With modern waste management features, such as segregation, recycling, drainage and treatment, and regular soil covering of waste just on paper, the two landfills for the Dhaka city corporations have turned into a key source of water, land, and air pollution, say experts.
They said the already exhausted sanitary landfills – Matuail for Dhaka south and Aminbazar for Dhaka north – have apparently lost their sanitary moniker and turned into crude open-air dumpsites, thanks to an outdated waste management system.
But the two Dhaka city corporations have claimed their management is not outdated, and they are not severely polluting the environment either.
They, however, said the existing minimal landfill pollution will come to almost zero once their "waste to energy" projects are completed.
According to data from the city corporations, Dhaka north and south generate 7,500 tonnes of solid wastes per day, and those wastes end up at the two landfills after being collected from households.
This correspondent in a recent visit witnessed that Aminbazar landfill was discharging leachate to a nearby river while in Matuail, dumping was polluting its nearby wetlands too.
As neither of the two city corporations covers and compacts the garbage by soil regularly, an unbearable stench emanating from the sites can be felt from miles away.
Residents adjacent to the Matuail site said living in the area has apparently turned into a stinky nightmare to them.
Matuail landfill almost reaches capacity
After the acquisition of 50 acres of land, the Matuail landfill was established in 1989, and Dhaka South City Corporation in 2006 acquired another 50 acres of land. The 100-acre landfill now has almost reached its full capacity.
According to estimates by Dhaka south, the landfill received around 47 lakh tonnes of solid wastes in the last five years. Trucks, wheel dozers, excavators and bulldozers with nearly 1,000 trips transport around 4,000 tonnes of waste to the site per day.
According to the estimates, waste generated in Dhaka south is growing by nearly 13% per year.
Air Commodore Badrul Amin, chief waste management officer of Dhaka South City Corporation, said the DSCC's waste management might not be up to date, but it is not completely outdated either.
"We dump waste at the site scientifically as Dhaka South planted trees on the 50 acres that have been filled up. Currently, four projects, including waste to power and biogas production, are going on, centred on the landfill. Circumstances will completely change in the next ten years," he noted.
Badrul Amin also said gas emission from Matuail or the degree of environmental pollution by the landfill is minimal.
Already expired Aminbazar site to acquire 80 acres of land
Established with Japanese assistance, Aminbazar landfill in 2009 began waste dumping on its 54.88 acres of land.
According to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), the landfill was to expire in 2017. But the site is still dumping solid waste on the ground.
Like Dhaka South, Dhaka North now has two waste management modernisation projects going on. They are expansion and modernisation of Aminbazar landfill at Tk786 crore and collecting modern vehicles and equipment for waste management at Tk49 crore.
Commodore M Saidur Rahman, chief waste management officer of Dhaka North City Corporation, said Aminbazar landfill gets 3,000 tonnes of wastes per day, and the garbage is regularly levelled after the wastes are carried to the site and dumped.
He said leachate produced at the site is also treated before it is drained out into the nearby river.
"Since the waste is covered and compacted by soil, there is no pollution here except the odour," he noted.
Commodore Saidur Rahman also said Dhaka North will acquire 80 acres of land adjacent to the current site, and will then leave the already filled up lands for reuse.
Besides, the chief waste management officer said a waste to energy project centring on Aminbazar is waiting for the signing of a deal. Dhaka North hopes "to enter the waste incineration era within next 20 months".
'Arbitrary dumping damaging environment'
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Environment Lawyers Association (Bela), said, "Since waste management in Bangladesh does not have any regulation, people are generating waste, mixing them altogether, and then dumping it."
Referring to a 2011 case that sought suspension on waste dumping in Aminbazar, she said, "The case is yet to be disposed of as Dhaka North is acquiring more land for waste dumping. There was a parliamentary committee too in 2019 which directed that garbage not be dumped at the Aminbazar landfill."
The lawyer emphasised formulating regulations for proper waste management.
Sharif Jamil, general secretary of the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), pointed the finger at the lack of coordination being responsible for Dhaka's poor waste management.
He said arbitrary dumping is polluting the environment instead of saving it from the mess people generate.
"The city corporations need a synchronised effort for better waste management. We can save the water bodies and the environment if different solid wastes are sorted out, recycled and reused," he noted.
Sharif Jamil also said that modernising waste management is not a herculean task as it mainly requires proper regulations, from generating wastes to dumping it at the landfills.