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Wednesday, 30 October, 2002, 17:36 GMT
Dhaka 'winning' waste disposal battle
Waste pickers at work
The city produces 3,500 tonnes of garbage every day

Producing nearly 3,500 tonnes of garbage a day, the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, has a huge problem with waste disposal.

It is one of the most crowded cities in the world and space is at a premium.

Our culture says we don't throw away things easily

Maqsood Sinha of Waste Concern

Around half of this garbage is not collected because the city council lacks the cash and the manpower.

But founders of a Bangladeshi NGO, Waste Concern, have developed a new idea which it is hoped will convert much of this waste into compost.

The programme has been so successful that on Wednesday the group was presented with the Race Against Poverty Award from the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Rubbish in Dhaka is no longer thrown away. Instead it is collected by a team from the Bangladeshi group Waste Concern for re-cycling.

Waste not a problem

Eighty percent of Dhaka's garbage - such as food remains - is biodegradable and organic.

Waste Concern arranged for some of it to be taken to one of several processing centres, where it is turned into compost.

Garbage disposal in Dhaka
Most of Dhaka's waste is biodegradable

Waste Concern co-founder Maqsood Sinha, joint winner of the UN's Race Against Poverty Award, says, with a very high density of people, a poor country like Bangladesh cannot afford to look at waste as a problem.

"We have to look at waste as a resource and we believe it is very easy for Bangladeshis to convert waste as a resource. Our culture says we don't throw away things easily", he said.

The collected garbage is brought by bicycle rickshaw to the processing plants, where women workers separate organic waste from other rubbish. It is s then filtered and left to dry in the sun.

The smell may not be too pleasant but after a 50-day period what was once smouldering garbage has become top quality compost that can be sold for up to $50 for a 50 kilogram bag.

Cash for trash

Waste Concern officials say the scheme is more than just another cash for trash project.

"Bangladesh is a small country. We don't have vacant land to dispose of waste.

Garbage picker at work
Dhaka residents have welcomed the project

So if this is not done, then we are heading towards a big problem", said Iftekhar Enayetullah, another Waste Concern co-founder.

Another advantage of the scheme is that it provides an organic alternative in a country where there are so few non-chemical fertilisers.

The compost made in the plants is used to invigorate soils that in many parts of the country are without organic nutrients.

The scheme has been welcomed not just in middle-class areas but also in Dhaka slums where Waste Concern workers have encouraged people to think about re-cycling their organic waste.


Most rubbish in Dhaka is taken to a vast dump in the south-east of the city. Here a team of workers collects plastic items, which are re-sold.

But the vast majority of garbage is left to rot in the heat.

The hope is that the Waste Concern scheme will eventually provide thousands of waste pickers with better paid and more hygienic jobs.

Experts such as Jorgen Lissner, resident representative of the UN Development Programme, say they will face no shortage of work.

The task facing the authorities now is to use the power of advertising - often done to musical accompaniment - to encourage people to use the right form of re-cycling.

Practices such as the collection of medical waste for resale, which go on despite the dangers, will have to be brought to an end.

It is hoped that the award won by Waste Concern will herald a new era of re-cycling in Bangladesh.

See also:

30 Oct 02 | Business
20 Oct 02 | South Asia
21 Oct 02 | Technology
19 Sep 02 | South Asia
14 Aug 02 | South Asia
16 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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