Social Enterprise: Waste Concern
Social Entrepreneur(s): Iftekhar Enayetullah and A. H. Md. Maqsood Sinha
Sector(s): Urban Development, Waste Management, Renewable Energy, Climate Change
Turn the waste management problem facing cities into a solution for lower-cost agricultural inputs for farmers in rural areas.
The Innovation Explained
The Waste Concern model addresses three problems simultaneously: the poor nutrient content of over-farmed soil in rural areas; the massive waste management problem facing municipal governments in urban areas; and rising greenhouse gases responsible for climate change. “Bangladesh’s cities and towns generate 20,000 tons of waste a day, and like most low-income countries, 80% of that waste is organic,” said Iftekhar Enayetullah. “We have developed a technology that converts organic waste to fertilizer at scale, which simultaneously reduces greenhouse gas emissions and gives farmers a higher yield even though it requires much less irrigation.”
Using the slogan “Waste is a resource,” Waste Concern has established a network of 60 decentralized neighbourhood-based recycling and composting plants throughout Bangladesh and has created thousands of jobs for waste pickers, who earn three times their previous incomes and are provided with free lunches and childcare. In Dhaka city, Waste Concern established a large-scale, 150-ton per day capacity compost plant (equal to the amount of waste generated by 400,000 people) and collects and recycles the waste at no cost to the government.
Waste Concern has two revenue streams. The first is from the sale of organic fertilizer, which it sells directly to a large company that markets, distributes and sells the product to over 100,000 farmers across Bangladesh. The second revenue stream comes from the sale of carbon credits. Waste Concern is well on its way to removing 90,000 tons of carbon emissions from the atmosphere by 2015, which it is selling annually to Asian Development Bank under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.
With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNESCAP, Waste Concern’s model is being replicated in 10 Asian and 10 African cities. The founders have also created a training centre in Dhaka that regularly receives delegations from NGOs, private sector representatives, UN agencies and foreign governments.
Why This Matters
In most developing countries, waste management is a huge problem, as are fast-declining agricultural yields and the increasing vulnerability of farming populations due to climate change. The city of Dhaka alone produces up to 5,000 tons of waste daily, yet less than half of this amount is collected, resulting in a range of serious health and environmental issues in low-income areas where waste is left to decompose on roadsides and in open sewers.
Increasingly, Enayetullah is leveraging Waste Concern’s experience to promote social business concepts in Bangladesh and throughout Asia to solve challenges like these. “If your workforce is low-income people, and if your products are targeting low-income people, you should receive regulatory support,” he explained. “For projects with so many social and environmental benefits, you should not be changed a 14% to 15% interest rate by banks. You should receive concessionary rates of 3% to 4%. We are working with the Bangladesh government on this, because we believe it’s important to have the right enabling environment in place. We are also advocating for a five- to seven-year tax holiday for private sector companies working on these kinds of projects.”
Facilitate real engagement with partners during proof of concept. “Unless you can prove a concept in different locations, it is very difficult to scale up,” said Enayetullah. “The biggest lesson we learned in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam is that you have to invest a lot of time on the proof of concept. During that stage, it’s very important for private companies to be more than investors – they need to be real partners and to interact frequently with you and with the regulators.”
Local leadership matters. Enayetullah stressed, “Many issues require the support of local or national government to be fully addressed. People matter. If leaders don’t do the right thing, it’s very difficult for managers to do the right thing. That’s why we are focused on a leadership training programme for city officials and mayors. A real partnership with leadership at the city government level is needed so we can have long-term impact on all levels.”