Iftekhar Enayetullah and Maqsood Sinha are founders of Waste Concern. These gentlemen have discovered a composting process of recycling organic waste. Not only is the scientific process patented by them but also the model has already been replicated in 60 towns of Bangladesh and in eleven towns in 6 other countries. Let us look at the fascinating story of how they came to be real life heroes in waste management.
Iftekhar and Maqsood studied in the same school. Maqsood was a scout in his school and college life. As a scout, one of his assignments was to clean the drain of his school. That was his very first interaction with waste which gave him an understanding that it is every citizen’s duty to clean up their neighborhood. He graduated in Architecture from BUET and that was the time when he dreamt of designing beautiful buildings in a clean city.
After BUET, Maqsood went on to study Urban Planning in Asian Institute of Technology (AIT), Thailand. While he was doing his masters in Urban Planning, his thesis was on the social aspect of waste management. The concern was how the formal and informal waste management sectors can be linked. For example, in the formal sectors there are City Corporations and Municipality who work for the society. In the informal ones, there are people to whom waste has an economical value and when they collect waste, we call them garbage pickers.
Iftekhar was a student who was very much into scientific experiments. He was a regular participant in science fairs and a member of science club in his school days. When he did his Master’s in BUET, his thesis topic was “What is the best technological option for waste management of Dhaka City”. Maqsood is four years senior to him. When Maqsood was working on his thesis, he came to Bangladesh for research works. His professor told him to contact Iftekhar to get help for the research and that is how these two great minds started working together.
There is a saying of Mahatma Gandhi,
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Iftekhar and Maqsood had to face all of these phases in their lives. When they first came up with their idea of waste management, they went to many people for help in implementing the project. For this, they needed big trucks, landfills, processing center, and manpower. For fresh graduates with only their research paper at hand and an idea in mind, it was a lot to accumulate and start up. Many students research on one topic but when they join the workforce, they go somewhere else. Iftekhar and Maqsood, on the contrary, were persistent on trying out the real life implications of their research.
When they went to the city corporation with their idea, they weren’t paid any attention. They tried a couple of other places too but it didn’t work out. Finally, they decided to start the project themselves. What was needed at the beginning was a pilot project and then scaling it up upon succession. A reform in the public policy was also necessary. Eventually, they got partners like UNDP and then the government also came. Ashoka Foundation had also supported them in their early days. With time, the project grew larger. From 1998 to 2014, there has been about 20 to 25 changes in these policies and Waste Concern had their initiatives play significant roles in these reforms.
The government started showing support to Waste Concern after they had partnered with UNDP. There was a meeting arranged for them with the mayor of Dhaka City Corporation; Mr. Hanif was mayor at that time. They got only 3 minutes to present their idea to the mayor and convince him. They prepared very few slides and gave their short presentation. After those 3 minutes, the convinced mayor gave them a piece of land to work on.
The case of Waste Concern is taught in prestigious universities such as MIT, Harvard, etc. Case studies on their initiative are taught in the MBA programs. Their work is also featured alongside the case studies of BRAC, Aravind Eye Care System and Gram Vikas in India.
Imagine the huge amount of waste produced every day. It requires money to pay workers, dumping trucks to collect waste, and dumping places to dump. Finally, this whole process results in huge landmasses becoming wastelands and environmental hazards. If you buy one bottle of water each week and throw the bottle in a trash bin, you dump at least 52 bottles a year. Imagine, all the people in Dhaka doing that. Now, you can picture the water bottles piling up and I am sure it is quite similar to the wastelands we see in the animated movie Wall-E.
What if we look at waste as a resource? Waste collection is an earning source for many. It can end up becoming resources for us too. If we look at the waste composition of Bangladesh, more than 70% of it is organic, which means vegetables, meat, food waste, and other biodegradable waste substances. Rest 30% is inorganic, like plastic, glass, electronic waste etc.
Now, this inorganic waste is somehow being collected and reused but people don’t know what to do with the rest. These organic wastes when left behind cause carbon emission and methane gas. Here comes waste concern to deal with this left behind organic waste. Since all their detailed science would go over my head, I asked them to give me a simple explanation of their process.
The process they use is aerobic composting system. The process uses oxygen and high and controlled temperature. Then this organic waste is treated and the resultant is organic fertilizer. It is a simple process which needs a few scientific values to be maintained like carbon nitrogen ratio, temperature, moisture content etc. The process takes 50-60 days. If we put 1 Ton of organic waste into this process, we would receive 15-20% of it as fertilizer compost. The rest goes as water, moisture and some rejected materials. This fertilizer is also very good for soil. And this whole process does not create any greenhouse gas.
Iftekhar and Maqsood are the very first to develop this method. Their partner was a Dutch company. Inhe waste management section in the UN ESCAP’s website, we can know about their work, patent and how the model is being used in other countries. Here are some useful links to take a look at their development partners and awards:
Here is a question I presented before them and their response to it.
“If you are told that you will be deserted in an island for a decade and will be allowed to take three things with you, what would you take?”
Iftekhar : I would like to take water, food and books with me. There should be two types of books, motivational books and the other should be books on innovation.
Maqsood: Water Source, Food, and Internet- the world is open to you and also a prayer place please.
Both of their hobby is to read books and listen to good music. One of their favorite quotes is- “And, when you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” (The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho).
Waste Concern has come a long way. It started at a time when the Government didn’t think that waste could be made into fertilizer compost and used in farming and cultivation. They didn’t have enough money to do the compost test. The soil science department of Dhaka University helped them do the test for free.
In 2006, the government changed the policies and set standards for marketing and manufacturing compost. It has been a rough ride for these two, but it surely has been a ride worth the trouble. With their continuous efforts, the development banks have also come forward. Altogether, a very healthy ecosystem of development projects is being nourished in Bangladesh.
Iftekhar and Maqsood’s struggles are true inspirations for all of us. Their amazing journey with ‘Waste Concern’ teaches us one simple thing: since life is short and we have got just one shot, why live other’s dreams when we can die living ours?
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
― Paulo Coelho, the Alchemist
[Utmost dedication has been given to transcribe and write the interviews as flawlessly as possible . However, the information and events shared in this book might not be cent percent perfect and there can always be human error in collection and dissemination of information. It is thus requested to forgive any mistake, if found, in this book. At the same time, I request all readers and visitors not to copy the content of this book without the written consent of the author of this book, as these interviews are the author’s original work that has required a lot of hard work and patience. The full book can be purchased here.]