More than 30,000 tonnes of solid waste are generated every day in urban areas of the country.
Are we ready to transform?
Waste is an inherent part of the whole production system, and never to be wasted unwisely.
It will pollute the environment and cause unwanted health hazards.
But if waste can be recycled properly, it will save nature from pollution and transform into wealth.
Introduced in 2018, Garbageman collects organic and inorganic waste from its clients and recycles it.
At Garbageman's 1,800-square feet recycling factory in Uttara, organic wastes are recycled as vermicompost, a composting process using various species of worms to create a mixture of vegetable and food waste. The inorganic ones, particularly the plastics, are processed and shredded for making plastic flakes and sheets.
The company collects more than 6,000kg of waste from its 30 clients including restaurants, grocery shops and domestic houses. Its vermicomposting produces more than 1,000kg of non-toxic fertiliser that has been proven to be a good nutrient for organic farming.
According to the Waste Concern Bangladesh, a Bangladeshi social business enterprise, more than 30,000 tonnes of solid waste are generated every day in urban areas of the country.
According to data of the Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association, the country exports over 20,000 tonnes of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) flakes and earns about $10 million. The business is growing by 20 percent every year.
Everyday waste like kitchen residues, rags, papers, broken glass or metal, multi-layered plastic packs and single-use polybags can be sources of renewable energy.
This is no longer a myth or a seminar room hypothesis, it has already become an established practice in the modern economy.
To spread the message throughout the only known habitable planet in the universe, the global community is observing World Habitat Day this year with the theme "Waste to Wealth".
Observed on the first Monday of October, this year the day aims to promote applications of frontier technologies such as automation, robotics, renewable energy technologies, biotechnologies and artificial intelligence for better, cheaper, faster, scalable and easy-to-use solutions to everyday problems, including waste management.
In Bangladesh, a few visionaries have realised the opportunities hiding in the piles of waste.
Fahim Uddin Shuvo, chief executive officer of Garbageman, said, "Typically, composting fertiliser with organic waste is an age-old idea. So far, the practice, though environmentally friendly, is followed on a very small scale. We pursue some new approaches that help waste segregation and processing to produce value-adding recycled products."
Recently, Garbageman signed a memorandum of understanding with the Delft University of Technology (TUDelft) of the Netherlands. The university is providing technical support to Garbageman.
Fahim said: "With the help of TUDelft, we use an energy-efficient 220-volt power system in the factory. Usually, a 440-volt power system is required for running such facilities."
According to the Waste Concern Bangladesh, almost 80 percent of waste generated in Bangladesh is organic. The organisation predicts that the amount will surpass 47,000 tonnes by 2025.
"There are scopes to transform the organic waste into fertiliser, and the inorganic ones into renewable energy. Due to a lack of proper waste management, only 10 percent of the solid waste is currently recycled in the country," said Abu Hasnat Md Maqsood Sinha, executive director of Waste Concern.
Usually, waste recyclers sort out organic and inorganic wastes manually which is very time-consuming.
But Engineer Akhtaruzzaman Bhuiyan has a solution.
His "Zero Discharge Municipal Solid Waste Management" model needs no solid waste segregation at sources.
"This will not only lessen the burden in waste segregation but will also check environmental pollution by transforming the solid waste into valuable refuse-derived fuel or RDF," said Akhtaruzzaman Bhuiyan, the chief executive officer of RAN Corporation.
RDF is a fuel produced from various types of wastes.
Akhtar's model also produces briquettes with solid waste for industrial gasifiers, boilers, brick kilns or improved stoves.
"The briquette contains 3,800 to 5,000-kilocalorie value. The product can be used as green fuel for power generation," Akhtar said.
Akhtar has designed a power plant to produce energy from waste.
"A 2MW power plant will require briquettes made of 500 tonnes of municipal solid waste. Such a plant will also require an investment of Tk46 crore, three acres of land, 25-30 strong staff including engineers and technicians," he said.
Plastic is reusable
A study by Waste Concern found that per-capita annual consumption of plastic products in Dhaka was 5.56kg in 2005, which increased to 17.24kg in 2017.
It also revealed that every year around 8.21 tonnes of plastic waste are generated in the urban hubs of Bangladesh while some 2.08 tonnes are drained into the sea.
The Bangladesh Plastic Goods Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BPGMEA) is endorsing "New Plastics Economy" to recycle plastic.
Around 3,000 plastic recycling factories across Bangladesh, mostly in Dhaka, collect plastic bottles of different grades and make thin plastic flakes out of them.
"Local entrepreneurs also utilise plastic flakes to manufacture new plastic products," said Nurul Alam Jony, assistant office secretary of BPGMEA.
Sloth reactions of city authorities
For commercial venturing of his model, RAN Corporation's Akhtaruzzaman Bhuiyan submitted his proposal to the Gazipur, Narayanganj, Khulna and Rajshahi city corporations.
Last year, Rajshahi City Corporation inked a memorandum of understanding with a US-based waste technologies LLC to set up a waste-to-energy plant. RAN Corporation is the technical partner of the initiative.
But Akhtar is frustrated that there has been no progress in the initiative so far.
He said the scarcity of land is another problem for implementing the recycling project.
"A 400-tonne-capacity factory requires at least 6 acres of land. Accommodation for such dirt-dealing facilities in overpopulated cities is too challenging," he added.
"In recycling purposes, investment is still low," said Fahim of Garbageman, adding that investors are more interested in the sectors that return money in the shortest time.
Waste Concern's Executive Director Maqsood believes that effective private-public-partnership would solve the problems.
He emphasised access to waste-related data as it is prerequisite for investment.
Md Manzur Hossain, the chief waste management officer at Dhaka North City Corporation, told The Business Standard that there are several proposals on the table to deal with waste in the capital city.
"We can either incinerate the waste to produce construction material or recycle it into compost fertiliser and renewable energy. It will take two or three years to introduce a circular economy in waste management," said Manzur.