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Garbage turns into gold in Bangladesh

Organic waste becomes salable compost – and millions in carbon credits.

Residents of the Vasantek slum near Dhaka, Bangladesh, put food waste into large metal barrels.

Lisa Schroeder

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Maqsood Sinha and Iftekhar Enayetullah like to talk trash, but that’s be­­cause they’re pioneers in Bang­ladesh’s organic-waste recycling. They are the founders and directors of Waste Concern. Since 1995, this NGO has reduced the amount of urban garbage produced here, created jobs and healthier living environments for poor residents, provided for more-sustainable farming, and cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions.

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest and most populous nations. Its 150 million people live in an area the size of Iowa and have an average per capita income of about $600 per year, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. Because it lacks space for landfills, trash disposal is a major concern.

Every day 3,500 tons of garbage is produced in Dhaka, says Mr. Sinha, a tall formidable man sitting in a conference room at their offices in Dhaka lined with numerous awards. Almost half of the city’s trash goes uncollected, Sinha adds. Dhaka simply does not have the resources to gather and dispose of all that waste. Most of it is left on the streets or in open trash sites.

But 80 percent of the waste is organic – food waste, such as vegetable and fruit peels, meat scraps, and spoiled fish.

That’s where Sinha, an architect and urban planner, and Mr. Ena­­ye­­tullah, a civil engineer and urban planner, stepped in. After earning degrees abroad, they came back to turn organic trash into a profitable resource: compost.

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