| ||name: Iftekhar Enayetullah and Maqsood Sinha|
organisation: Waste Concern
type of activity: waste management
Established in 1995, Waste Concern is a non-governmental research based organisation, working closely with government, private sector and local communities to improve solid waste conditions. With 21 members, this research-based organisation involves the co-operative efforts of experts from different fields.
Waste Concern has a multi-disciplinary team of experts consisting of civil/environmental engineers, solid waste management specialists, urban and regional planners, architects, chemical engineers, soil scientists, agriculturists, communication specialists, geographers and financial analysts based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The NGO acts as a catalyst and a knowledge broker between sources of information and expertise and project demands. A network of expertise is constantly maintained and expanded in order to provide appropriate knowledge applicable to particular situations.
YXC has developed an imaginary interview with the two young founders of Waste Concern: the urban planner-architect A.H.Md. Maqsood Sinha and the civil engineer-urban planner Iftekhar Enayetullah, who, while conducting their postgraduate research on solid waste management and recycling in early 1994, had the idea to launch an organisation specifically dealing with waste…
You both have an academic background as urban planners. Why did you decide to be ‘waste-concerned’? Urban solid waste management is one of the most immediate and serious environmental problems confronting municipalities in developing Asian countries. Municipal authorities lack the resources to deal effectively with the growing amount of solid waste generated by expanding cities and, as a result, much of this waste finds its way onto roads and into open drains, causing serious health risks.
Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the most densely inhabited cities in the world with a population of over 10 million in an area of only 360 km’178. Its population is growing at 6% annually as rural migrants surge into the city, placing an added burden on an already overloaded system. Over three million people live in slums and receive no municipal sanitation services. The city generates about 5,800 tons of solid waste each day, at least 80% of which is organic and suitable for composting. That's about 1,200 truckloads in total. Around half of this garbage is not collected by the cash-strapped city corporation, and is left to rot in the heat and humidity of the city's open spaces. The resulting stench, rodents, and clogged drains pose a serious health risk to Dhaka's residents.
It is estimated that 55% of Dhaka's population lives below the poverty line; many people scrape together a living by collecting waste. These people play an important role in reducing the city's waste by at least 15%. But whilst waste pickers sift through the garbage for saleable items such as glass and plastic, the economic potential of the organic waste remained untapped until our organisation, Waste Concern, persuaded Dhaka's residents that all their waste is a resource.
What about Waste Concern’s approach? Waste Concern aimed to transform the culture of waste management in Dhaka by introducing the concept of the 4 Rs: Reduction, Reuse, Recycling, and Recovery. We have to look at waste as a resource, and we believe it is very easy for Bangladeshis to do this. Our culture says we don't throw things away easily.
Waste Concern sought to improve urban environmental sanitation through a model for solid waste management with an emphasis on recycling, resource recovery, and public-private-community partnerships. Establishing a network of community-based composting plants (which would convert household organic waste into bio-fertiliser) was the linchpin of our strategy. These plants would create job opportunities for the neglected poor, especially women, by involving them in recycling activities.
How did you succeed in involving community people in this project? It is meaningless to urge people living in slums to keep a clean environment when they don't have enough food on the table. To gain acceptance from slum dwellers, we added a built-in monetary incentive. We had to develop a system that would create income opportunities, as well as take into account the space constraints of the settlements.
And then? In 1995, Waste Concern started a pilot composting plant in Mirpur, Dhaka on land donated by the Lions Club. In Mirpur we have been able to demonstrate that each family could turn its kitchen scraps into a nutrient rich product, which they could then sell to Waste Concern. Making use of the existing network of waste pickers and of simple technology, Waste Concern was able to demonstrate the benefits of a community-based approach.
There we explained in detail how to use drums to create sampad (resources) from moila (waste). Waste Concern workers monitor the program. We also motivate other residents to throw their kitchen waste in the drums. The group that collects the most waste gets a prize.
But you also had to train people… Learning through posters and interactive training sessions, resident associations were quick to embrace the new idea: separate trash at the source, provide organic waste for composting, and generate employment opportunities for the poor, in that order.
Training was an individualised affair; field workers visited each household to discuss waste segregation and composting. Community monitoring of each neighbourhood's project is achieved through the establishment of a local 'Green Force', which acts as a watchdog for environment and solid waste related activities.
The success of this first pilot project also inaugurated a new awareness among governmental stakeholders? The Ministry of the Environment and Forestry under their Sustainable Environmental Management Programme (SEMP) requested that Waste Concern replicate their model in other neighbourhoods. In 1998, with the support of UNDP, Waste Concern did so in four other poor communities around the capital. It took us five years to convince government agencies to back these community-based projects and to enter into the first ever municipal-private partnership in waste management in Dhaka City.
What is the residents’ benefit? To generate revenue for our community-based composting plants, we arranged for fertiliser companies and small nurseries to purchase compost-based bio-fertiliser produced by the plant. Waste Concern's work not only meets the need for efficient and environmentally sound ways to manage waste but also, the organic manure produced is a tonic for which Bangladeshi soil is lacking.
Based on the evidence gathered so far by Waste Concern's pilot project, it appears that this type of micro-enterprise can be replicated in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh as well as in other Asian countries... These projects have disproved the belief that waste processing is not appropriate for densely populated residential areas because of the stench it produces. Waste Concern has demonstrated that small-scale compost plants can be located within the community provided that the appropriate scientific composting method is followed.
And your last comment for us is... Our experience demonstrates that working together in partnership with local governments and private businesses, social organisations and communities can pool their resources and expertise to discover innovative ways for tackling the staggering waste problem in a comprehensive, efficient and sustainable way.