Remember the road in Gazipur being paved with plastic waste mixed with bitumen?
The plastic waste road was constructed by LGED (Local Government Engineering Department) under the Bangladesh government, with technical support from a Bangladeshi company, Greenbud.
While irresponsible production patterns and consumer behaviour have brought the planet's environment and ecosystems on the verge of collapse through the means of pollution, some are looking for ways to earn money from undoing some of these wrongs.
Greenbud is an environmental consultancy firm supporting industries, especially RMG, to become greener and more compliant. The usual services of the firm include environmental testing and inspection services such as measuring air quality, water quality, noise and other parameters. But there are other projects that the company has been implementing.
"Apart from these business services, we also started to sense the need for environmental pollution control which does not have a business value right at this moment but surely needs some attention," Syed Tasnem Mahmood, the founder and CEO of Greenbud, told The Business Standard.
We took interest in the most unusual projects of the firm: the projects that the firm found most challenging. These happen to be the challenges the country, especially Dhaka city, has been facing for a long time.
Sadarghat wastewater treatment plant
Greenbud had been installing wastewater treatment systems for industries since the beginning of the company. In mid-2019, the firm decided to do something about the pollution problem of the Buriganga river. At that time, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) was implementing a walkway project on the bank of the river. The government was also thinking about putting an end to the pollution that plagues the river. Greenbud jumped in and proposed BIWTA to help install a simple effluent treatment plant on a pilot basis.
"We studied a small portion of the riverbank: from Sadarghat to Aadi Buriganga channel. There were 54 sewer lines along this part only. We decided to set up a simple system on one of these drains. The system, operating without electricity or any kind of chemical intervention, would only collect the solid waste and the sewer water would enter the river after some physical filtration," said Tasnem.
The project faced a plastic problem, and 'failed' in a way, but gave important insight into the gravity and scale of the problem.
The system was constructed near the first gate of Sadarghat. In the system, there was a screening net, 13 feet long and five feet wide, made of cast iron. It was so heavy that eight people were required to lift it. The amount of plastic waste coming through the drain was so high that the net snapped within an hour after installation.
"Imagine the amount of plastic that ends up in the Buriganga river. The untreated effluent can be treated one way or the other, but if you can't stop the plastic and polythene being dumped into the sewer line, any treatment project will face this problem," said Tasnem, who is an environmental engineer.
Greenbud reinstalled the net and finished the pilot project, but it has not seen any scale-up effort from the government so far.
Based on this hands-on experience, Greenbud came up with a question: what to do with this plastic and polythene that do not have any recycling value?
And this question led to Greenbud's next interesting project.
Plastic road pavement
India has been paving roads with plastic mixed with bitumen for 20 years now. The country has thousands of miles of such roads.
Taking inspiration from India, Greenbud contacted LGED. It found an official, Superintendent Engineer Abu Md Shahriar, who has been working on dry plastic-bitumen roads for the last 6-7 years.
The work began. Greenbud collected the waste polythene needed for the project (which constitutes 95% of solid waste going into Buriganga), shredded it, did some testing in the LGED lab, and found the perfect ratio of plastic-bitumen mix.
On 4 August, the pilot project was implemented in Piruajali, Gazipur. In this process, at a certain temperature, the plastic is mixed with the aggregate, which creates a lamination on the latter, and then after some time, bitumen is added to it. As a consequence, the three make a strong bond, requiring 9% less bitumen thanks to the added plastic.
"The problem with bitumen roads is that in the rainy season, potholes are created. But we've seen in the case of India that the number of such potholes is reduced significantly in plastic-bitumen roads, which are stronger than traditional bitumen roads," said Tasnem, adding, "Also what happens is that you find a sustainable way to manage the plastic waste problem."
The plastic road is only 100 metres in length. But LGED is hoping to build more roads using this method.
"We are importing equipment from India to do some additional tests on the road. Once the tests are done, we will arrange a demonstration on how to do it and will pave more roads in every upazila," Abu Md Shahriar, Superintending Engineer of LGED told the Business Standard.
For paving every kilometre of road, 500 kilograms of waste polythene will be needed, the official said. Once implemented, an upazila could be announced as a zero-waste plastic upazila, he hoped.
"Greenbud has been involved in the process from the very beginning. The company has sourced the plastic, and now is helping import the equipment," Shahriar said.
There is huge business potential for such kinds of plastic roads in Bangladesh, the engineer said, which will also protect the environment. If more such road projects are taken, people will put mechanical filters in the sewer systems to collect polythene because that will have a resell value, and the rivers will get rid of this dangerous pollutant.
"What we are doing here in this project is creating a market demand for non-recyclable polythene. Also, the cost of road construction will be reduced significantly due to the 9% saved bitumen," said Tasnem.
It has been demonstrated in different parts of the world that different kinds of waste plastic, not just polythene, can be used in different road construction projects, for instance, sidewalk tiles can be made of high-volume plastic.
Of course, it must be ensured that microplastic is not generated and released into the environment through any of these processes, which will be no less harmful for living beings, the environmental engineer said.
When it comes to saving our rivers from pollution, there is no alternative to separate sewer water and stormwater at the source, Tasnem said, which is currently not in practice in the country. The sewer water should go to a biological treatment facility through separate pipelines and then be released into the river.
Industrial wastewater going into rivers is most harmful, because it may contain heavy metals and carcinogenic material. However, there are commercial solutions available for treating that, but they must be enforced as the industries tend to bypass the regulations.
"The journey of Greenbud started back in 2012. The idea was that we wanted to provide environmental consultancy and support to the industries. I started this company with three of my friends," said Greenbud CEO.
Tasnem is an environmental engineer who graduated in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Shahjalal University of Science and Technology.
The beginning was not very smooth for the company, he said.
"When you start a small company, it does not get enough business or traction. it took around three and half years for us to understand the market; what the market demands," said Tasnem.
But then, another disaster hit. All of his friends went abroad for higher studies, so he was left alone. "I was doing a job that time, I quit and fully concentrated in this company with 100% focus and 100% effort," Tasnem said.
From 2015 onwards, Greenbud started to provide consultations like environmental impact assessments, environmental management plans and so on, which are required for the factories to obtain international standards certifications.
In 2018, Greenbud received accreditation from BAB- Bangladesh Accreditation Board, which enabled the firm to do environmental testing and inspection. The firm has provided environmental consulting and services to 950 different factories so far, its CEO said.
"We have also worked as an environmental service provider for several mega government projects like the Padma railway link project and Dhaka Metro Rail project, and we are also providing service to a subcontractor of Rooppur Power Plant," said Tasnem.