A solar plant changes an island

By Faisal Mahmud

A solar mini grid established under a public-private joint initiative transformed the lives of a remote river island in Bangladesh 

A year ago Paratoli Island in Raipura Upazila of Narshingdi district in Bangladesh was almost entirely in darkness.

People walked to get from one place to another, and life was at a standstill as this nine square kilometres remote river island (called Char in Bangladesh) had no electricity.

Today it’s a different place.

The remote river island of Paratoli. Photo: Faisal Mahmud

It has three engine rickshaws now (popularly known as easy bikes).

“People can now travel quickly and comfortably. It costs me around Tk 250 to charge batteries of the three vehicles and I make around Tk 500 daily,” owner Nazir Hossain said.

Tea stall owner Siraj Mia, has installed a refrigerator in the past two months. “I now have ice cream in my shop and children can buy it. This was unthinkable a few months ago,” he said.

Paratoli has witnessed this magical transformation because of the introduction of a 141kb (kilobyte) solar grid electricity system by Shouro Bangla Ltd in April 2016.


The solar mini grid in Paratoli   Photo: Faisal Mahmud

“Years ago, Paratoli was in dark except few households that used expensive solar panels on the rooftops at a cost of over Tk 40,000. The power from those panels did not last longer than three hours. Now they have uninterrupted supply,” the director of Shouro Bangla Ltd, Sabbir Choudhury said.

How a solar mini grid changes an island (Narrated Audio-Video slideshow)

How the power supply works?

A nine kilometre long transmission line runs throughout Paratoli. The solar grid supplies uninterrupted electricity to 724 households and 124 small-scale industries.

The mini grid had already provided connections to 613 families, lighting up the lives of nearly 5,000 people on the island. The solar panels are spread across 0.9 acres land.

“There is nothing manual as state-of-the art technology has been used,” Sabbir observed.
The sun on solar panels generates DC (Direct Current) electricity which is fed into a solar inverter. It converts it into 220V and 50Hz AC electricity.


How the plant works  Graphics: Shoura Bangla Ltd

During day, electricity is used to power appliances in homes. Simultaneously, it is stored in a series of high-capacity batteries that supply uninterrupted power at night.

Each household or connection has a smart meter and smart card.

“Suppose one customer needs 10 units for a month; he comes to the plant and punches it into the machine and input 10 units against the card. The customer then goes back to the house and punches the card in his house meter. We update in the system against his ID and direct 10 units of electricity against that connection,” said Sabbir.

The smart system in place for the customers  Graphics: Faisal Mahmud

Each unit of electricity cost Tk 30. “The price is high but if you consider the usage per unit, then the cost isn’t that much because here, one unit lasts three times the time in urban areas as the load is very low,” he said.

People use electricity for lights, fans, charging mobiles and sometimes freezing. Sabbir said the average electricity bill of households was around Tk 700 to 800 per month.

The funding for the project

The solar mini grid project in Paratoli cost $800,000. The World Bank provided half the funding and Shouro Bangla Ltd borrowed the rest through the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state-owned non-bank financial institution under soft loan for solar-powered projects.

CEO and Executive Director of IDCOL Mahmud Malik said that at present there are 18 Solar Mini-Grid Projects, among which 7 are operational. He said that solar mini grid is a better option for the people in off-grid areas as it provides with continuous electricity.

“The government has plans to establish 50 such plants by 2018 and we are working to fulfill its plans.”


A solar plant changes an island

Marine Debris Litters Taiwan’s San Po Beach

Plastic bags, plastic bottles and straws, cigarette butts and other garbage are polluting the coastlines and the ocean of Taiwan.

By Lizane Louw

Large amounts of marine debris are washing up on the beaches. Much of it from coastal garbage dumps and mainland China.

Merine Debris

25/ 02/ 2017. Shoes, cigarette butts, and glass bottles are some of the thousands of pieces of marine debris that can be found on San Po Beach, Northern Taiwan, despite regular clean ups by TEIA, an Environmental NGO in Taiwan. Photo Lizane Louw

The Taiwan Environmental Information Association, TEIA, has collected data on marine waste since 2013 as part of its beach clean ups. Last year they monitored 22 coastal areas including Xinbei City, San Po Beach, Taichung West Point, and Tainan Siok.

About 850 volunteers removed 3,076.6 kg of marine garbage, the weight of a small SUV truck.


25/ 02/ 2017. A volunteer putting on gloves that are provided by TEIA for the beach cleanup and monitoring action at San Po Beach, Northern Taiwan. Photo Lizane Louw

“A lot of plastic bags, handbags, and wrappers for candy and cookies was found today, but the most garbage we found today was cigarette butts,” said Chao Jui, at the TEIA, San Po Heroes Quest. Chao has been working on the beach cleaning projects, at San Po Beach for two years.

“The issue here is the littering as source of marine debris, not littering as the man on the street would think, people throwing stuff away, the sources are wide spread, some stuff left behind by people coming to the beach, but a lot is also coming from the oceans,” said Qiao Ling, project organizer for TEIA.

“There are a lot of landfills along the coastline, nobody goes there, and nobody sees the garbage being dumped and being covered up,” says Qiao. “They are weathered away and the rubbish then goes into the sea.”

Involving volunteers in beach actions leads to awareness about the problems of marine debris. “The volunteers see for themselves that a lot of rubbish comes from our daily lives and fishing activities, and also from overseas,” Qiao said. Fishing and fishing activities are responsible for 18% of marine debris found on San Po Beach in Northern Taiwan.

Info graphic: Lizane Louw

   TEIA compiles the data in an annual report.

Protecting the waters: laws and education

Qiao Ling says  TEIA presents beach data to government and challenges authorities to find solutions to garbage management.

In an effort to deal with the problem, the EPD (Environmental Protection Department) released a second edition of a draft on December 8, 2016. It proposes to restrict the manufacture, import and sale of cosmetics and personal cleaning products containing plastic particles from January 1, 2018, and prohibits the sale (including gifts) from July 1, 2018.

TEIA can’t wait for government action. “Rubbish comes from everywhere, we need a multiple fold strategy,” say Qiao.

Chao Jui says as more people are educated through activities such as beach cleanups; they will change their behavior. “They will think what to do in their normal daily lives,” she said.

“Take away food culture is so big in Taiwan. If you go to a breakfast shop you get a box, you get chopsticks, you get a wrapper and all this they put in a plastic bag. You buy a drink and that goes with a straw and the straw is also in a wrapper. Think how many pieces of garbage that is, ” asks Qiao.


25/ 02/ 2017. The food and beverage industry, especially the night markets and breakfast shops are responsible for 58% of the marine debris on San Po Beach. Photo Lizane Louw

Info graphic: Lizane Louw

The data chart from the report of 2016 shows that the food and beverage industries are responsible for creating the most marine debris and trash.

TEIA is encouraging people to set daily targets for themselves to prevent marine debris and the problem with plastics. They encourage people to bring their own cloth bag when they go shopping. They also suggest people take stainless steel cutlery, water bottles, and their own containers when they buy take out meals.

Qiao Ling is confident. “All this can change if each person does a little bit. Can you go a day without creating rubbish and using disposables?”.


Marine Debris Litters Taiwan’s San Po Beach

Why you shouldn’t throw your broken electronics in the trash

Filipinos produce tons of electronic waste that end up in dumps, posing health and environmental risks

By Kristine Angeli Sabillo

Filipinos generate at least 260,000 tons of electronic and hazardous waste each year.

Many of these discarded gadgets and appliances end up in landfills.

In communities like Smokey Mountain, many earn a living by scavenging trash and selling scrap metal. They are exposed to fumes of burning wires or exploding television sets.

Parts that cannot be sold or recycled are buried in the ground, contaminating the soil and nearby water sources with toxic chemicals and metals.

Informal recycling

Electronics thrown out from households have spurned small industries in the local economy.

At Smokey Mountain, a former dumpsite in Manila, many own junk shops, buying scrap metal from scavengers.

Shop owners like Dante dismantle appliances and electronics to extract valuable metals.

He said copper, which sells for around P180 per kilo, is among the most coveted.

To get copper, they peel off or burn off the protective coating exposing them to toxic fumes. They also hammer open television sets, which have cathode ray tubes that can explode and hurt people.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 09.08.54 PM
RESTORE OR DESTROY. A woman opens an old television set to check if it can still be repaired or sold. If it is beyond repair, she will have to dismantle it and break its glass to get the copper wires and other valuable metals.         

“Sometimes you’ll get injured…sometimes when you break things open parts will hit you,” he says inside his small home, which is filled with sacks of various metals — copper, aluminum, zinc.

Dante said they just make sure they keep the fires small and under control.

Dante and his neighbors live on top of the old dumpsite, which was covered with land. Many of them plant vegetables during the rainy season, for their own consumption and sometimes to grow crops for the market.

Asked if it’s safe to grow vegetables from land filled with garbage, Ecowaste Philippines’ project coordinator Thony Dizon said they will have to conduct studies but it is clear that it  is a cause for concern.

“We don’t know what kind of metals or chemicals are being absorbed by these plants,” he said.

Take-back program

Environmental groups are calling on the government to pass a law that will make companies responsible for proper disposal of their electronic products.

“One important policy that we will need here in the country is what is called the Extended Producers’ Responsibility (ERP),” said Dizon.

An ERP policy would require companies to properly dispose of their appliances and gadgets when they reach end-of-life. Instead of throwing out an old refrigerator or desktop computer, a customer can have the company that sold it deal with proper disposal and recycling.

Some companies have started take-back programs as part of their corporate social responsibility.

Globe Telecom has “Project 1 Phone”.

It’s Citizenship Manager, Rofil Magto said Globe took action because it contributes to the waste problem by selling two million electronic devices each year.

The campaign enables customers to drop off their old and broken electronics at Globe stores where they are  shipped to a recycling company. Profits made by that company are donated to help build schools in typhoon-hit provinces.

Dizon says that while such efforts are laudable, not enough companies are doing it.

“There should be a stricter…much more concrete policy on the part of the DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) and of course…as a commitment by the companies,” he said.

He explained that under Republic Act 9003 or the Solid Waste Management Act, electrical waste are classified as special waste and that there should be a “special collection” by the local government.

However, this is not being done. (INQUIRER.net tried to contact the Environmental Management Bureau but they have yet to respond as of press time.)

Dizon said an ERP law would reduce the volume of e-waste disposed by the public.

“We will also be able to reduce the need for mining since the metals collected from e-waste can be recycled,” he said.

People who collect or sell scrap metal can earn from or be employed by companies setting up their own take-back and e-waste collection programs.

TOXIC WORK. Black smoke rises from a pile of burning copper wire, a sought after commodity by scavengers and junk shop owners.
Why you shouldn’t throw your broken electronics in the trash

In Search of Halal Meat


a mosque in Tandang Sora


Finding halal meat is not an easy thing to do in Quezon City of Metro Manila. Halal meat is even a rare commodity in Tandang  Sora-the largest neighborhood of Quezon city. After searching for a while there, it was known that a particular shop owned by a Pakistani man named Mohammad Shafi sells halal meat. Incidentally when we found his shop, we came to know that he stops selling halal meat for quite a while. This is because selling halal meat is not cost effective as the locals don’t have any problem of buying relatively cheaper non-halal meat from the superstore.

In Search of Halal Meat