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Garbage turns into gold in Bangladesh

Organic waste becomes salable compost – and millions in carbon credits.

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Barrel composting is extremely simple. People like Momtaz Begum simply sweep up their waste and dump it into the barrel. There is no need to do anything else, the design takes care of all composting needs. “I’m very satisfied with the barrel-composting system,” she says. “Now it’s more clean and we’re safer from waste-borne diseases.”

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After three to four months, the waste is collected and allowed to mature in a large shed for 10 to 15 days before it’s ready to be sold to local farmers.

Muhammad Babul Hossain, one of the slum’s three compost collectors, didn’t have a job before the barrel program began, but now he’s one of the slum’s high-income earners at 4,000 taka ($58) per month.

Organic compost costs less than chemical fertilizer, and it has other benefits. It enriches the soil rather then depleting it the way chemical fertilizers can do. It sustains the farmland, proponents claim, “not only for this year, but for the years ahead,” says Zakir Hossain of research institute Krisoker Saar (Farmers’ Voice).

DSK hopes to expand the program to the entire slum. They’re aiming for 500 barrels that will be given to the community.

After perfecting the community-based composting model, Waste Concern turned its attention to the many tons of organic waste generated by Dhaka’s business sector, notably its many produce markets. WC took advantage of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to create the world’s first carbon-trading scheme based on compost.

Last November it launched this new project at its Bulta plant, which lies next to farmland and brick factories a couple of hours northeast of Dhaka.
Initially, this new project collected only 10 tons of organic waste daily from the Karwan Bazar market, but it should reach 100 tons later this month, says deputy plant manager Syed “Jubilee” Ahmed.

After the waste is trucked in, it is spread out in open-air bins, monitored carefully, and becomes saleable compost in a little over a month.

Two other CDM composting plants are planned to open this year to handle a combined 700 tons of organic waste per day, says Sinha.

That works out to 233 tons of finished, dry compost every day with a retail value of nearly $14,000. Composting works well in a nation like Bangladesh because of the tropical climate and high percentage of organic waste in the trash stream.

Organic waste buried in a landfill can generate greenhouse gases, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. But when the organic waste is composted in the open air, these gases are not made. The fact of this negative generation amounts to carbon credits, which can be traded on overseas markets for $20 per ton.

“From one ton of organic waste,” says Sinha. “You can reduce half a ton of greenhouse gas.” When it reaches full capacity, this CDM project will reduce CO2 emissions by 127,750 tons per year. The carbon credits will be worth $2.5 million.

“Waste Concern is doing a commendable job,” says Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, chairman of Forum of Environmental Journalists of Bangladesh. “It is really important to translate those wastes into resources because that will help the country achieve sustainable development in the years ahead.”