The Financial Express

Urban solid waste management: A paradigm shift towards circular economy

| Updated: December 20, 2020 20:26:32

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Urban solid waste management: A paradigm shift towards circular economy

At present there is a growing concern in favour of sustainable solid waste management (SWM) issue in developing economies including Bangladesh due to the current growth in waste generation in these countries. Put it that way, further light is being shed repetitively on the environmental impacts of solid waste because of the escalating quantity of waste generation and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Urban solid waste management system is an important part in the context of circular economy of Bangladesh. As the economy is consumption driven and the country has achieved lower middle-income status in 2015, it can afford to purchase more goods and therefore more waste is produced than ever before. This increase in waste generation is a by-product of economic development. SWM is of serious concern globally and needs pertinent attention in a growing economy like us.

A question may arise why SWM is a matter of concern? The answer is straightforward and easily conceivable. People are moving from villages to cities, and the influx of labour force is a significant driver of huge quantity of waste generation. In addition to that, with rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and economic growth, the country is facing substantial waste management challenges to keep the urban centres clean. A number of cities of India, China, Malaysia and Thailand are also facing the problem.

We are not alone in this spectrum. There is progress in this continuum, albeit rather slowly. Urban solid waste generation was 1.3 billion tons per year in 2010 and it is projected to reach 2.2 billion tons per year by 2025 and 4.2 billion tons per year by 2050 globally which is even faster than the rate of urbanisation. By 2025 the urban solid waste generation of Bangladesh is projected to be 47 thousand tons in each day.

SWM system incorporates collection, separation, transportation, processing and disposal of waste. The current waste management practice in the country is the open dumping practice which involves collecting waste from sources and then transported to a low-lying landfill for dumping. This practice causes various problems like environmental degradation i.e., water, soil and air pollution, odour pollution along with several public health risks. Surface as well as groundwater is contaminated by the current management of urban solid waste. Although there is Environment Conservation Rule (ECR) 1997 in place to ensure the environmental compliance, but it is not adequate to ensure sustainable management of waste effluent. Methane (CH4) generation from urban solid wastes poses great threat because it is 34 times stronger than carbon dioxide (CO2).

3R approach (reduce, reuse and recycle) is followed for waste management in a circular economic concept. That is to say, reducing the quantity of toxicity as much as possible before entering the solid waste management stream will reduce the harmful impact on environment. Subsequently making sure the optimal utilisation of the products by using as many times as possible with recycle mechanism and finally, utilising proper technology for recovering energy from solid waste with safe and efficient residual management is fundamental. As it boils down, source reduction and reuse are encouraged and these are the most preferred approaches in waste management hierarchy. The entire approach which creates a synergistic effect is interactive, integrated, and seamless en route for a new economic paradigm transformation.

Political, social, economic, environmental, technological, cultural and educational aspects could influence waste management. Thermal treatment, biological treatment, land filling with energy recovery, and recycling are the four waste management options used worldwide. These technologies may not fit well with the prevailing infrastructure of the country. Moreover, solid waste management requires a multi stakeholder governance structure to put into practice at national level. But technological advancement, government support for developing and implementing policies and private sector involvement for investment will play a crucial role here. Resident's willingness to pay for waste management and recycling is critical in our country context.

In general, from an economic point of view, new technologies often encounter hurdle in inception period for lack of economies of scale, established supply chains and market structure. A business model is required for the sustainable waste management. For instance, waste to energy (WtE) could give a sustainable business model encompassing the circular economic theory. Technological advancement such as bio-composting and incineration to convert waste into energy can be a key for minimising waste and resource use and giving emphasis on recycling and reuse. It will reduce the volume of waste as well as help convert the waste into renewable energy and natural fertilizer improving the quality and efficiency of SWM from the conventional dumping to more smart treatment of waste adhering to circular economy model.

Fourth industrial revolution has remodeled waste management scenario in recent years from a linear to a circular economy. Coal and steam power technology, ushered the first industrial revolution and electricity communication i.e., the telephone, radio and television was the harbinger of second industrial revolution. Internet, mobile technology, renewable energy, circular economy have brought the demarcating line of third industrial revolution moving towards next leaving a substantial impact on our planet.

SWM has been an essential component of every human and social order in every space and time. The approaches for SWM should be attuned with the nature of a given society adapted to go well with a situation in that particular society. As part of waste to energy (WtE) strategies, Bangladesh could explore renewable electricity production potential and connected carbon cutback from solid waste. With environmental sustainability, cost-efficiency and social acceptability are needed to be considered as well while finding solutions for urban solid waste management. Moreover, synergy among social, technical, economic, environment and policy (STEEP) is required for sustainable management of urban solid waste.

Mowshumi Sharmin is an Assistant Director at Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management (BIGM). [email protected] Rafiul Islam is a development practitioner.

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