The fault in our trash

Hiya Islam | Published: 00:00, Aug 19,2018 | Updated: 23:24, Aug 18,2018


Dhaka--being a city of nearly 20 million people—has to deal with a huge amount of trash every day. However, do we have the sufficient infrastructure? What could be our alternative waste management systems? Hiya Islam ponders over the issue and points out some solutions.

An exploding population rate and men’s devil-may-care stance on environment protection are possibly the only two reasons why our planet will soon turn into a gigantic trash land. It is like plastic cups and label tags lying hither-thither are a surefire way to tell we’ve been in that place. Be it a lonely alley or a far-away island. We are breeding a generation of walking-litter machines. They are moving around tossing Pepsi cans while giggling on their phones, sliding down windows to aimlessly hurl junk out of moving Toyotas. We jump at the chance of doing the Kiki challenge, spend hours perfecting the mannequin challenge. Can we ever try #NoLitterToday challenge?

Ever wondered where that empty Cheetos pack finally ends up at? No, you just think about yourself. Dhaka City Corporation DCC authorities have been forever struggling to make Dhaka a cleaner, greener city. Our beloved city generates about 3500 tonnes of waste per day. And where do they go? The landfills at Amin Bazaar (for North Dhaka) and Matuail (for South Dhaka) are their destination. But not all of them; a quite sizeable percent is left unattended in roadsides, parks, streets and so on. Day in and day out, they rot out in the open gathering disgust from walkers. Even though locals are bothered by such nuisance, little do they do about it- a trait in common with DCC. But before justifying this statement, let’s hop into the idea of landfills.

There are some really good ways to dispose off waste and landfills are one low-cost option. Landfills are basically giant holes filled with layered trash. The bottom of the landfill is lined with dense clay. On top it goes a layer of HDPE (high-density poly ethylene). This prevents liquid from seeping into the ground and contaminating ground water. Next, a drainage system comes into play. The decomposing waste produces a toxic liquid known as leachate that is carried by a network of pipes to an on-site treatment facility. As decomposition still continues, methane is produced. Accumulation of this gas may lead to an explosion. It is also a greenhouse gas so you can’t simply release it in the air. Therefore, a gas collection system is required. Gas extraction wells guide the gas to plants which will harvest its energy in the form of electricity. Then, we have the garbage itself. Everyday rubbish is dumped and rolled flat using heavy machinery. Finally, a layer of soil is added as a cap to control odor and contact with pests and animals. And to separate today’s junk from tomorrow’s, this cuts off air supply. Therefore, the decaying process continues at a very low rate. That is, they are designed to store waste and not break them down. When the storage limit is exceeded, the landfill is closed with a coating of clay, plastic and a thick layer of soil. Shallow-rooted plants are planted.

It is to be noted that such use of land prohibits development and agriculture for decades. But, the area can be smartly used as an eco-park, solar or wind farm et cetera. However, the landfill is monitored for as long as 30 years to check for ground water contamination, gas leakage, tree growth and other steps to ensure the surroundings is not negatively impacted. This defines a modern sanitary landfill, a system meticulously engineered to protect humans and nature.

The current state of the landfills serving Dhaka is disastrous. Even calling it a disaster is an understatement. Amin Bazaar has just exhausted its capacity last year and Matuail is soon to catch up within a year. Initially, Matuail began as a 50-acre open dump in 1995. Another 50 acres were added in 2006 to enable a fully functional sanitary landfill. However, the basic requirements are hardly met. A daily soil cover necessary to prevent vector-borne diseases from spreading is not completed due to ‘high expenses’. The leachate pond is not monitored or carefully tested either. On the other hand, huge volume of waste is turning Amin Bazaar into a junkyard. Built over 52 acres of land in 2007, this uncontrolled landfill is set to be expanded by roughly 80 acres more. Dhaka South City Corporation DSCC has also similar plans in mind. To be specific, a whopping 724 crore taka project called ‘Matuail Sanitary Landfill Expansion and Development’. Wait, there’s more. DSCC intends to introduce waste-to-energy incinerators, a relatively new technology in Bangladesh. It will aid in electricity production and act as a replacement for coal in brick and cement factories. Dhaka North City Corporation DNCC and DSCC both aim to turn ‘too good to be true’ schemes into life. But, the progress is still at an infant stage and the space is rapidly running out. How long would it be before the new sites turn into dumps while making preparations?

The hurdles remain. For the attempts of DCC to be a success, land acquisition troubles, lack of public awareness, negligence and corruption among the people in-charge desperately need to be overcome. The longevity of a landfill depends on its size and the rate of waste production. The biggest issue is the practice of waste disposal in our country. It is high time that a sustainable approach is undertaken. General waste is thoughtlessly heaped over medical and industrial waste. Other waste disposal methods like, composting, combustion, recycling are widely followed in other countries. Instead of sending organic waste to landfills, why not compost them? Finished composts make 100% organic fertilizer fit for home-gardening and agricultural use.

Other possibilities include application in soil erosion control, landscaping and land reclamation. Broken glass, metal scrap, and plastic that get trapped inside can be sorted out at first and sent for recycling. As a result, the volume of rubbish destined for landfills dramatically reduces extending its life. Burn that trash and bury the residues. Banning non-recyclable or non-degradable materials with eco-friendly alternatives further reduces the stress on landfills. Besides, a very lucrative industry can be set up which deals with e-waste, organic and other types of waste. In other words, going green has the potential to bring in loads of cash.

Going green is a favor we would be bestowing upon ourselves. The solution does not lie in mere expansion and dumping. The city never ceases to make junk. We are running out of time and of course, space. In a country of over 170 million citizens, space is certainly not an easy asset to obtain. Landfills must be kept at a minimum number for we have a long way to go. And for this journey to be great, we need to take the best care of our motherland.

Hiya Islam is a student of BRAC University.



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