Covid-19 took us completely off-guard. No one seemed to be prepared for what was coming and the textile sector in Bangladesh was not any different.
While much has been discussed on how covid-19 has impacted business and the workers, significantly less has been discussed on how it affected the ongoing environmental sustainability efforts.
Environmental sustainability has always been a contested topic even in the pre-Covid-19 situation, whereas following the pandemic we have seen the focus has shifted, rightly so, more to the resilience of the businesses and the condition of the workers in this sector.
However, it is important to make sure that the environmental sustainability efforts in the textile industry are not altogether ignored. The industry is facing a serious challenge with regards to the operation of the Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP), mainly due to the long closure of the factories.
The ETPs are meant to clean the wastewater produced by the factories so they do not end up polluting the water bodies. However, in recent weeks, factories are facing a challenge– the ETPs are being abruptly shut down followed by an equally impromptu restart. It may result in serious challenges for health and safety, failure of mechanical equipment and adverse impact on the performance of the ETP.
Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, a German government organisation working in the area of international cooperation and sustainable development, has been working for the development of the sector's environmental standards for more than a decade now in Bangladesh.
It has worked with the industry to establish Bangladesh Standards and Guideline for Sludge Management and helped develop standard protocols for the factories to run the ETPs efficiently.
In a bid to find a solution to this problem GIZ recently organised a webinar involving national and international experts, brands like H&M, Wünsche, Aldi-süd, Rewe, Tchibo, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), development partners such as ILO Better works, Danish Embassy, IFC-PACT.
An expert team comprising Dr Jurgen Hannak and Dr K V Emmanuel, supported by the renowned environmental specialists Dr Mohammed Abbas Uddin and Dr Shoeb Ahmed from Bangladesh, presented a standard operating guideline on how to address this challenge. Some of the major recommendations are listed here:
- The risk of Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) poisoning is always there, more so when the ETP was lying idle and not maintained properly. The responsible managers should take proper health and safety measures dealing with this such as checking H2S through meters, using safety harness, proper safety measures before manhole or covered-drainage system cleaning.
- Electrical safety issues such as proper insulation, earthing, correct amperage etc. should all be taken care of.
- Possible damage of mechanical components of the ETP due to this shutdown and restart is another important aspect. Simple measures such as cleaning, checking and preparing any equipment before running are often ignored and bring devastating results for the plant. One common complaint is that the diffusers are broken upon restart as it has sludge thickened on top of it. A simple cleaning before restart would have saved a few thousand dollars in these cases.
- The re-commissioning of ETPs are often more complex than commissioning it. An ETP manager should be capable of maintaining the minimum 25% level in his equalization tank for effective homogenization. The guideline developed advises on that as well as discusses detailed instruction on obtaining optimum performance from the primary treatment.
- Most of our treatment plants in Dhaka are Biological Treatment. These biological treatment plants are best described as a living organism itself. The guideline highlighted relevant issues like how to develop bio-mass for the plant, what are the critical parameters for optimum performance (including levels of dissolved oxygen, nutrients and optimum microbial level in the plant) and how to maintain them in the beginning and during regular operation.
- Finally, the document also featured common problems and their causes during re-commissioning such as heavy foam, lack of settling of solids in clarifier, sludge bulking and non-uniform aeration etc. Trouble shooting techniques to control these issues and the dos and don'ts for the system has been given in detail.
The recommended steps, if followed, could help factories avoid disruption in the running of their ETPs and thereby refrain from causing damage to the environment.
Faisal Rabbi, is a Senior Advisor at GIZ and Dr K V Emmanuel, is an International Expert on Effluent Treatment Plans.