Garbage into Gold
Bangladesh has a garbage problem. Dhaka, a city of about 10 million has a particularly big garbage problem. Of the 3,500 tons of trash dumped each day, only half is picked up by the city. The rest is left to lie in the open streets of slums, marketplaces, vacant lots and riverbanks, attracting rats, clogging drains and threatening serious disease.
The good news to, Masqsood Singha, and Iftekhar Enayetullah is that 80% of that trash is organic material. That means that with some effort it can be turned into one of the things Bangladesh needs most—nutrient rich compost. Okay, make that a lot of effort.
When these two urban planners first came up with the idea to tackle the problem of Dhaka’s solid waste, no one in the government was interested. One official suggested that if their idea was so great, they should go ahead and do it themselves. Taking the challenge, they founded Waste Concern in 1995, and set about assembling a demonstration project in one of Dhaka’s slums.
Using a simple compost barrel designed in Sri Lanka, they showed the slum’s residents how to separate their trash and sweep their vegetable, fruit, fish and meat scraps into a bin shared by several families. But it isn’t easy trying to convince people to take care of their environment when they make only $600 a year. It was only by convincing residents that they were actually harvesting a resource, that people really began to listen, says Singha.
The two men met tirelessly with neighborhood associations, put up posters and even visited families one by one to train them to use the barrels. Then they struggled to find the land they needed to cure the compost. Finally, a local Lion’s Club came through offering a suitable patch of ground. Once they had their product, however, they knew they would have buyers. Bangladeshi farmers, who were seeing fewer crops and depleted soil after years of chemical fertilizer use, were more than ready to try.
Today, two slums are successfully composting garbage, using hundreds of barrels each. Waste Concern has also started processing garbage for businesses. By the end of this year they expects to generate a total of 233 tons of finished, dry compost each day with a retail value of almost $14,000. The profit goes back to the communities where some of residents have also found jobs with the compost operation.
Mohammad Azizul, a longtime slum resident is pleased. “The slum is cleaner, we are earning money, and there is less illness.”
Check out this short video about the program: http://www.techawards.thetech.org/2003Videos/waste_concern.mov
What do you think?
Taking the simple idea of composting kitchen scraps and making it work for an urban slum where street garbage is a serious health hazard and most of the people live below the poverty line. Sounds like a win-win deal for most municipal governments. Why did Waste Concern encounter such reluctance? There is currently interest in replicating the program in 26 other cities throughout Asia. What are some arguments and incentives innovators might use to bring municipal leaders on board? One might be the Kyoto Protocol’s new system of carbon credits, which counts value in the amount of greenhouse gases that are not emitted when garbage is turned into compost. “From one ton of organic waste,” Sinha says, you can reduce half a ton of greenhouse gas.”
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