Seeking solid solutions to solid waste-BY KATHYA DE SILVA SENARATH
Solid waste management has been a major issue for Sri Lanka due to increased industrial activity and complicated lifestyles. The problem was persistent for many years but came to the fore especially after the collapse of the Meethotamulla waste disposal site in 2017 taking lives with it. Solid waste and its fast growing nature has become a bottleneck for the development of a country.
The President’s Saubagyagye Dekma policy has given priority to create a clean environment. The policy has set out goals and strategies for government institutes and they are achievable with strong implementation methods.
According to the Environmental Foundation and UNESCAP, Sri Lanka generates 7000 MT of solid waste per day with the Western Province accounting for nearly 60% of waste generation. Each person generates an average of 1 to 0.4kg of waste per day and only half of the waste generated is collected.
The rate of waste generation increases by 1.2% each year. The per capita of solid waste per day was about 10 kg in the Colombo Municipal Council, 0.75 kg in other Municipal Councils, 0.60 kg in Urban Councils and 0.40 kg in Pradeshiya Sabhas. The Municipal solid waste in Sri Lanka consists a high percentage of perishable organic material which is about 65 – 66% by weight.
Prof. Mallika Pinnawala, Professor of Sociology from the University of Peradeniya said Government initiatives have commenced to address the solid waste issue. She is the sociologist contributing to the project for Western Province solid waste management master plan initiated in 2019 and funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It had to halt due to the pandemic but is set to resume by the end of 2021. The aim is to promote solid waste management practices and strengthen the planning capacity on solid waste management.
Prof. Pinnawala said the Project for the ‘Development of Pollution Control and Environmental Restoration Technologies of Waste Landfill Sites taking in Geographical Characteristics’ supported by the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) funded by JICA was one of the largest projects in Sri Lanka collaborating with many national and international partner organisations. Prof. Pinnawala was the Core-Member and Sociologist to this project. The project developed a guide for ‘Sustainable Planning Management and Pollution Control of Waste Landfills in Sri Lanka’ by dealing with Municipal solid waste and environmental protection which would bring decisive inputs for managing solid waste.
This guide provides recommendations to manage landfill sites with appropriate technologies from the selection of landfill sites to its management and maintenance.
“Solid waste has become a great dilemma in socio-economic, health and environmental aspects around the world because of rapid amplification of urbanisation, change of consumption patterns, expansion of new technologies and changing attitudes.
In this circumstance, solid waste management has proceeded to be a foremost challenge in the world especially in urban areas and main cities,” Prof. Pinnawala said.
People consider that the management of solid waste is a responsibility of the local authorities rather than the person who is responsible for generating them. Therefore, a multipronged approach needs to be in place to tackle the situation.
Solid waste management needs community participation and strong government involvement. As the main waste generators, the community has an important role in managing this. The government has to adopt reward and punishment methods with harsher rules and legal action. In Sri Lanka, a major problem with solid waste disposal is linked with the inability of both the community and local authorities, Prof. Pinnawala said.
“It is important to involve the community in the decision and policymaking process which consequently enables them to take responsibility and sense of co-ownership. In Japan, we can see this sense of ownership,” said Prof. Pinnawala. It is necessary to achieve the correct balance between the top tier and participatory strategies to make the community-centered solid waste management a success, she added.
The inability of local authorities to coordinate their work, play their roles and hold responsibilities in an effective manner are the major reasons for mismanagement of solid waste, she said. Therefore, a top-down approach centralised on state policies and administrative services is needed along with a bottom-up approach centralized on community participation.
Collaborative action is needed between the community and the Municipal Council. This needs to be active and intentional rather than a mandatory requirement so that the community too genuinely feels the need. Therefore, an attitudinal change is essential starting from the kindergarten level. For example, in Japan, keeping a clean environment is a part of their education that includes knowledge sharing on recycling and upcycling.
“We need to find a solution to wild dumping or open dumping which is a major problem in Sri Lanka. It has become the most preferred option of final disposal at present. The lack of appropriate lands for waste disposal has aggravated this problem. More than 95% of waste have been disposed to open dumps in the country with no regard for its adverse environmental and public health impacts,” Prof. Pinnawala said. As a solution, sanitary landfills have been established in disposal sites.
She added that there are over 23 dumping sites in the Western Province and most are open dumping and limited capacity for disposal. The construction of new final disposal site has been difficult. Cluster landfill sites is another solution recently proposed, Prof. Pinnawala added. They are landfills shared by several local authorities. The Environmental Remediation Program (ERP) of the EU and the United Nations (UNOPS) have constructed seven engineered landfills, five compost sites, one waste transfer facility and recycle facilities. The first and the largest sanitary landfill is situated in Ampara and it is used by several local authorities.
Power or energy generation is another strategy adopted for solid waste management which is in operation in Karadiyana and Kerawalapitiya while bio gas producing projects are under construction in the Matara and Kaduwela Municipal Councils.
Prof. Pinnawala also highlighted that training program on solid waste management is an important step towards achieving a clean environment. Already, such a strategy is adopted by the Balangoda Urban Council which currently conducts a three-month course on solid waste management with the support of the provincial government, National Vocational Authority and Learn Asia Organization. The staff members of the Urban Council, other local authorities and students are welcome to join the training course. Certificates are awarded after the completion of the course.
Although there are several strategies to adopt, they are not properly implemented due to constrains such as the lack of expert knowledge, limited financial resources, complex institutional responsibilities, lack of regulatory and institutional framework, lack of community participation and lack of labourers. Therefore, a strong legal framework with community awareness is needed to overcome this modern day challenge, Prof. Pinnawala added.