Are we doing it right?

by Mohammad Abdur Razzak | Published: 00:00, Jul 15,2020


A New Age file photo of September 2019 shows garbage-covered water in low-lying areas beside a the Amin Bazar dump that the Dhaka North City Corporation manages on the outskirts of the capital city. — Rashad Ahmad

SANITARY landfill is a public facility where municipal solid waste is finally disposed of. It is a carefully designed structure built into or on top of the ground where trash is kept quarantined from the surrounding environment. This separation is done placing impermeable liner at the bottom and by the side. The landfill is managed in such a way that trash decomposes quickly. No other essential facility but for, perhaps, an airport is difficult to plan. An open air crude dump site is a simple facility without any environmental considerations.

A sanitary landfill needs to qualify a range of environmental conditions such as location restrictions: a landfill has to be sited in a suitable geological area away from faults, wetlands, flood plains, airport and other restricted areas; composite liners requirements: to prevent ground water, surface water and underlying soil contamination, flexible membrane (ie, geo-membrane) overlaying two feet of compacted clay soil lining should be used the bottom and sides of the landfill; leachate collection, treatment and disposal systems: municipal solid waste releases moisture contents known as leachate during the process of decomposition which is to be guided through a well designed and laid pipe network into a pond where leachate is treated to release water into the environment; operating practices: a landfill needs very skilled operation and management to reduce odour, control litter, insects, rodents and protect public health; groundwater monitoring requirements: despite all good practices of landfill operation and management, groundwater around the site should be tested to confirm leachate has not escaped from the landfill; closure and post-closure plan: a periodic cover of waste at the site and post-closure care i.e long-term care of the site at the end of service life, should be designed during the planning phase of the landfill. Appropriate fund should be allocated for environmental protection during the post-closure care; and periodic management intervention: the operation of a landfill is complex. Therefore, periodic management intervention is essential to adjust to the change requirement.

Landfills are very important component of waste management. Dump can be safely linked to very high level of risks and potential harm. An open dump site is a source of fumes from burning hazardous wastes and plastics, contamination of aquifers, and greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide, breeding ground of insects and a source of vector-borne diseases. The development of sanitary landfill 100 years ago was one of the single most important steps in waste management minimising the adverse effects of poor solid waste disposal methods.

Landfill is a public facility where people do not visit. It is a city’s backyard and remains out of public sight. Despite the beginning of engineered and controlled disposal site, common waste disposal methods in most of the developing countries are open air crude dumping on land, wet land, rivers, canals, etc. Despite innovations in waste management, landfill will remain an integral part of waste management as some wastes or even residuals after treatment will invariably need exclusive place for safe disposal.

Landfills are owned and managed by local governments organisations ie city corporations and municipalities. Out of 12 city corporations, nine have designated municipal solid waste disposal sites. Out of 328 municipalities, some have designated disposal site and some do not have any. For example, Cox’s Bazar, Barguna, Gopalganj and Bagerhat have disposal sites and Mongla, Maksedpur and Kaliganj municipalities do not have any disposal site. Union councils, the lowest tier of the local government, are not in the process of even conservancy management. Information on siting, planning, construction and operations management of following landfills have been obtained through visits to disposal sites, discussion with waste management staff and interpreting satellite images.

The Matuail landfill is the largest landfill in the country. This site is owned and managed by the Dhaka South City Corporation. It was built in 1993 on 50 acres of land. Beside this old landfill, another landfill was built in 2005 on 50 acres of land with technical assistance from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Beside the current location, another project to develop a new landfill with resource recovery facility on 81 acres of land has been taken. Since 1993, an estimated 15 million tonnes of waste has been dumped in these landfills. Some of the sanitary arrangements such as periodic soil cover, gas recovery system, etc are absent. The landfill has a leachate treatment plant to prevent groundwater contamination. Landfills eventually turned into an open-air crude dump site although they were built with the concept of a sanitary landfill. Landfills do not have closure and post-closure maintenance plans.

The Amin Bazar landfill is the second largest waste disposal site. The site is owned and managed by the Dhaka North City Corporation. It was sited in 2005 and built in 2008. The concept was to build a sanitary landfill but it ended up as an open-air crude dump site. In its planning and development stages, operations and management staff were not considered. Post-closure care and the use of the site were also not considered in planning. Therefore, operations management has faced difficulty since the site was set up. Available data show that between 2014–2015 and 2019–2020, about 5.63 million tonnes of waste was dumped in the landfill. The landfill receives all types of waste that is thrown into waste collection points. The service life of the landfill was designed until 2017 at planning. The Waste Management Department had to put in extraordinary efforts to extend service life to 2021. The landfill has a waste treatment plant, preventing ground waste contamination. The Dhaka North City Corporation for the first time used soil cover there in 2018. The landfill also does not have closure and post-closure maintenance plan.

The Rajshahi City Corporation dump was founded in 2004. It was a desolate location at the time of siting. Gradually population settlement has gone close to 500 metres of the dump. It receives assortment of all types of wastes. Part of the landfill is used as cattle market. Approximately 1.5 million tonnes of waste has been duped here since it went into operation. There is no sanitary arrangement at the dump like leachate treatment plant, gas recovery facility or periodic soil cover. There is also no management intervention to manage changed requirements. It is an open air crude dump site than a sanitary landfill.

The Sylhet City Corporation waste disposal site was established in 1995 on 7 acres of marshy land. It is situated just beside he Sylhet–Fenchuganj Road. There is an insignificant settlement within one kilometre of the site. Over the years, the site has extended all around and satellite image interpretation shows that approximately 225,000 square metres of the surrounding water body has been filled with wastes. Traces of mass open burning of wastes in the dumpsite were found. An estimated 1.8 million tonnes of waste has been dumped in this site. The site does not have any kind of sanitary arrangement.

The Barishal City Corporation dump was established in 2005. There was an in insignificant settlement within 500 metre when it was sited. Population settlement is gradually getting closer. There is no landfill management unit to operate and manage the landfill. An estimated 700,000 tonnes of municipal solid waste has been dumped in this site. The site does not have sanitary arrangements. It is also an open-air crude dump site.

The Khulna City Corporation has three sites at Rajbad on 20 acres, Shaila on 17 acre and Mathabhanga on 25 acres, set up in 1987, 2008 and 2015. The Rajbad site was desolate when the site was established. But a significant settlement has been noticed close to the site. It was established with paddy fields all around. Smoke from the open burning of waste in the site is observed. Dump sites at Shaila and Mathabhanga are not fully used. The site at Mathabhanga is located close to the River Rupsha and beside the Khulna–Batiaghata Road. After the start of an open-air crude dumping, further disposal of waste has been stopped. All waste disposal sites are open-air crude dump site rather than sanitary landfills.

The Chattogram City Corporation has two sites at Halishahar on 15 acres and at Arefin Nagar on 19.5 acres. The site at Halishar was built in the 1960s close to sea shore and the Arefin Nagar landfill was built in 2010 in the valley. An estimated 6 million tonnes of waste has been dumped in the Halishahar site and an estiamted 3.5 million tonnes in the Arefin Nagar site. None of the landfills have sanitary arrangements. Both the landfills are open-air crude dumps.

The Cumilla City Corporation site at Jhakuni Para was established in 2008 on 10 acres. Satellite images show that the site had a couple of ponds at the time siting which have been filled with wastes. The site does not have sanitary arrangements. In 2008, there was a little settlement around the location. But a significant habitation is observed within 500 metres of the site. An estimated 5,00,000 tonnes of waste may have been disposed of in this site. It is an open-air crude dump site.

The Cox’s Bazar municipality dump started operation in 2010. There is a significant settlement within 500 meters of radius of the site. Satellite images show that the River Bak Khali is about 400 metres and the Cox’s Bazar airport is 1,000 metrs away from the dump. There is risk of leachate flowing into the river. There is also the hazard of groundwater contamination from leachate. Settlement being very close the dump, the public may have been exposed to health risks. An estimated 3,00,000 tonnes of waste could have been dumped in this site. The town of tourist destination has open-air crude dump site.

This brief study comes up with the following observations. None of the waste dumps are sanitary landfill and waste disposal sites are open-air crude dump sites. Qualifying criteria for siting, planning and construction of disposal sites do not seem to have been observed in selecting any dump site. There is an absence of appropriate landfill operation and management unit in the local governments. The landfills generally lack sanitary arrangements risking the contamination of surface and ground water and air space surrounding the sites. The dumps were established away from public settlements, but population pressure led settlements close to the dumps. Cities are getting more densely populated, warranting importance on the construction of sanitary landfills and managing sites in an environmentally-friendly manner. A weak waste management organisation in local governments is the fundamental cause of inappropriate management of the dumps.

Sanitary landfill is critically important in preserving the environment for public good. Our cities are becoming more densely populated. Population settlements are getting closer to disposal sites. The present state of landfills with human habitation in close proximity are hazards to public health and the environment. Local governments cannot prevent population from being settled close to waste disposal sites. But it is within their jurisdiction to construct sanitary landfills, operate and manage them with all environmental protective measures. Only the commitment with a strong waste management organisation will make it happen. Open-air crude dumps sites as the backyard of cities and towns will, otherwise, continue to harm the environment quietly.


Commodore (retired) Mohammad Abdur Razzak is a former chief waste management officer at Dhaka North City Corporation.

More about:

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email