Trash to cash: killing two birds with one stone in Bangladesh

Farmers demonstrate the effects of composted municipal waste on crops of maizeFarmers demonstrate the effects of composted municipal waste on crops of maizeMunicipal waste can be

Farmers demonstrate the effects of composted municipal waste on crops of maizeFarmers demonstrate the effects of composted municipal waste on crops of maizeMunicipal waste can be used to provide a valuable source of nutrients for intensively farmed soils in Bangladesh- with the effect of both improving agriculture and crop yields and removing unhygienic waste materials from city streets.

Working with Bangladesh Agricultural University, academics at Bangor University’s School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography (SENRGY) have shown how municipal waste can be collected and used to resolve two serious environmental issues facing Bangladesh, and indeed many other developing countries.

In Bangladeshi cities, urban solid waste is often disposed of in the streets, as is common in many others developing countries. After being collected by the council, it is dumped in unsightly and unhygienic open dump sites on roadside verges on the outskirts of the city.  Meanwhile, in rural areas, agricultural production is suffering because of intensive rice cropping to produce enough food to feed this densely populated country; resulting in a severe decline in soil organic matter. Farmers try and compensate by applying large doses of fertilizer to maintain yields, but much of the fertilizer is not used by the crops and escapes into the environment, causing pollution and the loss of valuable nutrients.

Municipal waste on the streets in Bangladesh Municipal waste on the streets in Bangladesh Dr Rob Brook, who led the three year British Council funded project said: “The project aimed to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by collecting household kitchen waste and converting it into compost for farmers to use, helping them replace some of the fertilizers currently used. This would reduce the problems associated with waste and turn it into a potentially valuable resource for farmers”.

Dr Paula Roberts added “During the final workshop, we visited demonstrations of successful composting operations and saw the benefits of adding the compost to crops, and even how an electric generator can be run with methane from a bio-digester using urban solid waste. The best results were seen where compost was used in conjunction with half rates of fertilizer rather than using compost alone”.

Women collecting compostable material from the waste Women collecting compostable material from the waste The project has been deemed a great success by the British Council as it has demonstrated how research can be used to help counter major issues in developing countries.

Dr Prysor Williams said: “above all, it was very rewarding to see very poor farmers so happy with using the compost and the benefits were obvious over more than one season, which is in contrast to chemical fertilizers. We are hoping that this will spur on similar projects in Bangladesh to increase the socio-economic and environmental benefits that this project revealed”.

Publication date: 22 March 2012