Maqsood and Iftekhar Enayetullah are tackling urban waste disposal
by developing a network of decentralized, financially self-sufficient
composting centers adapted to Bangladeshi conditions.
The New Idea
Capitalizing on the high organic content of domestic waste, and
tapping into a pool of ready labor, Maqsood and Iftekhar are setting
up a string of community-based composting plants that convert garbage
into fertilizer. Their work not only meets the need for efficient
and environmentally sound ways to manage refuse, but also meets
the demand for organic fertilizers. The city government recognizes
these benefits and allows the pair to use vacant lots for their
work. Winning over neighbors required not only a good argument for
recycling, but a technical solution to the infamous stench that
gives trash dumps a bad name, so Maqsood and Iftekhar adapted a
system that would keep the smell down.
Along with composting, Maqsood and Iftekhar have designed and implemented
an inexpensive solid waste management program in two slums of Dhaka.
Supported by the United Nations, they have adapted a Sri Lankan
model of barrel-type composting that allows slum dwellers to compost
their kitchen scraps. People can sell their nutrient-rich products
to Maqsood and Iftekhar's organization. The two point out that it
is meaningless to exhort people living in slums to keep a clean
environment when they don't have enough food on the table. Only
by demonstrating that waste is a resource was it possible to gain
their cooperation. As Mohammad Azizul, a senior slum resident, remarked,
"The slum is cleaner, we are earning money, and there is less
Bangladesh has a garbage problem. Dhaka, with some ten million inhabitants,
is having particularly serious difficulties keeping up with its
ever-increasing waste disposal burden. The city now generates over
thirty-five hundred metric tons of waste every day, far outstripping
the coping capacity of municipal authorities. Other urban areas,
such as Chittagong, with a population of four million, and Khulna,
which has nearly one million residents, are said to produce over
twelve hundred and two hundred metric tons of waste per day, respectively.
In the slums, where over 30 percent of the population lives, there
is no municipal waste pick-up service. Back in Dhaka, municipal
workers and informal scavengers manage to collect less than half
the trash. What remains, as much as nineteen hundred metric tons,
goes uncollected and finds its way into storm drains or lies around
in the streets, marketplaces, slums, open dumps, vacant lots, and
riverbanks. Garbage overwhelms man and nature alike. Inadequate
collection, treatment, and the final disposal of solid waste result
in pollution of ground and drinking water, contamination of food,
spread of disease, clogged drains, and a marked deterioration in
the quality of urban life. The other environmental problem Bangladesh
faces is excessive loss of topsoil fertility from overuse of chemical
fertilizer and pesticide. Organic matter is now estimated at less
than one percent; the critical level is three percent. Before the
green revolution, farmers used cow dung or decomposed wastage to
nourish the soil. Today, dung is burnt for fuel and the chemical
fertilizers that replaced it have flowed into rivers and canals,
killing off several local species of fish.
Yet these two problems-overflowing garbage in the city and the organic
depletion of the countryside-may have a common solution.
Maqsood and Iftekhar's solution is conceptually simple-they propose
to transport organic matter from where it is a loathsome surplus
to where it can be an environmental boon-but operationally complex,
because it relies on private citizens, government, and business
in order to work.
Before they began, Maqsood and Iftekhar surveyed neighbors to find
out how they felt about solid waste management and whether they
would be willing to participate. The survey showed that most residents
were not satisfied with Dhaka's existing municipal trash collection
service, and that they were interested in finding an alternative.
Whenever Maqsood and Iftekhar seek to open a new compost plant,
they use this survey, the results of which are always the same.
The first time out, however, though they were encouraged by the
survey results, they knew that no one wanted a garbage dump next
door. Finding a site within the community was a challenge, but finally
the Lions Club agreed to provide land. The next hurdle to clear
was to demonstrate to neighbors that what Maqsood and Iftekhar proposed
was no ordinary dump--putrid and unsightly--but a productive source
of income. They had already researched composting methods exhaustively,
narrowing down their technical options to two systems, the Chinese
Pile and the Indonesian Windrow. The Indonesian technique controlled
the stench better, so Maqsood and Iftekhar adapted the size and
shape of the aerators to suit their purpose.
With the right technology in place, Maqsood and Iftekhar were ready
to start working with the people. By working with neighborhood associations,
communicating about their plans through posters, and creating appropriate
training materials, they gradually taught the importance of separating
trash at the source, with later composting in mind, as well as recycling
in general. Training was an individualized affair, with field workers
visiting each household individually.
The message that Maqsood and Iftekhar brought to the neighbors is
the same one that guides their overall philosophy: waste is a resource.
They have put this belief into practice by successfully marketing
the organic fertilizer their constituents produce. Armed with data
linking decreasing crop yields to increasing use of chemical supplements,
they found that nearly all farmers were interested in an alternative
way to nourish the soil. Maqsood and Iftekhar have signed a memorandum
of understanding to supply a fertilizer company, which will purchase
in bulk and market the product. In fact, other companies are similarly
interested, but for now the producers can handle only one large
contract. At present, it costs about two cents to produce a kilogram
of compost, which can be sold at nearly four cents. Though the Ministry
of Agriculture promotes the use of organic fertilizer, Maqsood and
Iftekhar want to see them do more: they are pushing for it to become
the main bulk purchaser, as is the case in India and the Philippines,
since it has the largest marketing and distribution networks.
After five years of running their demonstration program and knocking
on government doors, Maqsood and Iftekhar have finally been able
to convince the Municipal Corporation and Public Works Department
to provide government land for community composting. This has been
no simple matter, for over the last decade, the price of land has
skyrocketed in Dhaka City, and authorities are wary of letting public
land fall into the hands of private individuals or organizations.
Maqsood and Iftekhar managed to develop a network within government
bureaucracies that facilitated an agreement with the Ministry of
Environment, the Municipal Corporation, and the Public Works Department.
Under this arrangement, the Ministry would undertake the project
and Maqsood and Iftekhar would be the implementing agency, thus
allaying the Corporation', and Public Works' fear. Their land would
be under the control of a government ministry, not in private hands.
The other barrier that Maqsood and Iftekhar faced was that respective
government bodies claimed that there was no land available. Undaunted,
Maqsood and Iftekhar surveyed and identified vacant lands themselves
and developed a strategy for zone-wise waste management through
a network of decentralized composting plants. Based on their own
experience, they have demonstrated that creative private ventures
can support the work of waste disposal authorities and generate
revenue for all those involved. They are, therefore, advocating
for greater government, non-government, and private sector partnerships
to tackle this serious problem.
Various individuals, non-government organizations, city officials,
and municipal authorities from across the country are now approaching
Maqsood and Iftekhar to receive training and advice on establishing
similar programs elsewhere. World Bank and Swiss Development Corporation
have recognized their innovative approach and are providing support
to an organization in Khulna City to be trained under a plan to
start a composting plant by the end of 2000.
Maqsood and Iftekhar organized a regional seminar in early 2000
that brought together different groups and policy makers in South
and South East Asia working with solid waste management, particularly
in community waste-management schemes. The objectives of the workshop
were to exchange and document best practices and experiences as
well as build awareness regarding different initiatives across the
region. Through this international network they intend to further
develop their regional database for use by academics, students,
government departments, civil society organizations, and others.
In addition to convincing the Municipal Corporation, Public Works
Department, and Ministry of Environment to set up similar programs
in other parts of Dhaka, Maqsood and Iftekhar were also largely
responsible for incorporating recycling and composting into the
National Sanitation Policy in 1998. The next step is to bring the
program within the national framework by incorporating it in the
by-laws of municipal authorities. In India, this was accomplished
through the intervention of the Supreme Court. Maqsood and Iftekhar
are studying the India experience in preparation to do the same
The program has received wide media coverage, and was recognized
in July 1999 as an urban innovation by the Urban Management Program
executed by UNCHS and Habitat. In addition, they have received support
from USAID's Regional Urban Development office and UNDP's Sustainable
Environment Management Program. These connections and public tributes
can only help to change attitudes regarding the management of domestic
waste as well as forge a sense of community responsibility for self-development.
Maqsood was born and raised in Dhaka City and grew up under
the influence of his father's charitable work and participation
in social development projects. In school he joined the scout club
and took part in different nature activities and clean-up programs.
After earning his degree in architecture, Maqsood and two classmates
set up a firm, but later they all pursued their studies, including
Maqsood, who went on to earn a master's degree in urban planning
from the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand. His thesis investigated
informal recycling in Dhaka.
Iftekhar comes from a family of philanthropists. His grandfather
and uncle established schools and mosques in their village. His
father joined the public works department, but Iftekhar recognized
that civil service would not be a satisfying route to reaching his
own public service goals, and so he studied to be a civil engineer
and, like his future partner Maqsood, wrote a thesis on solid waste
In fact, the pair met while completing their separate research.
They decided to work together to develop programs for urban waste
management. They offered free services to the municipal body, to
the local engineering department, and to other government agencies,
but found no takers. Most of the ministries were only interested
in large, expensive, mechanized projects of the kind that have,
in fact, failed in most developing countries. One official heard
them out then challenged them: if their ideas for community-managed
compost plants were so great, why didn't Maqsood and Iftekhar create
them themselves, without government help? Inspired by the challenge,
they founded Waste Concern.
mission is to develop the profession of social entrepreneurship
around the world. Ashoka invests in people. It is a global non-profit
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Ashoka identifies and invests in these social entrepreneurs when
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Starmedia and the InterAmerican Bank. Ashoka Fact Box: ·
Elected over 1,200 Ashoka Fellows in 44 countries since 1982 ·
Ashoka Fellows work in the 6 broad fields of o Learning/Education
o Environment o Health o Human Rights o Civic Participation o Economic
Development · We elect approximately 150 new Fellows each
year · Ashoka is not a foundation, nor a government agency.
We do not accept government funds (only funds from private individuals
Ashoka was founded by Bill Drayton, a former McKinsey & Co.
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