Is our metro waste disposal under control? | Daily News


Is our metro waste disposal under control?

The disposal of garbage has become a problem not only in Colombo, but also in most other cities. Colombo generates around 800 tonnes of garbage daily and disposing of this massive quantity is no easy task. The collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump with a horrendous loss of lives led to a frantic search for solutions, with Aruwakkalu in Puttalam considered the most suitable place for “processing” the garbage.

But the problem has not ended there. There have been several attacks on the convoy of trucks carrying the garbage by the area residents, who resent the piling up of garbage at this site. This has resulted in the Special Task Force (STF) being called to provide security to the drivers.

This must be the first time anywhere in the world that refuse trucks are being provided with commando-level security. While this has addressed the attacks on the convoy itself, the protests against the accumulation of garbage at the site have continued.

This state of affairs certainly cannot continue. There seems to be a lack of clarity and direction in this sector. Solid Waste Management should be a priority for Colombo’s administrators. An effective garbage disposal programme and policy is essential for Colombo with a more environment-friendly and sustainable outlook.

The simple dumping of garbage is passé now, as the rest of the world has moved towards more effective garbage management solutions from energy generation to efficient sorting of garbage for recycling. A programme was launched a couple of years ago with much fanfare for the generation of bio-energy from garbage. It is not clear whether this is still on, but there should be more such initiatives. Even incineration, though not the most environmental-friendly method, is still better than stinking landfills.

The Colombo Municipal Council and all other local bodies must work closely with the Provincial Councils and the Government to evolve environment-friendly solutions to the garbage crisis. In the meantime, there should be a greater emphasis on the 3Rs- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The time has come for a sustained media blitz on the 3Rs in order to decrease garbage generation in the first place. Households can easily reduce their food waste by cooking only what they can consume within a day or two and consuming everything they cook. The much-dreaded polythene bags can be endlessly re-used or better still, replaced with cloth or jute bags.

Most importantly, there should be a greater focus on recycling. It is a rather familiar concept to Sri Lankans. For example, in days gone by, consumers had to return the old bottle if they wanted to buy a new bottle of soft drinks. Now we just buy a PET bottle and throw it away once the contents are consumed. These bottles can be recycled, but a programme aimed at recycling that began sometime back now seems to be in limbo. It should be revived as polythene and many plastics are nearly indestructible and will survive intact in a landfill for hundreds of years.

Legislative measures are also needed since voluntary measures work only up to some extent. The Government must take steps to ban polystyrene packaging, which can easily be replaced with recycled paper packaging (Some global fast-food chains operating in Sri Lanka have already done so). Action should also be taken against the use of single-use plastic straws, the single biggest component of waste dumped in our oceans (along with cigarette butts). Again, alternatives are available. An outright ban on sili-sili bags, even the supposedly biodegradable ones, seems to be impractical at this stage as no viable alternatives are immediately available, but we can look to countries such as Kenya where total bans are in place to study how they got over the polythene addiction.

It is also baffling that paper bags and paper funnels (Gotu in local parlance) have almost disappeared from grocery stores. Frankly, these are far better for some items. We hope that these could be popularized again. Paper itself can be recycled and is thus environment-friendly. Indeed, some answers to our problems could be decidedly low-tech.

Electronic waste is going to be a major problem as electronics get cheaper and people opt to buy new ones instead of repairing their existing gadgets. The authorities must also ensure that electronic, automotive and certain other products imported to the country or manufactured here are ‘built for disassembly’ and free of environmentally harmful substances. These steps will help the fragile environment and also help the authorities to address the garbage issue more effectively.

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