At a time when several thousand brick kilns are causing large-scale air pollution and loss of topsoil across the country, around 20 private firms are making eco-friendly construction materials without any baking.

 They are producing different types of alternative building materials, including hollow blocks, concrete bricks and pavement blocks, and these are stronger than the traditional ones, people involved in the sector told The Daily Star.

According to the seventh five-year plan, the government would construct 75 buildings using such materials in a number of villages across Bangladesh.

Experts and stakeholders said the demand for such environment-friendly and cost-effective items is on the rise but the producers are facing several challenges, including poor sale due to people’s tendency towards using the traditional bricks and their lack of awareness about the new products.

Favourable government policies and financial support are required to boost the sector, they said.

Mohammad Abu Sadeque, director of Housing and Building Research Institute (HBRI) that conducts research on housing issues and innovation in construction materials, technology and planning, said the 20 companies are coming forward with the alternative materials as their demand is increasing gradually.

The autonomous body under the housing and public works ministry has prepared an alternative brick made from river-dredged soil and cement. It is implementing a project under SWITCH-Asia programme of European Union, to make the brick popular among consumers and producers.

Concord Group is one of the major companies producing eco-friendly building materials.

Its General Manager Samir Uddin Ahmed said they have been producing hollow blocks, concrete bricks, and pavement blocks with cement, sand and pea gravel, instead of fire bricks, since 1998.

“We have made this decision considering the adverse side of fire brick on the environment and farm land. Now, we don’t use a single fire brick in any of our projects,” he told The Daily Star on November 13.

He said the government has to take several steps to promote the idea.

“The government can encourage those producing alternative building materials by providing them with soft loans and impose restrictions on the use of fire brick in phases,” he said.

Master Concrete Block Manufacturing, a Narsingdi-based firm, has been producing both building and road construction materials without using fire brick for the last four and a half years.

“We do not use soil and none of the ingredients [Sylhet sand, stone dust and chips and cements] which are harmful to the environment,” TM Shaohabul Islam, quality control engineer of the company, said. He also said the government must have a policy regarding the alternative building materials.

The government also should make alternative bricks and other green materials mandatory for the projects implemented by different government agencies like Public Works Department, Education Engineering Department and Local Government Engineering Department, he said.

“Promotion of such products is not possible without the government’s policy support,” he added.

Mir Concrete Products Limited, another private company, is now producing 23 types of green building materials, said Mohammad Salim, head of its marketing.

Structures made of hollow concrete blocks or solid concrete bricks are 20 percent cost saving, and they last longer compared to that made of fire bricks, he said.

Salim further said the government should waive VAT on these products, as currently they have to pay 15 percent VAT on all such materials except hollow blocks.

Architect Iqbal Habib, also joint secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, said the government should give incentives to private investors producing the alternative construction items.

Leading environmental activist Syeda Rizwana Hasan said the government should provide financial support to the owners of the brick kilns through Bangladesh Bank’s green financing fund, so that they can go for alternative bricks instead of fire bricks.

“Financial support also should be given to the producers of environment-friendly building materials through the fund,” said Rezwana, also the chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (Bela).

Import duty on the raw materials and equipment should be withdrawn to encourage production of green materials, she added.