We all probably know about the 'boiling frog syndrome'. It is a metaphor used to describe the failure to act in time. In this metaphor, a frog is placed in boiling water, and it jumps instantly out of the pot to save its life.
But when the frog is put in a water tub at room temperature and heated up slowly, the frog adjusts its body temperature with the water as the temperature increases. When it becomes unbearable, the frog, having spent all of its strength adjusting to the state and unable to jump, boils to death.
Now take the example of Matuail and Amin Bazar landfills in Dhaka.
Matuail landfill, which spans over 100 acres in Dhaka South, has already reached its full capacity. From food waste to industrial waste, construction waste to hazardous waste, plastic, glass, paper, paint, cleaning solvent, batteries, and electronics - all waste ends up at this landfill.
With 3,200 to 3,500 tonnes of waste generated daily in Dhaka South, the landfill is already 80 feet high.
Amin Bazar, called one of the worst landfill sites in the world, exemplifies what uncontrolled waste dumping looks like. It was built in 2007 on over 52 acres of land and reached maximum capacity in 2017. It is in an excruciating state, with no daily soil cover and a dysfunctional leachate pond.
Amin Bazar, which is held together by a thin embankment, is on the verge of widespread flood pollution.
However, we are still adjusting our breathing like that boiling frog. We remain silent because we do not own the problem and are unable to recognise the deteriorating state of our capital city.
The country's methane emission was 83,790 kt of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to World Data Atlas, 2018.
The report, however, indicated diverse possible sources of methane generation, including paddy fields, landfills, leaky natural gas pipelines and coal stockpiles.
Over the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere, methane has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
Scientists are also concerned about the release of methane into the atmosphere because it has a higher heat trapping capacity and is extremely difficult to trace once it has escaped. Despite the fact that CO2 has a longer lasting effect, methane can cause global warming to occur more quickly.
Landfill generates a huge amount of methane gas naturally. Landfill gas (LFG), which contains roughly 50% methane and 50% CO2, is a natural by-product of organic material decomposition in landfills.
But threat can be turned into opportunity if we capture this LFG, instead of releasing it to the air.
Organic waste can be converted into renewable energy resources with a good biogas plant, and the decomposed organic material, which is rich in nutrients, is unquestionably the best fertiliser.
According to recent data, Dhaka generates around 4,700 tonnes of solid waste per day. Bangladesh Waste Database, 2014 showed that 75% of this waste is organic waste, which means Dhaka produces around 3,525 tonnes of organic waste every day.
Although the amount of biogas (methane) produced depends on waste quality, digester design, and system operation, an organic waste digester of moderate quality can produce around 80m3/ton of biogas.
Each cubic meter (m3) of biogas contains the same 6 kWh of calorific energy. However, converting biogas into electricity does not harvest the full energy of electricity.
About 2 kWh of usable electricity can be harnessed, the rest turns into heat which is also useful as heating energy, and 2 kWh is enough energy to power a 100 W light bulb for 20 hours.
Now, from our 3,525 tonnes of organic waste Dhaka can generate roughly 280K m3 of biogas every day that has the capacity to light 2,80,000 nos. of 100W bulbs for 20 hours, along with the heat energy.
With this simple math can we not comprehend the power of waste? Furthermore, there are several uses of methane gas other than electrification.
Every Bangladeshi citizen, as well as the Bangladesh government and industry groups, must collectively call for action.
What we are lacking are just the bold moves from the policymakers towards a sustainable energy solution. To develop sustainable waste management systems, policy instruments are crucial, not the least instruments that address the complexity of the total waste management system but the organisational level of waste management strategy which is easy to handle with upstream and downstream waste supervisions.
There are some simple strategies that can be easily implemented to manage waste and convert it into resources, such as:
- Source separation of waste and decentralised biogas plants in every Pourashava
- Community-based solid waste management at the district level
- Proper recycling and waste management training center at the district level
- Waste composting in slums
- Medium to large scale commercial biogas plant and composting
- Mandatory waste management guidelines within different industries
- Agricultural/poultry waste used for biogas generation and improved cook stoves
- Onsite organic waste management in big corporations; for example, in an agro-food industry, biogas plants can be used as a primary waste treatment unit where the biogas can offset some energy costs in the plant and compost can be used or sold as nutrient fertiliser
To eradicate the waste problem in Bangladesh, waste management must be recognised and widely accepted by the general public, as well as key companies and organisations.
With the proper information, incentives, and cooperation, the government must establish guidelines as soon as possible so that entrepreneurs and businesses can come forward to mitigate the problem.
We don't have to be boiled to death like that frog. We've made enough adjustments! We know what the problems are, and we know how to solve them; all we have to do now is decide when to jump out of the boiling tub.
Atasi Bhattacharjee, LEED AP is Zero Waste Advisor, Member of Total Resource Use and Efficiency, USGBC. He is also Co-founder- Surge Engineering. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.