We have all witnessed how the textile and apparel sector for Bangladesh has flourished with exports to the foreign countries. The "Made in Bangladesh" tags have spread all over the world. BGMEA (Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association) statistics show that the RMG (ready-made garment) sector is earning 81.71 per cent of the total exports of the country, employing about 4.0 million workers (80 per cent of whom are women) in 4296 factories. But in its endeavour to reach its targeted export of $50 billion by 2021, the sector should not forget one of the most valuable assets of the country, which are the rivers.
The textile and apparel industries generate huge volume of water-based waste containing various chemicals used in dyeing, printing and various chemical processes. This effluent generated in these processes is well beyond the national standard and are highly harmful for the environment. An effluent treatment plant (ETP) is designed to treat these wastes or effluent. The treatment process by the ETP does not only reduce the damage done to the environment, but also results in other benefits for the industry. These benefits include improvement of public image, greater recognition from the foreign buyers and compliance with the environmental laws.
Rivers like the Buriganga, Shitalakkha, Balu, Turag and Bangshi are continuously being affected by the textile industries, the tanneries of the Hazaribagh and the factories in Keranigonj. These industries discharge huge amount of wastes into the rivers degrading them every day. The challenge of the industries lie in coping with these untreated waste water through maintaining parameters like, pH, Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and sometimes, heavy metals and colour of the effluent. In meeting such challenges and in setting up ETP, there are some approaches which have already proved to be beneficial.
Under the Environmental Conservation Rules 1997, industrial projects are classified into four categories based on environmental impact and location (Green, Orange A, Orange B and Red). The fabric dyeing and chemical industry in Bangladesh falls under Red category. The Act and Environmental Rules (1997) also state that, it is mandatory for textile industries to set up an ETP to treat the waste before it is released into the environment. The few basic tips before setting up ETP is to select the appropriate place, knowing that the ETP should not be set up close to the wells or reservoirs of drinking water, wetlands or water discharge zones. Secondly, a design-efficient treatment plant is done at a wasted place or idle place to save land. And a third step could be by choosing an appropriate water treatment technology. Studying the effluent type, characteristics and volume can help adopt the ideal technology needed for treatment, such as, whether to use Electrolysis, Bioreactor, Ion Exchange, Thermal Hydrolysis or Chemical Treatment. Ion Exchange is one of the best water treatment technologies and is used to treat contaminated water with dissolved impurities. Studying and characterising the volume includes monitoring the level of pollutants at certain places of effluent entering and leaving the facility, characterising the effluent through analysis in terms of temperature, pH and concentration of effluent, collecting existing information eg., ETP manual and laboratory analysis record, surveying the effluent stream and implementing a regular monitoring regime.
The three typical types of ETP are: biological treatment plant, physico-chemical treatment and the combined physico-chemical and biological treatment. The combined physico-chemical and biological treatment is the most commonly used one in the textile and RMG sector. Although different studies reveal that biological treatment plant is the most efficient in keeping parameters well within the set standards, we need to keep in mind that the biological treatment requires high initial investment and larger land areas than the other two types and lacks in treating the effluent colour. The combined physico-chemical and biological treatment, on the other hand, involves really a high running cost, when it comes to the chemical and energy consumption. The industry needs to learn that the sooner they start managing effluents in the already existing combined physico and biological treatment plants and the chemical plants, the better off will they be in cost reduction, environmental compliance and in attracting overseas buyers.
There are quite a few practices and initiatives through which ETP can be effectively operated. One such practice is by encouraging outsourcing of the effluent treatment requirements. The country has not yet seen such an initiative and there are most likely no companies specialised in this effluent management sector, but there is a scope for interested entrepreneurs or even the government to encourage such specialised companies to get created. The benefits from this would result in adjusting the investment costs for the ETP, use of fully trained and experienced staff in this sector, greater assurance in tackling changing environmental laws and requirements, security of long-term operation. Example of such a practice can be found in the United Kingdom, where companies contract out their ETP requirements and enjoy fair reduction in yearly costs.
Another example of efficient and beneficial operation of ETP has been set by a few companies in Bangladesh, with their chemical ETPs. Among these few companies some of them were interviewed. The Managers and supervisors of these companies possess excellent and up-to-date knowledge of their chemical ETP. They specifically mentioned that identifying the effluent characteristics, keeping routine data and jar testing on a routine basis helped control the dose rate for coagulant/flocculant and helped in maintaining the value of the parameters well within the standards. The companies are also highly motivated and are working on using the treated water from the ETP for use in their rest rooms to reduce costs and usage of water in flushing. An estimated cost of only Tk 0.8 million would be used in such a set-up, which would prove highly beneficial for the company in the long run. These few companies no longer look at the ETP as just a treatment process but also a significant part of their production process.
In case of machineries and equipment used at ETP, variable-frequency drives can be installed which helps in controlling the speed of an electric motor. There can be use of energy-efficient motors, upgrading heating, cooling, ventilation systems, and of course energy efficient lighting system.
Setting up a diversion unit with the existing ETP can also become very beneficial in operating an ETP as it is used to control the unwarranted or risky incidents such as unexpected peaks, in strength, flow or Ph, unexpected spillages etc. This could be controlled automatically, for example, through an on-line Ph monitor or manually through an operator. It can also be used in returning of effluent trickle to the effluent at a suitable point for ETP, re-using the contents of the tank in the manufacturing process etc. Reviewing of each chemical and biological process routinely and appropriately following the ETP monitoring and maintaining guideline would surely result in more efficient performance and reduced running costs.
Private-Public partnership can also play a significant role in setting up and running ETP by creating a local market for equipment and chemicals. In order to balance the variation in prices and regulate uneven competition within the industry for establishing and maintaining ETP, private-public partnership can set up a market where owners of businesses can buy the machinery for ETP operation.
The Finance Minister, AMA Muhith in his budget speech for 2014-15, announced that the government had taken a decision of imposing 1.0 per cent 'Environmental Protection Surcharge'/'green tax' on ad-valorem basis, on all products polluting the environment. The initiative sounds promising, but it definitely needs to be backed by responsible actions from the National Board of Revenues (NBR), as they are still monitoring the names of the companies listed for penal action.
So far, the NBR has listed 760 industries out of the some thousand factories in Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna as the list keeps on changing, when the companies who install ETPs are taken out of the list. It has been observed that, a lot of factories operate plants only just before inspection by the DoE (department of environment) and even bribe the inspectors to generate biased reports.
In an inter-ministerial meeting Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan has stated that industries who have not been running ETPs have already been fined Tk 1.18 billion (118 crore) and those who do not yet utilise them would be shut down. He also mentioned that initiatives have been taken to relocate tanneries to Savar but disagreements remain between the government and the tannery owners regarding the time of relocation and compensation for shifting.
The Central Effluent Treatment Plant (CETP) which was supposed to be ready by this time of the year at Savar for the tanneries has not also been completed, which creates more concerns in the decision of reallocation.
While setting up ETP, choosing the right type of ETP is important, and at the same time maintenance and routine monitoring of the existing ones is equally significant for the entire textile and apparel industry. Choosing the correct ETP for the industry becomes easier, only if the industry is able to understand the effluent characteristic and have proper knowledge regarding the ETP operations. Such initiatives in operating the ETPs by the already existing companies can set examples for the new companies.
Sakib B. Amin, PhD is Assistant Professor, School of Business, North South University, Dhaka; Asif Azam Khan is BSS Student, School of Business and Economics of the same university.