On the bus home from work a few days ago, I saw something I’d rarely seen in Dhaka. I gave my eyes a startled rub and looked again. Yes. There it was, in all its magnificent, freshly-painted glory… a newly installed public garbage bin!
Many of you may be scratching your head wondering why this is so notable. Some of you are likely considering the possibility that Dhaka has finally done me in; that I am now truly insane and babbling about absurdities. But public garbage cans are a revolutionary idea in a city as overloading with litter as Dhaka.
Waste management is a huge struggle for Dhaka and, with only 310 garbage disposal trucks serving a rapidly expanding population of 18 million people; it is a major issue that needs to be addressed by the Bangladeshi government. Currently, only 37% of waste is collected and disposed in landfills while the rest is piled pell-mell in the streets and slowly burned. Sewage is left untreated, industrial waste is dumped indiscriminately into lakes and biomedical waste is carelessly added to the mix. The Buriganga River, the heart of Dhaka, is one of the most polluted rivers on earth with 4500 tons of sewage and factory waste dumped into the river each day. Trust me; the environmental situation in Bangladesh is not pretty!
This affects us in a few minor ways, including being regularly exposed to nasty, unidentifiable smells, occasionally stepping in sludge we pretend is not sewage and carefully avoiding toxic, lung-searing smoke from the burning rubbish. We daily see grimy rickshaw-dumpsters laboriously traveling from one apartment to another and small crowds of grubby children sifting through piles of trash searching for recyclable prizes of glass, metal or paper. But no matter how many people we see working to collect garbage, find recyclables or sweep the streets; more trash appears to fill the recently cleaned roadways.
Bangladesh is a long way from cleaning up its cities. I understand that these tiny little public trash bins will, in the immediate future, have a negligible impact on the cleanliness of the streets. But it is exciting to have an option other than throwing my random bits of garbage on the street…there is hope! Even if few Bangladeshis use the revolutionary new trash bins, I know I will!