoE with distributions of the bin and training of housewives, household help and van-pullers.

Sajib Pradhan, caretaker of an apartment building where Kulsum works, admits receiving instructions from the City Corporation officials who came to distribute the bins. “The bins were given free of cost and they told us what to throw in which bin,” he says.

However, once the separate bins are collected from the individual houses, they are all emptied together into a van that carries the waste to a City Corporation designated dumping station, nullifying the reason behind this separating process. The van that carries the garbage to the station does not have any separate compartment for the three different types of garbage. Thus the waste separated at the source gets mixed up before it reaches the dumping station.

When the situation is brought to Hashmi's notice, he says that since the pilot project is still at its initiation phase, the entire process has not been set right in all the pilot areas. He however assures that in Azimpur, the van-puller has separate bags in three colours to collect the garbage separated at the source.

The general attitude of residents in most cities, especially in Bangladesh, is 'we dump – they collect'. In fact, most of us do not even know what happens to the loads of garbage that we generate each day. Nor do we have any idea of how much waste we produce each day. A study conducted by JICA in 2005 shows that Dhaka alone generates 3,000 tonnes of waste per day which is enough to fill up the entire Kawran Bazar area.

Hashmi says, “Here in our country, the per capita waste is more than ½ kg. But in affluent areas like Gulshan and Banani it is more than 1 kg.” While our modern, disposable, consumer culture continuously adds to the increasing volume of waste each day, our planet's space to deal with so much waste is not increasing. The only solution lies in changing our attitude towards creating and managing waste. The 3R project, if implemented properly may turn out to be a small first step.

Initially, the maid at our house showed reluctance to use the bins distributed by the government. However, when she began to notice how other household help in the building were using the bins, she too started to cooperate. Changing our attitude and our perception may be a small step in solving the garbage problem of our world today, but it is worth a try.



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