26 June, 2017

The Politics Of Garbage In Sri Lanka & The Need For Recycling Plants

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

Vidya Abhayagunawardena

If a country is not able to manage its own garbage, that creates serious questions about its citizens’ discipline, respect for natural environment including protection of animals – even though people are highly educated or with high literacy rates. Sri Lanka is no exception to this case. On 14th April 2017 the Sinhala and Tamil New Year day, so far 16 people have died, many people were injured and over hundred houses were destroyed or damaged due to a collapse of a section of the Meethotamulla garbage dumping site (garbage mountain) where the entire Colombo district garbage is currently being dumped; so far around 23 million tonnes of garbage has been dumped at the site. People of the area have protested since the beginning of this garbage dump but the authorities did not listen to them or take necessary action. This story reveals that Sri Lanka is still unable to manage its own waste which is generated at local, provincial and national levels.

There were several mega development projects carried out at various government levels in the past but no government was able to think of a lasting solution for the waste management issue in Sri Lanka. It seems that even with the current government there is no political will to find a lasting solution for the waste management issue or for immediately setting up a recycling plant for the Colombo district as a high priority. From time to time several so-called experts recommended to the authorities that people should separate garbage before they handed it over to respective local authorities. Even if they handover separated waste to local authorities do not have proper facilities to dispose of garbage or other means to process garbage in a recycling facility.

The non-availability of garbage or solid-waste recycling facilities in Sri Lanka has created serious issues relating to health, environment as well as socioeconomic and political concerns. Dumping waste on open dumping sites impedes water-flow in drainage channels and provides breeding places for dengue mosquitoes and rats. In most of the open garbage dumping sites, animals such as elephants, cows and other animals eat garbage which includes polythene. This causes severe health hazards for animals. Open burning which adds several chemicals into the air and rising temperature (fuel global warming) is imminent. Some waste is dumped in water bodies, low lands and sometimes into the sea. Another serious issue relates to hazardous, electronic and other industrial waste and this includes oil and waste water management since very few facilities are available to recycle such waste in Sri Lanka.

In most countries garbage is turned into various recycling products, which generate renewable energy, fertilizer, employment opportunities, and overall waste management is seen as a profit making entity. From household levels people separate garbage, people put their garbage into relevant garbage bins on the streets provided by the authorities; institutes, business and industries separate their waste according to the waste they produce. In Sri Lanka, except very few industries, the entire nation’s waste has been dumped on open landfills, into water bodies and the sea or burnt which causes and creates serious issues for the human, animal and natural environment.

Australia’s population of 24million generates around 45million tonnes of solid waste each year (according to Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006-7) which is recycled the same year at their recycling plants. Australia treats the recycling sector as an important aspect of Australia’s economy and society. As the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities of Australia pointed out in 2013, a strong and sustainable recycling sector is essential for Australia to utilize resources more efficiently and maximize the full value of materials.

Sri Lanka’s population is approximately 21million which generates 2.3million annually (6,400 tonnes of solid waste per day according to Ministry of Environment – 2013). Compared to Australia, Sri Lanka produces a tiny amount of solid waste but is still unable to manage it. Solid waste continues to accumulate every year and pile up in garbage mountains. Sri Lanka could seek local and international support for immediately setting up a recycling plant for the Colombo district as a high priority to mitigate this burning issue and gradually expand it to other main cities where the waste management situation is serious. Recycling plants can be set up as Public Private Partnership (PPP) which will directly and eventually allow people to live in a waste-free healthy environment. If there is a political will, Sri Lanka will find a lasting solution for the garbage issue. Waste management is not a rocket science any more in the world today.

We have seen that various government institutions, the corporate sector and development sector have been involved in finding a solution to the garbage issue in Sri Lanka but unfortunately the setting up recycling plants was not seen in their discussions for unknown reasons. There was a plan to build an electricity plant that could transform solid waste into fuel. When will this become a reality? Past and present governments, the donor community and corporate sector must have spent billions of rupees for various solid waste management projects and those funds were wasted. But the question is did any of them spend a single cent and think of having proper recycling plants for Sri Lanka? Was this ever discussed at Cabinet level or at Parliamentary level?
If the garbage issue is not addressed in Sri Lanka without delay, several garbage mountains apart from Blomendhal and Meethotamulla will arise. Their regular collapse which causes serious damage to people and threatens their lives, will also lead to overall loss of biodiversity, contribute to global warming and climate change. No country can match Sri Lanka’s natural beauty, but its beauty is daily dying mainly because its’ own people and institutions’ failure and inability to manage waste, and not caring about the natural environment.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    Education about recycling should start in the Schools.

    Separation of Biodegradable and Non Biodegradable Waste, by providing Receptacles, (Covered Bins) at Public Sites, including Schools, Entertainment, Tourist and Religious Venues, should be a Priority.

    Regular TV Advertisements throughout the Day, can be another Way of Educating the Public on the Importance of Responsible Methods of Garbage Disposal.

    In a country that Practises Buddhism, which places the Preservation of Life in all its Forms, as one of the 5 Precepts, this neglect of the Basics of Environmental Care, is Reprehensible!

  • 2
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    we are also equally responsible for the tragedy and the the mountain of putrefying solid waste. We dont recycle effectively when instructed to and we buy highly packaged goods

  • 4
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    The Politics Of Garbage In Sri Lanka & The Need For Recycling Plants

    Many a times this need has been suggested by many including me; to both the previous as well as to the present government, setting up (None Bio Gas System) of burning of litter for steam engines propellers that would convert energy into electricity, as found in many European countries, many States in USA and Japan.

    No any avail!

    This is not just politics, but politicians’ imagine that “handling” and talking about litter is a shame for their pseudo proud attitude, even though they would utter filth for unnecessary matters!
    Now at-least they should realize the gravity of the issue by god’s grace!

  • 3
    3

    Srilanka is not ready for segregation of garbage unlike countries like Australia and other developed countries. Most of the Colombo houses are very small, they don’t have space to keep four bins, and await for CMC lorries to collect each on different days. Flats and Apartment dwellers who have common bins for 30 or more houses, and when one person mixes the garbage without segregation, all the houses suffer, CMC don’t collect garbage for weeks. Due to this residence are prone to get various deceases, like cholera and diarrhea etc. You should have practical solutions, in the name of environment, and foolishly following developed countries will put people in tremendous hardship, and put lives at risk by infecting with dangerous deceases.

    • 3
      1

      At Independence, we were probably more developed than Australia. WE have to face up to the fact that every one of us contributes to these problems. I have already got another article in – please see below.

      Now all our young people want to migrate to Australia – and then they will have the problems as well! Can’t eat cake and have it as well.

      We have a fantastic country: climate, fertile land – the works! So we multiply population, and even want the luxury of weeping for stray dogs – see that article on CT please.

      Bloody politicians are to blame! Not so fast – the report here is a little more constructive than what many of us are saying:

      http://www.colombopage.com/archive_17A/Apr15_1492267110CH.php

      Let us right now resolve to stop being racists who prevent any SOLUTION to the ETHNIC problem. Let us stop human population growth. I don’t feel too bad on that score: my parents have departed this life, leaving 7 children behind: “baby boomers” your “developed countries” call them.
      Among the seven of us, we’ve managed six grandchildren for our parents, three great-grand children (of course more of those may follow!). Below replacement level.

      We are “an English-Speaking Family”; not anything to be proud of, or ashamed. Just a statement of fact. So, roughly half the progeny Aussie and American citizens. Shame. We must contribute HERE!

      Always good to see things in context. Instead of studying the theories for exam purposes, see for yourself how correct the conclusions reached by this Anglican priest 200 years ago were:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Robert_Malthus

      Of course, not all of his premisses were valid. Why, oh, why, can’t we recognise that we don’t know everything. How will future generations judge us?

      Australians? They shot the Aborigines like dingoes. At least they now acknowledge their guilt.

    • 2
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      Well said, recycling is a sexy word, those who have travelled abroad just want to follow it without really understanding its relevance. In developed countries, mainly they recycle glasses and tins, which are collected in huge amounts, in Sri Lanka its hardly used.

  • 2
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    We have tried to set up a PPP plant. The only problem is that the Sri Lankan electricity company pays KW in Rupד rather and not in the dollar. Therefore, it is impossible to do a factory that will recycle the waste and generate electricity if the government does not change the electricity rate to dollar. No bank in the world will grant a loan to any international company when the loan is dollar or euro And the payment would be in Rupee. You have to change it as quickly as in other Asian countries.

  • 0
    0

    We have tried to set up a PPP plant. The only problem is that the Sri Lankan electricity company pays KW in Rupi rather than in the dollar. Therefore, it is impossible to do a factory that will recycle the waste and generate electricity if the government does not change the electricity rate. No bank in the world will grant a loan to any international company when the loan is dollar or euro And the payment would be in Rupee. You have to change it as quickly as in other Asian countries.

  • 3
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    @ hilanis,

    I see three comments up to now: all very relevant. As you say, this is such a basic problem that ALL of us are to blame.

    As individuals, I know we are helpless. Then at a public level, let us ensure that we get things done through our representatives, who (one and all – not just Maithri, who’s actually been more down to earth than most) having promised to be our “servants”, now lord it over us. It is good that this story, like our iniquitous war, is getting World coverage:

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/16/hundreds-feared-buried-in-sri-lanka-rubbish-dump-landslide

    Let us not blame only the current government. This “Guardian” report highlights the fact that garbage has been dumped in this poor area, where the elite don’t live, for years, as we “beautified” other areas of the City. Gota’s much lauded work? But hold Ranil & Co. also responsible.

    And ourselves: I don’t have THE solution. I can only testify to our collective guilt. I live on 45 perches in a village. The place is a bit neglected, but I look after my own waste, which isn’t much. The plastics have been piling up. Can’t they be recycled? By that I mean all those large (I consciously buy large, since that means relatively less pollution) Yogurt containers etc. I never buy drinking yogurt in plastic bottles. What’s the point, the sachet serves as well. I also compost stuff, and ensure a regular supply of water for the earthworms.

    The rest of the family spend all their time in a largish house built on 6 perches of land near Colombo. I don’t try to manage it. All garbage is thrown out together, a stinking mess, collected by the Municipality: well, poor Tamil people, who have to earn their livelihood. That stuff just can’t be re-cycled, probably ends up at Meethotamulla.

    Good BBC coverage yesterday; a resident spoke very effectively; strangely in some of the best English you will hear in Sri Lanka. Never mind; it was very effective, controlled invective against the Establishment.

    That “Guardian” report, as always asks us readers for donations, to keep going without advertisements. I read regularly, never pay. One can’t even access the articles in the posh “London Times” because one is not a subscriber.

    We are all to blame for the system being what it is!

  • 1
    0

    JRJ had in his mind a master plan to implement FREE ECONOMY, a plan to introduce a NEW CONSTITUTE etc, where as RW had in his mind the master plan before getting the power how to robe CENTRAL BANK with his Royal Comrades hoodwinking poor My3 who is a innocent guy genuinely got the power to save the country.
    At least now My3 should get rid off this rouge before it is too late and getting from Bad to Worst. Why dosent My3 understand RW’s under ground Plans and deals with Rajapaksa Co. when the whole country knows.

  • 4
    2

    How come Gotabhaya did not sort this out when he was cleaning up Colombo?

    • 6
      2

      It was he who began to dump the garbage there!

      The poor suffer. Remember he is an American citizen.

      Remember also the life styles of Mahinda’s kids.

      For contrast: Daham Sirisena may be an ass, but how relatively harmless was his meeting with Putin. WE the citizens are to blame by causing confusion by shouting at the same level of frenzy about everything.

      This incident is shameful.

      • 2
        0

        Sinhala_Man

        “It was he who began to dump the garbage there!”

        It was not his mistake when we voted garbage in we should have expected garbage out. When garbage appointed garbage to the top jobs we should have expected more garbage governing as well as managing the country.

        The voters must ultimately responsible for every thing that is wrong with this island.

        In a democracy people/voters are expected to make informed choices.

        If they can’t or won’t, the 225 + 1 = 226 (+ thousands of state functionaries) men and women let us call them by their functional group name “The crooks”, won’t hesitate to dump their own trash on your roof, at your door step or right inside your house possibly in all your rooms, including your prayer/meditation room as well as your kitchen.

        In a vibrant democracy one man alone cannot damage the environment, people, … the country ….. It requires a joint enterprise of colluding large number of like minded crooks.

        It appears the people deserve the crooks as we are all part of this crooked colluding joint enterprise, one way or another.

        PS.

        The politically motivated b***s carriers irrespective of their political affiliation, please ignore my above comments.

    • 1
      0

      When they trying to clean up one thing they ended up creating hundreds and thousands issues and this includes corruptions, white vans, dump garbage in Meethotamulla, etc.

    • 3
      1

      I’ve been told that this is a “duplicate comment”. I don’t think so. I have posted a couple of comments on this significant article already. Let us see. Apologies in advance in case that proves true.

      It was he who began to dump the garbage there!

      The poor suffer. Remember he is an American citizen.

      Remember also the life styles of Mahinda’s kids.

      For contrast: Daham Sirisena may be an ass, but how relatively harmless was his meeting with Putin. WE the citizens are to blame by causing confusion by shouting at the same level of frenzy about everything.

      This incident is shameful.

      As I type, I hear a loudspeaker. Some guy polluting with noise, part of the Avrudu Celebrations that go on apace – not in the decent traditional way, but using technology.

      Electronic waste is going to be the next concern.

      When will humans ever learn?

      • 1
        0

        Sinhala_Man; How right you are!

        We Sri Lankans are Quick to Blame someone else for Problems that arise.

        Noise Pollution by Temples and Mosques is a Problem that no one seems to care about!

        Buddhists hear the Islamic Call to Prayer and try to imitate them by even louder Pirith Desana! Do you call that Maithri, Karuna?

  • 4
    0

    Newfirst article on 24th May, 2015:

    “The People’s Movement Against the Kolonnawa Garbage Mountain had organised a demonstration today, demanding the removal of the waste.

    However, police took steps to disperse them using high pressure water cannons as the demonstrators blocked the Avissawella – Colombo road.

    UNP Councillor for the Western PC, S.M. Marikkar stated that it was under the previous regime that the garbage mountain was forcefully dumped in Kolonnawa and those who called for this to be removed had to face various acts of thuggery during the time of the previous regime…….He further noted that the Honourable Prime Minister has informed, over the phone, on Saturday, to bring the group for talks on Friday morning” that was from that article.

    Okay,

    it was a mistake of the previous Govt, does it mean this Govt should leave it as it is? Nearly 2 years now, what happened to S.M Marikkar’s promises?

  • 2
    0

    Find a solution for the immediate problem, its a matter of finding a 20 to 30 acre plot of land, about 5 acres to put the garbage, and rest as no man land, may be only to park garbage lorries etc. Don’t waste time on alternative solutions which are very expensive, really trouble to the people and very time consuming to implement. After all we are talking about few acres of land, when we have millions of acres of land.

  • 2
    0

    As I have said many times, only a massive investment in (industrial) technology can take the country forward. Signing resolutions in Geneva, federalism, etc. these are just political gambits. When you exploit natural resources, when you build factories and employ people, you are increasing the GDP and raising the standard of living. For example, Sri Lanka is an obvious candidate for solar energy. Solar energy is a form of renewable energy. If this technology was truly mastered, then it is not difficult to build a recycling plant.

    After living under the umbrella of suicide bombings and other terror attacks for 30 years, people should not be killed by poorly designed landfills. It seems like a joke, but there are real implications here. The garbage can spread disease quickly, given the high population density. It will keep tourists away, and the costs of cleaning up after a disaster can be very high.

  • 2
    1

    Yes agree with the author’s suggestion to have recycling plants rather land filling sites for Sri Lanka. Having recycling plants greatly minimize environmental damages will not have issues with locating them also.

  • 2
    0

    Why in SL we don’t foresee a tragedy and wait till counting casualties? And then the blame-game and fingerpointing start, another tragedy or political incident comes the way, then all idiots forget the original tragedy and go behind the latest – This continues for ages and has become part of life in the wonderland, SL

  • 2
    0

    Mr. Vidya Abeygunawardana: You started writing in a very appropriate way, in that, “If a country is not able to manage its own garbage that creates serious questions…” Yes. You are very correct and hit the nail on the head. This “Our Own Garbage” has been collected in a very luxurious place located in a picturesque location at Diyawanna Oya in Battaramulla. That location emanates all the “stinking” smell and has brought misery to the whole country; but as far as this “Garbage” is concerned, we have established a “Master Plan” to “RECYCLE” once in every four years. Why do you find fault with us for not “SORTING” out that garbage? We are doing that “SORTING” out in an splendid manner and RECYCLING is the name of the game. We send out one set and bring in the old set again and that is being repeated in a very democratic manner. Do people find “serious question” in that recycling plan? No. Not at all. Even this “Meetotamulla Tragedy” will be forgiven and forgotten within a very short period. For now everything is NEW and had gathered an enormous tension so as to even “prohibiting” that “Garbage” of Diyawannawa visiting the area. It is very “Momentous” but resume as usual within a short time span. Till then we cry for Meetotamulla People.

  • 1
    0

    “Garbage In Sri Lanka & The Need For Recycling Plants”

    haven’t we already started on that by recycling the politicians.so nothing new here that we don’t know about.the ideas and the methods are already there in place.

  • 1
    2

    Sinhala Lanka is one big garbage heap full of dead bodies. Next Singapore my ass!

  • 1
    5

    Do you know the cost involved in recycling, can we afford it, you must be joking. If you calculate the infrastructure, transportation, labor, time cost of the masses for recycling, with that money you can build a city, rather, just find an empty space and dump the garbage. Carbon monoxide that will be released by these lorries for additional trips for these recycling will have much more impact to the environment than the pollution you might get from the raw garbage.

    • 1
      0

      Ebert; We have to afford the cost of Recycling, if we are to Keep the Planet Liveable for our Future Children, Grand Children, and even Great Grand Children, and Those to come thereafter!

  • 2
    0

    Neatest and tidiest are the camps of the security forces and the police in the north and east. They are conspicuous every where. I suspect where do they dump the garbage. ?and the Colombo city can follow it. Then the garbage problem is easily solved. you don’t need an expert or donor.

  • 1
    0

    you could shoe the city map amd meethodamulla

  • 0
    0

    Sri Lankan politicians and govt. officers need to raise the garbage problems.actually they no solve.but play great role in talk. in godakawela pradeshiya saba try to raise this problem day by day. any body come and see to balavinna area near pallebedda. actually this problem becomes to tragedy due to our politicians and officers. no body answer, but they get salary from our taxes,is this situation reasonable?

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