Sri Lanka, with a population approximately 21million generates 2.3million tonnes of solid waste annually in the urban areas, a tiny amount compared to the unaccounted solid waste that is generated in rural areas throughout the country. Yet it is unable to manage it properly and waste continues to accumulate and pile up as Garbage Mountains at various places in the country. In most developed countries waste management is seen as a profit making entity; it starts at each household, where garbage is separated and put into relevant garbage bins; while institutes, business and industries separate their waste according to the waste they produce; where garbage is turned into various recycling products that generate renewable energy, fertilizer and creates employment opportunities. Therefore to utilize resources more efficiently and maximize the full value of materials, it is essential for the country to have a strong and sustainable recycling sector as an important aspect of its economy and society. Whereas in Sri Lanka, the entire nation’s waste including household garbage and waste from other establishments bar a very few industries is dumped on open landfills, into water bodies and the sea or burnt; which creates serious issues for the human, animal and to the environment.
In the past in Sri Lanka, no lasting solution was put forward for the waste management issue; the present government is forced by recent events to find a lasting solution for the waste management issue or at least to set up a recycling plant for the Colombo district. As of late authorities have informed people to separate their garbage for collection by their respective local authorities; but it is taking time to get it done properly. Even if people handover separated waste to local authorities they do not have in place proper facilities at present to dispose of garbage or other means to process garbage in a recycling facility. The lack of solid waste management is one of the most serious local environmental problems in Sri Lanka. It poses a significant risk to public health and the environment and a burden to the national economy. The country has lacked resources, information and expertise in the past to effectively address the solid waste challenge. The risks caused by the lack of management continue to increase, because poorly-developed and under-resourced waste management systems have been overwhelmed.
Any development should only be implemented after proper evaluation of its impact on the environment and remedies sort to eliminate if not minimise the impacts; for there are many manmade disasters that occur each year which could have been prevented. A good example was the development related to beautification of Colombo city that resulted in haphazard uncontrolled dumping of the city garbage at Meethotamulla for over past few years that resulted in an unstable mountain of garbage. People of the area have protested since the beginning of this garbage dump; but the authorities failed to take necessary action. Earlier in April this year, so many people died, many more injured and over hundred houses were destroyed or damaged, when a section of the garbage mountain at Meethotamulla dumping site collapsed; where around 23 million tonnes of accumulated garbage of many years generated by the entire Colombo district is dumped. Even if the Meethotamulla dump did not collapse, the pollution it causes everyday damages natural water supplies, leads to contamination of underground water and even gets into the food chain of both animals and humans living in the community. As a temporary measure, before the onset of the monsoon, the base of the dump was covered with polythene. The tragedy of the garbage collapse in Meethotamulla has unravelled several protests around the country, which undoubtedly pinpoints the seriousness of the garbage management problem at hand; adding to this was the threat of more garbage being dumped into the site that is being collected regularly from Colombo. But the disposal of garbage has turned into a major problem not in the City of Colombo, but also in many parts of the country are still left unresolved by the state.
The story is the same elsewhere in the country that the authorities are still unable to manage waste which is generated at local, provincial and national levels. The latest was the garbage ‘pekoe’ at two tea estates what was once the lush tea plantations in the Nuwara Eliya district may now become the garbage dumps. One such dump at Hatton is to be in the tea estates managed by the Watawala Plantations and the other dump is at Nanu Oya is in the tea estates managed by the Kelani Vally Plantations. These new proposals comes amidst the pile up of garbage along roads in the Colombo city, Kotte and Mount Lavinia areas; government has given approval of Rs100 million from the Treasury to the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government for the disposal of garbage accumulated in certain areas due to heavy rains and the resultant floods. Also made worse by utilization for unauthorized construction of structures on lands that are reserved for flood water flow and the balance land in the reservation blocked by garbage and debris from substandard constructions of buildings that have collapsed due to the heavy rains in the city and other places blocking the path of flood water.
Northern Breeze has posted earlier about the health disorders happening due to the waste disposal at Kallundai space at Kakaitivu, Jaffna, that confirm the fact that haphazard dumping of solid waste is one of the major issues faced by almost all the Local Authorities in the country. In Jaffna district there are seventeen local authorities together generate solid waste of over 36,500 tonnes annually of which 75% is from greater Jaffna city area. The Jaffna Municipal Council, Nallur and Vali South West Pradeshiya Sabahs have been disposing their solid wastes in the space between the southern sea and the Kallundai Road at Vali South West for years that has grown many meters high garbage mountain. The existing situation is comparatively severe not only based on the amount of waste generated but also considering urbanization, population and economic growth potential. In general, out of the waste generated in the district up to 70 – 80 % of the wastes could be categorised as organic and recyclable matters. Special considerations should be taken to address issues related to wastes from agriculture activities, slaughter houses and healthcare facilities; at present the slaughter house waste and healthcare waste are handled by the Local Authorities mostly using open dumping disposal practices.
There are also other waste produced in riversides, lagoons and surface water reservoirs due to drought and flood conditions. Due to the prevailing drought many tonnes of fresh water fish died due to lack of oxygen in the Nanthikadal Lagoon at Mullitivu in the north. Few days later foul dead fish turned solid waste polluting the little muddy water in the lagoon; this week saw many grazing animals in the vicinity of the same dry lagoon die due to food toxin causing more problems, with no action from any authorities.
Another incident related to solid waste occurred in the south during the recent floods, where authorities wanted to destroy the Baddegama Bridge with explosives to allow smooth flow of water from Gin Ganga, as the bridge was clogged up with solid waste in logs and debris that were floating along the river accumulating from illegal deforestation taking place upstream. Not surprisingly, the affected Halpatota villagers opposed destroying the bridge on the grounds that it would server their alternate route out of their village and have adverse impact submerging many houses along the downstream river banks.
While all this was taking in the land, a greater tragedy was recorded of the sea around the island nation; according to the International Business Times research done on 192 countries has revealed that Sri Lanka is one of the leading culprits in dumping plastic waste into the sea, harming the marine environment and the organisms living in it. 20 countries were observed to dump non-recyclable wastes into the marine environment, out of which Sri Lanka was placed fifth while China, Indonesia Philippines and Vietnam were placed from the first to fourth places respectively. Marine conservationists claim that the sea creatures and the sea will be severally harmed by the wastes dumped into the sea. The research also revealed that over 13 million tons of non-recyclable wastes is dumped annually in to the sea , 80% of the waste was observed to be polythene and plastic from 20 countries including Sri Lanka while 30% of the wastes were dumped by China.
Sri Lanka’s natural beauty is dying due to its’ people and authorities inability to manage waste, and not caring about the natural environment. The dumping of solid waste of any form both in land and at sea needs to be addressed without delay by any nation; for it leads to overall loss of biodiversity causing global warming and climate change with serious damage to people that threatens their lives. Sri Lanka should set up a recycling plant for the Colombo district as a high priority to mitigate this burning issue and gradually expand it to other cities and urban areas 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. After losing many thousands of lives from health hazards caused by solid waste to people and animals, the government is now considering to install a “garbage eating” power plant that would utilize the solid waste as its source of energy. Still much more needs to be done to clean the country free of solid waste; possible if authorities adopt BMP (best management practices) in their underutilized statutory books to eliminate or reduce considerably these man-made disasters that are hampering speedy development of the country.