Imperative : Improving Dhaka’s garbage disposal system

Garbage disposal in Dhaka city, a city of nearly 20 million people, remains archaic and , therefore, very inefficient to say the least. According to one reliable estimate, 5,000 tons of domestic refuses are created every day in Dhaka city. Another estimate says that annually about 9.7 million tons of solid wastes are created in the city. From the figures, one should have no difficulty understanding that garbage disposal confronts the city with huge tasks to be performed efficiently on a daily basis.
Presently, garbage disposal is carried out mainly by trucks stopping near dustbins and using manpower to load the garbage on the trucks for their ultimate dumping at landfills. But these landfills are poorly managed. Some of these are situated well within the metropolitan areas and are a source of serious environmental pollution for a large number of the city’s residents . Besides, these are landfills in name only which are not leading to ultimate land formation from maintaining them.
The best international practice nowadays is to sort out the garbage and make best use of them that include recycling. Advanced garbage management involves separating them into different categories and making commercial products out of them. For example, kitchen refuses and other biodegradable forms of garbage can be utilized to make organic composts that can be of much value to farming specially safe farming with non chemical fertilizers. Garbage of this type can be also burnt to produce a considerable amount of power. Other forms of garbage such as tin, rubber, plastics, etc., can be recycled to produce commercially valuable products.
The most important aspect of such garbage management is :the garbage is not allowed to be stockpiled. From the collection stage, the same go directly into recycling or production processes to make useful products. Thus, the garbage just changes form into new usable products and non piling up of the garbage helps a great deal in keeping the environment clean.
The establishing of a modern garbage disposal or management system for Dhaka city with recycling and reuse of the garbage at its core, has become imperative for the sheer reasons of the present poorly managed system and to cope with the future pressure to be created from allowing garbage to accumulate in the traditional manner.
It was heartening to note that the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) sometime ago had an agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to set up a modern garbage recycling plant for Dhaka city. Under this project, the garbage of the city would be carried swiftly beyond the metropolitan areas to well supervised sites. The garbage would be separated there using latest technology. Some of it would be burnt to produce power and the same could be added to the distribution network of the Dhaka Electricity Supply Authority (DESA). Other garbage like plastics, bottles, tin cans, etc., would be separated and recycled to make commercial products from the same.
But the point of worry is that this project is not being pushed as hard as it should be towards its fastest completion. Like many other ambitious and incomplete projects, it is getting stalled by the bureaucracy and vested interest groups who have a stake in maintaining the present mode of garbage disposal. Therefore, the challenge for the government is to overcome these hurdles and introduce the modern system of garbage management at the fastest.
While the news of the establishment of the garbage recycling plant is a hopeful one, there is a lot that the DCC can presently do to create some orderliness in the disposal of garbages from the city. The recycling plant will take some years to set up. Meanwhile, the DCC management ought to work harder to get more out of its garbage clearance squads. DCC authorities complain about insufficient manpower and vehicles in these squads. But the real reason for the present chaos and inefficiency in garbage collection can be traced to sheer apathy and corruption. DCC authorities need to take a hard look at this situation and do something in response
Perhaps there is no other parallel of a big and modern city like Dhaka which has a garbage disposal system deficient in all respects like it. It is unthinkable in most cities and countries of the world that garbage and that too very odious, can be carried in uncovered conditions in trucks through the city’s thoroughfares in day time which we see all the time in Dhaka. The spectacle is obviously a filthy one . The foul smell emanating from such garbage carrying trucks during office hours can be very unpleasant experiences for the office goers and all other commuters in the city who may have come out from their homes after freshening themselves. From the perspectives of the environment, health and sanitation, the doing away of such carrying of refuse for good, has been overdue. Governments have come and governments have gone. But none ever seemed at all bothered to work for a proper system of garbage clearance.
In most cities of the world specially in capital cities, the practice is to start garbage clearance from after midnight till the small hours when traffic movement is found to be thinnest. Why can’t we have a similar system for Dhaka ? Where is the difficulty ? The same staff of the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) who are responsible for garbage disposal, they can be obliged to work in the night instead of the day time. And it should be inexpensive as well as very easy to at least maintain tarpaulin covers on the trucks filled with garbage when travelling to dumping sites.
Medical wastes carry germs of diseases such as hepatitis B and AIDS. In Bangladesh, medical wastes have not received much attention and these are disposed of together with domestic waste in many cases. Improper medical waste management is alarming in Bangladesh specially in Dhaka and other major cities. It poses a serious threat to public health. There is a need to initiate a concentrated effort to improve the medical waste management to reduce the negative impact of such wastes on the environment and public health .