The belief that big change must start small to work for those who need it was central to the philosophy of our founder E.F. ‘Fritz’ Schumacher. This philosophy is as relevant now as when Fritz was working.
In this post, Uttam Kumar Saha, Strategic Lead from our Bangladesh team, explores our clean cooking work and how it’s tackling the status quo as well as improving health and incomes. State-of-the-art dredging technology will be used to collect the waste, while a new generation pyrolysis process will convert it into clean fuel and carbon.
The knowledge and needs of informal waste workers are the catalyst for our work transforming city waste systems. Together, we’re making cities in poorer countries cleaner, healthier, fairer places for people to live and work. In Bangladesh, we’re empowering informal waste workers to lead the way revolutionising how different types of waste are managed, including an innovative way of processing thin plastics.
As cities continue to expand, waste is a growing problem. Waste that’s not disposed of properly damages people’s health and the environment, with people in the poorest communities most affected. With our support, Rajon is leading a co-operative of waste workers who are clearing plastic from the streets of Faridpur.
The city of Faridpur in Bangladesh typifies the challenge. It’s home to a growing population of nearly 560,000 people. Waste services are lacking and the informal workers who step in face poor working conditions and discrimination.
15-20 million people in the cities of developing countries work in recycling.
Empowering informal workers
Our success in Faridpur has prompted the Government of Bangladesh to replicate our approach across all 329 of the country’s municipalities.
Listening to the needs of undervalued informal waste workers and sharing their knowledge are at the heart of our unconventional approach. By forming co-operatives, waste workers are able to talk directly to city authorities and have a say in decision-making. Through the co-operatives, they are also able to charge a fair rate for their services and equip themselves with safety equipment.
“We’ve been able to build a successful family business that doesn’t just collect the plastic but also sorts and processes it.”
Rajon Mohammad Shakh, a waste entrepreneur in Faridpur, Bangladesh
The waste service industry consists of multiple income streams including waste collection, recycling and producing secondary products such as biogas. Our holistic approach means better lives and livelihoods for the city’s poorest residents as well as cleaner streets and rivers and less plastic polluting the world’s oceans.
Turning plastic waste into wealth in Bangladesh
We are now turning our experience to address the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. As well as locally generated plastics, the Padma River in Faridpur sees huge flows of plastic from further upstream. By extracting plastics from the river, we hope to prevent its outflow to the ocean, significantly reducing this pollution. This work will also make the city cleaner and safer and generate an income for the waste workers.
We’ve teamed up with two environmental clean-up companies, River Recycle and Lamor Foundation, and a local community organisation based in Faridpur – the Society Development Committee. The project is supported by the Danish Department for International Development, Danida through its market development programme.
This innovative project is establishing dignified, well functioning waste collection and processing systems for low-grade plastic, gathered from the most polluted parts of the town: marketplaces, low-income neighbourhoods, the landfill site and the Padma River as it passes the town. State-of-the-art dredging technology will be used to collect the waste, while a new generation pyrolysis process will convert it into clean fuel and carbon.
Putting people at the heart of the solution
Our report, Managing Our Waste, uses and adapts the very latest research frameworks from UN-Habitat and others, and with a foreword by the then Prince of Wales, the launch brought our community first approach to a new global audience.
The report has already caught the attention of the UN Climate Champions on Open Burning of Waste. They invited us to be their strategic partner as they plan for the phasing out of open burning of waste in Africa.
Our work in Faridpur exemplifies Practical Action’s ‘Big change starts small’ philosophy. Simple interventions that make a huge difference for individuals. And when they are replicated and scaled up, so is the impact.
We’re committed to building the commitment and investment needed to scale up sustainable solutions like these – and deliver the big change that the world so badly needs.
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