The waste keeps piling up

April 17, 2022

 Cox’s Bazar struggles with garbage management

The usual hustle and bustle surrounding the tourism industry in Cox’s Bazar often sidelines a huge crisis: its struggles with waste management. The average amount of waste can weigh up to 130 tonnes during peak season. Amidst this alarming situation, UNDP’s solid waste management project in Ukhia and Teknaf comes as a beacon of hope. Photo: Star

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Business and recreation go hand-in-hand in Cox's Bazar. But amidst all the usual frenzy, the tourist town fights a silent battle every day -- to make its waste management work.

In a recent visit to Bandarmokam in Cox's Bazar, also known as Kasturighat, where a landfill stands in the heart of the town, this correspondent saw a huge pile of solid waste collected from households, hotels and restaurants.

Two excavators were seen working to level the waste. There was smoke at the foot of the heap, burning the piled up garbage.

Plastic products for temporary use make up most of the heap, said Kabir Hossain, Cox's Bazar municipality's conservancy officer. This is concerning, as plastic is one of the most hazardous objects for the environment, particularly the ecosystem and biodiversity of Cox's Bazar.

"The compostable waste has melted and only plastic is left here. We level the landfill with the excavators to accommodate more waste," said Kabir.

The municipality collects 90 tonnes of waste on an average from the municipal area every day. The amount can go up to 130 tonnes during peak tourist season, he added.

However, they are not capable of handling all this waste due to lack of staffers and logistics.

The conservancy officer informed that waste collected from the municipality consists of 50 percent compostable and 30 percent plastic.

And as tourists keep pouring in, the waste keeps on piling every where -- the beach as well as roads and alleys, alleged locals.

They said the authorities must come up with a permanent solution to this problem, otherwise the beach town will soon be turned into just another "dirty old town".

According to a baseline survey conducted by the Department of Environment in 2013, the projected waste generation in the district for 2021 was 50 tonnes. This implies that the current numbers exceed the projection by a margin of 40 tonnes.

According to a World Bank survey, titled "Towards a Multisectoral Action Plan for Sustainable Plastic Management in Bangladesh" published last year, waste at the landfill consists of 16 percent organic and compostable waste, 38 percent reusable waste and 17 percent recyclable plastics.

Of the plastic waste, 78 percent is low-density polythene.

Besides Kasturighat, the study identified Laboni Beach, Shugondha Beach, and Inani Beach as hotspots for plastic pollution.

The survey also observed that the landfill site gets flooded during high tide due to lack of embankment around it.

Municipality conservancy officer Kabir said they have built a compost-making factory in Ramu's Mithachhari in 2017, operated by a private company. However, its operations stopped during the pandemic.

Besides, 500 people, including staffers, drivers, 300 cleaning workers and 179 female sweepers work at Cox's Bazar Municipality to manage waste in the town, he said. The municipality is also equipped with two excavators, eight dump trucks, 18 rickshaw vans and 38 carts.

Contacted, Prof Md Khabir Uddin of Jahangirnagar University's environmental sciences department said plastic often ends up clogging rivers, sea and other waterbodies, degrades over time into microplastics that are released into the environment, and pose a significant risk to humans and ecosystems, said .

If plastic or polythene is burnt in the open air, they omit dioxin and furan, which are carcinogenic materials, he said.

However, plastic or polythene can be completely burnt through proper incineration, he said.

"Since plastic is convenient and cheap, in spite of its adverse impact on the environment, we should control its use and only use plastic products made with over 0.5-micron thickness. These are recyclable and also have market value," he added. 

Contacted, AKM Tariqul Alam, chief executive officer of Cox's Bazar Municipality, said, "We have no other system to manage waste in Cox's Bazar other the current one." 

"We are thinking of implementing a more advanced waste management system, though it might prove to be too costly in Bangladesh's context," he said.