(Summer 2014) Tamanna Urmi, ’16
Tamanna Urmi (’16, Environmental Science & Mechanical Engineering)
This summer, Tamanna piloted Ways2Clean, a mechanism to clean-up and create a waste stream in Dinajpur, Bangladesh. Without Ways2Clean, uncollected and untreated waste accumulates by the roads, behind houses, inside the drainage system, and elsewhere throughout the city. Ways2Clean carried out awareness workshop in schools and acted as a positive force for getting people to sort waste. The sorted waste is now collected at various locations and streamed to a recycling business and fertilizer manufacturing company where it is converted to a marketable product.
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Ways2Clean: A closer look at the problem
Ways2Clean is about redesigning the waste management in the city of Dinajpur in Bangladesh. It’s a relatively small city in the North-Western part of Bangladesh with a population of about . The initial idea was to clean up the city and devise a system of managing the waste produced in the city so that waste no longer pile up in public areas, clog the drains or make roadsides dirty. To achieve that the three main areas that needed improvement were:
- Awareness about waste management
- Waste collection system
- Transfer chain for utilizable waste
To address the issues in the three areas I will run workshops in schools to spread awareness in the society through children, work with the municipal government to improve their waste collection system, find out what their difficulties are and what more could be done to make the system more efficient and lastly I will do some ground research to learn about compost fertilizer demand and prospective customer groups. On arrival to Dinajpur, as I started looking for enthusiastic people who could help me run the project, I found three people who are students of Dinajpur Medical College, Haji Danesh Science and Technology University, Dinajpur and Bangladesh university of Engineering and Technology, Dhaka. With them I made my first in-person trip to schools where we are willing to run workshops to know their schedule. For most of the schools the period of time from mid-July to the end of August worked best. We were holding meeting with municipal government officials at different levels including the Mayor simultaneously.
One of the new team members took a trip in the city with the waste collection truck. He observed that the waste collector wear not wearing protective clothing and the tools they used for collecting waste was a bamboo basket and a shovel. They wore regular clothes with pant or lungi tugged to cover only up to the knee, had open-toed sandals on their feet and a rolled gamcha (piece of cotton cloth used as towels) as a bandanna. The truck was supposedly taking a longer route that day, as suggested by the filled garbage bins that were not cleared recently. Several garbage bin were situated on top of a open drain which got clogged due to overflowing garbage. The waste collectors stood on the dirty water and cleared the garbage bin.
While one of the team members were travelling across the city with waste collector, another team member and I went around the city to map the garbage bins and informal dumping sites. At first by manually inputting the observed data on paper map and then putting them on digital map, we made this:
After having thorough discussions about our findings and learning after the number of meetings and activities we realized some of the barriers to this project:
- Ordinary people will be unable to see the benefit of this project immediately
- The entire waste problem cannot be solved by the limited time and budget
- Infrastructural development is needed to make the project sustain longer
To tackle this condition, we decided to build a number of garbage disposing station which will comprise of a garbage bin with two compartments and an adjacent composting site. We will put 4-5 such station at different public location by building on existing garbage bins or building one from scratch. We presented this model to the Mayor who then requested a proposal for the whole project so that he can start working on getting permission for the land to build the stations on. Currently we are working on writing the proposal. Hopefully we will be able to submit it and get the permission to building garbage disposing station at desired locations.
Ways2Clean (Blog 2): Mass awareness program- city cleaning campaign
Last week I resumed my work for Ways2Clean after returning from a different work in India. Before going to India, the project was progressing slowly, making important connections and holding on to them was much more difficult that anticipated. On my return I therefore wanted to do something quick and big to stir the community up. I called some old contact in the city who I have seen to have organized voluntary activities and seem to have strong network. We had a very quickly set up meeting. In that meeting the idea of organizing a city-cleaning campaign was commended by most, leading us to start planning it.
I quickly designed T-shirt where the front had the logo of the campaign and the back had the instruction: “Don’t throw waste on the streets but in the dustbin” with image of dustbin for food/organic waste and another dustbin for recyclables. I ordered T-shirts, bought masks and gloves and started to contact with schools and colleges in the city. We, from the committee for organizing the campaign, decided to get professionals cleaners for the heavy and difficult tasks so we contacted people who clean areas around the town hospital. We decided to do the campaign on a Thursday during the busy hours so that people are on the streets to watch us clean the area because out target was to raise awareness. The amount of waste on the streets is so huge that actually cleaning it up is not a one-day job, neither can it be done with the little tools we had. Dinajpur Rover Scout joined us as organizer for the activity and brought 30 volunteers from different parts of the city. We got 27 more volunteers from several institutions. To maintain cultural consistency we arranged lunch for all the participants. We provided gloves, masks, water bottle and T-shirts to everyone.
On 20th August, 2014 all the volunteers gathered in a big field, Gora Shahid Maydan. Four teams, each with two team leaders and two professional cleaners, were formed for four areas of Dinajpur.Shovels, baskets, brooms and buckets were handed to the teams and then sent out to the four locations. The cleaning campaign went on from 9:30 in the morning till 2:30 in the afternoon. All the volunteers returned to a school premise where we had lunch. I had previously contacted the Mayor of Dinajpur to lend us there waste pick-up vans. I took two vans and got the waste heaps cleared up from the streets. This second phase went on till 6:30 evening.
- The waste piles from streets are being cleared away
During the cleaning work, people on the street made both encouraging and discouraging comments. One shop owner thought this was waste of time and this was not students’ task but government’s. On the other hand, a man waiting for a train in the railway station immensely thanked our volunteers for taking up the responsibility. By getting close to the problem of waste in the environment, the students realized the seriousness of it with more fervor. At the end of cleaning, the streets looked clean and beautiful but the volunteers have all noticed that packets and plastics have gotten deep into the soil. If everyone doesn’t get conscious about throwing around waste, it’s impossible for cleaning staff to keep the environment healthy.
Ways2Clean (Blog 3): Dustbin in schools
To start the community awareness bottom-up, I planned to conduct workshops in schools. The workshops would consist of 3-4 classes on waste sorting, health effects of exposed untreated waste, environmental impact of it and composting method. As I was planning the workshop and contacting with the schools I realized that the workshops need to be short and few. And so the workshops were shortened and made less interesting. The activities also had to be cut off. Letters about request to conduct workshop were sent through the municipal office. With one other volunteers, I visited the schools and gave them crash course on waste management, including topics mentioned above. Depending on schools the duration of the course varied. In one school I had to speak to 300 students on their assembly (gathering of all students before class commences) ground. The workshops where held in 3 schools. By four days, I was done running all the workshops. I had ordered blue and green dustbins from a plastic product manufacturing company. As the dustbins were received, stickers with instructions and pictures for type of waste to throw in the particular dustbin were pasted on them.
Photos speak thousand words. So here they are:
All the schools expressed worry about the lack of cleanliness practice of the students in school. While dustbins were necessities for the school campus, only awareness and education can make it all successful said by the principals of two out of three schools.
Ways2Clean (Blog 4)
In the 5 weeks of working in Dinajpur, Bangladesh in order to get things done I had to climb up and down the bureaucratic ladder multiple times, had to hash out formal letters for different people in different positions in the city, talk to many people in many ways to accomplish the tasks I did. It gave me enormous amount of experience of how to work in such environments and helped me make enormous connections that I would not have otherwise been able to make. To work through the bureaucracy in any country for development work requires a unique skill that I am slowly beginning to learn. This summer I had the crash course on it. One of the biggest challenge I faced as well as biggest lesson I got from this project was to learn to make the right connections in a community and communicate is the right way to accomplish the goal. I will also point out that gaining credibility and trust at the beginning of these kinds of projects is the most important aspect of being successful. Another very important skill I earned was to change plans at moments of crisis and not losing grip of the situation. I was able to find a good number of enthusiastic people on ground who will be continuing the work in Dinajpur. Most of my goals for this summer were met and now I have a firming footing in the area to take this project forward. Although several plans changed and many things went differently from expected, I managed to set the stage for building a waste management system.
One of the major changes in plan after going on ground was to build and provide more dustbins than planned and not constructing compartments on the waste collection truck-beds. After my first visit to Dinajpur municipal office I realized that the number of truck is just the bare minimum or even less to collect all the waste from the city. There is no way I will get a truck for an experiment. I am referring to it as an experiment because until all the components are in place the waste management system that I am envisioning will not be fully functional. So, as I realized compartmentalizing of truck beds has to wait, I decided to build compartmentalized dustbins only. The process of acquiring land in locations we want and getting permissions from different levels in government began. We could only make the dustbins in land that government owns because first of all, nobody wants to give a portion of precious land for dustbin construction and secondly, because waste is considered something to be thrown away, to be left and ran away from and hence a specific spot for waste is not welcomed around houses. We therefore had to first convince municipality of the benefit of installing more dustbins and then ask for land. The process was not too difficult as the Mayor already had locations in mind. However, it look a while for Mayor to find time to show us the different spots. Eventually 3 days before I left Dinajpur, we checked all the spots and made contract with construction workers. Five locations at different parts of the city were selected. All five spots where heavily used as informal dumping site. The team that I left the project behind with have since then been working on the constructions which recently (Sept 17, two days ago) were completed.
To make the cycle of waste complete I was looking at different options as the sink. In the last week, I met a person from the city who is interested in creating a business of converting organic waste to fertilizer. Besides helping him to formulate his plan, I will continue looking for more potential entrepreneurs and interested organizations.
With that all components that I wanted to start working on for building a waste management in Dinajpur were put in place. Process of raising awareness, process of building a culture of sorting waste and recognizing its value, process of making useful product out of waste and developing infrastructure began by the first run of Ways2Clean. The things I have to start working on for the progress of the project are:
- Finding appropriate technology for organic waste to fertilizer conversion that can be scaled up
- Running full length workshops in school about waste usage and awareness
- Through ground-team members following up on schools that we have provided dustbins to about the use of dustbins
- Helping the local entrepreneur with starting the business
Each of the points require time and effort that I will distribute over a year or two. At the beginning of my search for funds I was thinking that starting the project is the most difficult part in making the vision reality but after this summer as I have ignited this long-term project I am starting to realize that continuing with perseverance, by taking little precarious, yet essential steps are even harder than the beginning. But the hope that I have raised among the community for a cleaner and better environment will help me keep going.
I am very thankful to the organizations and people that supported me to embark on this journey. I hope this series of post will help and give some useful information to readers and benefit budding social entrepreneurs like me in some way