Cleaners of the Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) collect 2,500 tonnes of waste every day and take it to two dumping stations in the city.
The CCC's efforts are meant to keep the city clean, but they are actually polluting the city's air by burning waste to make room for more waste at the dumping stations which were filled a couple of years ago.
The CCC is supposed to recycle the waste as per the rules, but it is dumping it in open spaces, creating a huge pile of garbage that eats up space at the dumping station. So, the CCC is now focusing on burning it.
As the city corporation has no recycling plant or incinerator, it is burning plastic and polythene along with other solid waste, which is very harmful for the environment, said specialists.
Sources at the CCC said the capacity of the dumping station in Halishahar was exhausted around five years ago and the other station in Arefin Nagar was filled two years ago.
Cleaning workers in the city said 200-250 feet high "waste hills" in the dumping stations are the results of accumulating garbage for the last 30 years.
Garbage has been piling up at the dumping stations since 1990 but the CCC has not taken effective-enough steps to set up landfill sites in the city over the last three decades.
According to the Department of Environment (DoE), the city corporation is supposed to separate organic and inorganic waste by creating landfills, where organic waste would be used to produce fertiliser and electricity while inorganic waste would be burned in incinerators.
However, the CCC's cleaners collect all the waste together, which cannot be separated at the dumping stations.
People living near the dumping stations in Halishahar and Arefin Nagar said they suffer heavily due to the overwhelming smell of garbage. They also have difficulty breathing when trash is burned at the stations.
There is also a canal beside the Beribadh adjacent to the piles of garbage. Contaminated liquid waste from the dumping stations mixes in the canal, and the water of the canal mixes in waterbodies of the surrounding area and the Bay of Bengal.
Dr Alok Pal, professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Chattogram University, told The Business Standard (TBS) that there are no settlements within three to four kilometres of dumping stations abroad. But due to the population density of Bangladesh, human settlements have developed near the dumping stations.
"As a result, along with environmental pollution, health risks are increasing. About 25% of the city's medical waste is collected along with general waste. This medical waste is also mixing with the environment as it is not treated properly," said Dr Pal.
Nurullah Noori, director of DoE, Chattogram, told TBS that polythene and plastic materials have played a big role in creating waste hills and the DoE has asked the city corporation to separate plastic and polythene from general waste.
He said, "Even if they do not have a recycling plant, there are over 50 recycling establishments in the city, which recycle polythene and plastic. The CCC can do the recycling through these companies, but it has also failed to do that."
"If they do not recycle but instead burn polythene and pollute the environment then action will be taken according to the law," he added.
Officials of the CCC's Conservancy Department said they have been unable to set up landfills in the last 30 years due to a lack of available land. Constructing a landfill with a recycling plant and incinerator requires 70 acres of land, which the CCC does not have at a single stretch. So, they applied to the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, but apparently did not make much progress in this regard.
Morshedul Alam Chowdhury, deputy chief conservancy officer of the CCC, told TBS that both the dumping stations are already filled. They have been dumping garbage at the station in Halishahar by taking a risk but they should have stopped it two years ago. The dumping station in Arefin Nagar is in a similar situation.
"We are worried about finding a place to dump garbage in the future. No decision has been taken yet regarding a new location for dumping waste. We are being forced to burn trash to make room at the dumping stations," said Morshedul Alam Chowdhury.
Acknowledging that they sent a letter to the ministry about the shortage of space for dumping waste, CCC Chief Executive Officer Kazi Mohammad Mozammel Hoque told TBS, "We are searching for a new space. Additionally, the existing dumping stations can be used for a few more days after they are leveled with bulldozers."
"A process to set up a sanitary landfill is also underway. However, there has been no progress in this regard despite us having informed the ministry about it," he said.
Professor M Ali Ashraf, urban planner and pro-vice-chancellor of Southern University, said a lack of long-term planning by the CCC was the reason behind not setting up a landfill in three decades.
He said, "The city corporation works on an ad hoc basis. So, it does not undertake long term plans. Earlier, it dumped waste in the Sugandha area, and moved from there when the place was filled in. Later, people had to remove the waste when they wanted to build houses there, because setting up a building's foundations on garbage is dangerous. This harmed the environment and wasted money."
Professor M Ali Ashraf, who published a research paper titled "Identification of Appropriate Landfill Sites for the City of Chittagong" in 2013, said, "In my research paper, I recommended four landfills be set up after dividing the city in four parts, instead of the two dumping stations at two ends of the city."
"Space would be filled more slowly if sanitary landfills were made, because recycling plants would deplete the volumes of garbage. A portion of the waste would be used for making fertiliser, because most of the trash is domestic waste," he added.