No Proper Policy To Reduce Garbage

by Ifham Nizam

Some of the damaged houses

It is not only the much discussed hospital waste that is discharged or released to water bodies, but there are sewerage line connections other than from hospitals causing health hazards and environmental damage, a leading environmental scientist points out.

The State Land Ordinance recognizes that the right to the use, flow, management and control of the water in any public lake or public system is vested in the State. In the exercise of such right, the State may enter any land and take measures for the conservation and supply of such water, for its more equal distribution, beneficial use and protection from pollution.

In Colombo there are sources like industries and drainage canals with domestic waste while in Kandy, there is supermarket waste apart from the drainage canals polluted with domestic and commercial sources, the scientist involved in a number of research to the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) said.

“We have taken up this matter for last two decades. EFL has sought the support of the court for many unplanned garbage disposal sites (Karadiyana, Bloemendhal, Gohagoda-Kandy) as well as tried intervening with many of the river pollution cases including the Kelani River and Maha Oya. Still we are working on it. We have worked with the Central Environment Authority (CEA) to curtail the pollution of the Kelani River with the support of the Asia Foundation. We have developed guidelines for restoring the water quality of the river, which we have shared with CEA”, she added.

She further said: “It’s their kitchen waste, sewerage sometimes. There may be clinical waste which is hazardous and highly pathogenic. However, we don’t have solid proof to say so.”

She also said that it is a huge public health issue. There can be epidemics due to this condition. Then there are algal blooms and eutrophication of the river. Further, drastic drop dissolved oxygen causes the river an unsuitable habitat for aquatic species, which directly affects the riverine ecosystem health. Moreover the aesthetic appeal of the river drops and it becomes an eye sore.

The first step is to reduce our waste generation, as an individual, industrial or commercial entity or other institution. Then steps must be taken to segregate the generated waste, reuse where possible, handover for recycling and compost the perishables. There is no rocket science associated in this concept. It’s very simple. Everyone should have the genuine intention to do it, she further noted.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility. There is a lot of money associated with garbage, especially municipal waste transportation and dumping in open landfills. Therefore, there were so many instances the support came from international level was denied. So these corrupt local and nation’s politicians and intermediate parties should be penalised and eliminated from the process,” she added.

Speaking about the recent initiative to collect only segregated garbage, she says it is a very good initiative which has been long overdue in managing the waste generated in this country. However, it has to be supported by the public for it to become a successful programme and the authorities will also have to fulfill supporting requirements such as providing different collection bins/carts/trucks for the various types of waste, initiating the recycling process, maintaining compost facilities, etc., which are lacking at the moment.

She stressed that it is difficult to ascertain that segregation of garbage alone would reduce the amount of garbage generated by 50 to 60 per cent. Adding that it depends on several other factors like promoting reuse, recycling and composting among the public and most of all encouraging the consumers to reduce consumption whenever possible. Furthermore the authorities should also make sure that the segregated waste is directed towards recycling/composting and not to the current, already overloaded landfills which was the practice within some municipalities. The entire process need to be streamlined from consumer to final destination to achieve such a reduction in garbage.

Responding to a query whether the programme is practical, she said that it is practical if the post segregation process is in order and the individuals who fail to conform to the new law is heavily fined. Even if there are loopholes in the process, it’s important to find suitable solutions accordingly to address them as this initiative is an urgent national need.

Speaking on a proper solid waste system in Sri Lanka, she added: “At the moment we do not have a proper system as you can see that the landfills are overflowing and the authorities are desperately searching for more land space to dump garbage. This is not a sustainable solution for a tiny island nation like ours as we have very limited space and garbage will be increasing day by day. There is no proper policy to reduce the amount of garbage generated or a solution other than dumping. At present there is small scale plastic and paper recycling and composting done primarily by non-governmental institutions and individuals which are almost negligible compared to the amount of garbage that is generated daily in Colombo alone.”


Water resources and issues

Sri Lanka is blessed with an abundance of water resources, which include 103 rivers flowing from the central highlands to various regions of the country. For many of these rivers, watershed areas are located in the central highlands. Watersheds (also known as drainage basins/catchment areas) absorb rain water and feed it into streams that join to form rivers. The abundant vegetation in the central highlands helps rainwater to be absorbed, and is a perfect natural system that maintains these rivers throughout the year1. This is why land use in these areas had to be very carefully managed.

At the beginning of the last century, Sri Lanka had about 70 per cent of land area under natural forests. However, this number has been reduced to around 20 per cent due to various socio-economic reasons. Development is part and parcel of any civilization, however it’s a timely question in light of the recent natural disasters to ask ourselves – “At what cost?”

Unplanned development including ad hoc and haphazard land use changes are doing the exact opposite of providing basic needs of people in the long run. A key example is the recent flooding and landslides in Sri Lanka that affected 22 of 25 districts, destroying homes and submerging entire villages. 301,601 people were affected, with 203 people pronounced dead/missing.

A large number of people are still displaced, causing urgent health and sanitation issues in camps and temporary accommodations. These disastrous effects of the high rainfall should have been buffered by the watershed areas in the central highlands where the majority of the rainfall was received.

Rainfall that is not absorbed into the soil forms surface run-off where the excess water flows along the surface of the land. In large quantities, this causes flooding. The ability of land to absorb precipitation and decrease surface fun-off is measured by the runoff coefficient (C).

The runoff coefficient (C) tells us what proportion of the precipitation received is turning into surface run-off.

Large values of C signify high runoff and low infiltration such as on pavements – while a low number signifies the opposite. Land use has a huge impact on the amount of run-off generated from precipitation. Forested land generates the least run-off, with various developmental changes generating more and more run-off. These parameters are extremely important in understanding the recent flooding of the Kelani River.

1 Comment for “No Proper Policy To Reduce Garbage”

  1. Sangaralingham

    Humans will continue to produce garbage. More so as years go by. Universities of the country with various municipalities must plan for now and the future. Energy production is considered by many countries. How etc should be discussed with research groups with university participation to hasten the process with strict control where how to dis pose the garbage the sole responsibility of various municipalities cities towns villages with education for citizens students in schools. Reuse recycle repurpose many natural refuse can be properly composted used in fields parks gardens

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