Alternative bricks for sustainable buildings
Brick making is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Bangladesh. The industry consumes 2.2 million tons of coal and 1.9 million tons of firewood and emits 8.75 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
In the past few years the Bangladeshi construction industry has been growing in response to rapid urbanisation. Many construction projects use traditional bricks that are produced by burning top soil from agricultural lands. Besides releasing a heavy amount of carbon into the atmosphere, they damage the environment through their heavy use of clay mined from agricultural lands, causing depletion of top soil and arable land degradation.
Brick making is an energy-inefficient industry based on small-scale kilns with limited financial capacity and dominated by a single raw material (clay) and product (solid clay brick). Around 30% of brick kilns use firewood illegally for brick burning, thus aggravating deforestation. Acid deposits from brick kilns negatively affect agricultural productivity.
While various technologies have been introduced to reduce GHG emissions, transformative changes in the brick industry are still required: switching to cleaner brick kilns and diversifying their production inputs are necessary to save natural resources, reduce GHG emission and increase energy efficiency.
To address these issues, a new EU-funded SWITCH-Asia project has recently been launched in Bangladesh. The Promoting Sustainable Building in Bangladesh project is implemented by Oxfam in partnership with the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer Association (BELA), Housing and Building Research Institute (HBRI) and Jagorani Chakra Foundation (JCF).
The project targets Dhaka City and nearby urban growth centers within the Dhaka Division as well as Jessore district in the south. These locations were chosen for their high urbanisation rate, large population growth and high concentration of brickfields.
With the specific objective of promoting sustainable and eco-friendly building materials and practices in Bangladesh within an enabling policy environment, the project will primarily influence patterns of consumption, promoting the purchase and use of alternative bricks and other green construction materials.
The project´s theory of change is based on the scheme whereby market incentives can lead to effective and long term transformations in the brick industry, thus contributing to more sustainable consumption and production (SCP) practices to reduce GHG emissions, deforestation and land degradation in the densely populated country.
Alternative bricks, i.e. non-burnt bricks which do not require use of top soil, are made of raw materials, such as dredged soil, that are abundantly and readily available in the target areas: the Water Development Board of Bangladesh dredges around 6,700,000 cubic feet of soil from the riverbed of the Kapatkha River which flows across Jessore and the adjacent districts, and this soil needs to be managed or disposed of to avoid it flowing back into the river during the rainy season, presenting an ideal opportunity to use it in the production of alternative bricks.
The switch towards alternative technologies has been held back till now due to lack of mass awareness about the negative environmental impact caused by traditional brick making and by the high price of the available alternative bricks in the market.
The new SWITCH-Asia project will promote alternative bricks made of dredged soil, cement and other ingredients which offer a more environment-friendly, affordable and marketable option.
Ground level experience shows that the Government of Bangladesh has been giving clearance to brickfields considering air pollution as a scale, so to ensure that they don't cause air pollution beyond a certain limit. However the main challenge for a brickfield is to source raw materials, i.e. top soil.
According to the Bangladesh Brick Manufacturing Owners Association 1,270 million cubic feet of top soil are being used to serve an annual demand of around 15,000 millions of bricks for both residential and office purposes. This demand is increasing at about 2-3% each year and over the last four years 1930 brickfields have newly been added.
The government has a vision of substantially reduce the production of traditional bricks and switch to alternative bricks by 50% by the year of 2021.
On occasion of the SWITCH-Asia project's National Inception Workshop on 28th July, Minister Mosharraf Hossain from the Ministry of Housing and Public Works stressed the importance of preserving top soil of agricultural lands and switching to alternative bricks made of dredged soil and other sources, in order to protect the environment and to ensure sustainability in the food production. He concurrently reaffirmed the government commitment to formulate the necessary policy regulations.
Sustainable buildings are now a global issue, explained Mr. Mario Ronconi, Head of Cooperation from the EU Delegation to Bangladesh, stating the EU's intention to work with the Bangladeshi government to change the current framework of consumption and production of bricks and other building construction materials.
The implementing organisations will work in cohesion to promote alternative bricks amongst consumer and producer groups for wider replication and commercialisation across Bangladesh and will closely work with the bulk-buyers of bricks, like construction industries, different government stakeholders and developers through a multi-stakeholder platform formed under the project.
Author: Simon Rahman / SWITCH-Asia project "Bangladesh SusBuild"
Editor: SWITCH-Asia Network Facility