Authorities Mum On Garbage Problem

by Ifham Nizam

Picturs by Lalith Perera

Despite strong objection by the masses in most parts of the Western Province and in some parts of Wattala, the authorities were mum, simply saying they are yet to find a concrete solution to the growing garbage problem in the country.

Minister of Local Councils, Faizer Mustapha was not available for comment despite numerous attempts to contact him.

National Solid Waste Management Support Centre (NSWMSC) Director Athula Illangasinghe and Assistant Director (Planning) D P Indaka too were not contactable.

However, Ministry officials’ said that garbage is a major problem, lasting more than a decade and half.

There were steps to promote the setting up of sanitary landfill throughout the country. Due to opposition in most parts of the country that too had come to a standstill, an official said

However, the Ministry is educating the masses on the responsible disposal of waste.

Status of the waste generation and management of Sri Lanka

Given the recent calamity at Meethotamulla and the ill-advised decision to dump garbage in Muthurajawela, a wetland sanctuary under the Fauna and Flora Ordinance, it is useful to consider the background to waste management in Sri Lanka, a senior environmental scientist of the Environment Foundation Limited said .

Sri Lanka generates 7000MT of solid waste per day with the Western Province accounting for nearly 60 per cent of waste generation.  Each person generates an average of 1-0.4kg of waste per day.  According to the Waste Management Authority and the Central Environmental Authority, only half of the waste generated is collected.


Responsibility of waste management

Waste collection and disposal responsibilities are vested with the local authorities of the particular Divisional Secretariat, either a municipal council (as per the Municipal Councils Ordinance -1947), urban council (Urban Councils Ordinance – 1939) or local council (Pradeshiya Sabha Act – 1987). Provisions related to waste management and disposal, are made under the National Environmental Act No.47 of 1981 and Public Nuisance Ordinance.

There are a myriad of institutions concerned with waste management at different stages, including the Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils, Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, Ministry of Megapolis and Western Province Development, Central Environmental Authority, Urban Development Authority, National Solid Waste Management Support Centre, Western Province Waste Management Authority and Local Authorities.


Current status

For the last 20 years or so, government institutions have attempted to figure out the best waste management strategy for the country. While some policies and actions supported sanitary landfills, some initiatives were driven towards waste to energy projects. In 2008,  the CEA initiated a 10 year Waste Management Programme named “Pilisaru Programme” with the goal of “Waste Free Sri Lanka by 2018.” Unfortunately the lack of a unified coherent strategy has led to inconsistent and ineffective practices.  The failure to address this escalating issue in a timely manner resulted in unsanitary eye sores in Karadiyana, Bloemendhal, Meethotamulla, Kolonnawa, and the degradation of wetlands, coastline, rivers and other streams which have become dumping sites for plastic and polythene waste, and other mixed waste. With mountains of garbage accumulating at Bloemendhal and Meethotamulla, on the 14th of April, Sinhala-Hindu New Year dawned with the destruction of the Meethotamulla garbage mountain, killing 30 people and destroying more than 100 houses, she noted.


Identifying reasons

The environmental scientist stressed that instead of playing a blame-game, it is important to identify the key flaws in our system and rectify them. From individual households to high ranking government officials, we are all accountable and somewhat responsible for this current state of affairs, whether by generating unmanageable piles of waste or refusing to adopt sound management measures. In the past, we have been hindered by an absence of genuine political will, a lack of accountable authorities and apathetic and disinterested citizens. “We cannot continue like this,” she stressed.


What next?

“As individuals we need to be responsible for our own waste, starting from minimising waste generation to ensuring responsible waste disposal. While reducing the plastic and polythene use, it is our responsibility to separate the waste as perishables and non-perishables  and handover non-perishables (plastic/polythene, glass, metal etc) to recycling centres.

In parallel, waste collection by local authorities should have to be regularised and facilitate collection of segregated waste, otherwise separation at the point of generation will be a futile exercise. While people could hand over the recycled waste to either collection centres or recycling centres directly, whatever that will not be processed in that way should be collected and disposed as separated waste with sound management mechanisms. The local councils should facilitate this process,” she added.

She strongly believes that Government authorities should prioritise perishable waste conversion to compost and bio gas in partnership with the corporate sector. Business opportunities should be created based on the technology and financial feasibility, not based on the nepotism or gaining political benefits. Plastic, polythene, metal and glass recycling enterprises should be promoted and supported at different scales, and the gap between waste generators and recyclers should be filled by establishing more collection centers and making the process more accessible to the general public. Waste is a resource and profitable ventures should be created in the waste business and it should be developed as a service that generates profit rather a business with no service value.  Authorities need to utilise scientific experts to identify the best model to manage waste in Sri Lanka, be it Waste-to-Energy, incineration or a combination of both. Landfills will have to be considered since there will be a disposable waste quantity generated even after incineration and from other waste to energy operations.

“We as civil society have a responsibility to educate people to move towards more sustainable and resource efficient consumption patterns.  The EFL plans to continue our campaign of awareness raising, while urging government authorities to streamline waste management,” she added.  Despite the garbage crisis erupted in Meetottamulla and subsequent issues such as dumping garbage in Muthurajawela and other areas Sri Lankan government has failed to address the current garbage crisis over the last two months, says senior environmentalist Hemantha Withanage.

He said instead bringing the gazette prohibiting any action/mobilisation against hap-hazard garbage dumping President Sirisena and the parliament failed to bring any suitable scientific waste management policy and regulations to date.

The proposed guidelines prepared by the CEA and Ministry of Environment as directed by the Cabinet is not yet agreed by the cabinet due to the pressure of the plastic manufacturing companies owned by powerful people.  “The only way we can handle current garbage issue is by reducing garbage by banning plastics, sorting our garbage at the point of generation, collecting different types of garbage separately and tendering the contract separately, introducing extended producer responsibility for E waste, etc,” he added.

The Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) also said that people who produce garbage should take the responsibility of making an uncontrolled level of production of garbage due to the over consumption and irresponsible consumption/shopping.

Carrying garbage to Muthurajawela is  illegal . Furthermore,  the proposed dumping to Ekala and Arruwakkaru is equally wrong and  unjustifiable .  The CEA has failed to address this issue since these initiatives have political interest.

He added that the Centre for Environmental Justice demands  a science based garbage management policy and work plan and based on the Zero waste policies.

Recently President Maithripala Sirisena instructed all relevant institutions to initiate a mechanism to formalise the disposal of garbage in Colombo and the suburbs. He also directed the Police to carry out raids to detect improper waste disposal practices.

“The main reason for lack of proper waste management is that there is no cooperation among the main institutions responsible for waste management. Each institution should fulfill its responsibility in this regard,” the President said speaking at a special discussion on the matter held at the Presidential Secretariat.
The President asked for explanations from the officials regarding the complaints received from the public on the lack of reconstruction and poor maintenance in several areas including the Viharamahadevi Park and the area around the Beira Lake, advising them to expedite the work.
He also instructed the police unit to conduct raids to discover any improper waste disposal, adding that those who engage in such disposal should be identified.

Protests over garbage dumping

Residents, living close to the Muthurajawela Sanctuary, had taken up their grievances to the Supreme Court in a fundamental rights violation petition against the dumping of Colombo garbage by the Colombo Municipal Council there.
They claim that the dumping of garbage, filling the paddy fields and moving of the soil pollute the water channels that run through the Muthurajawela Sanctuary. The dumping of garbage increases the acidity of the water and pollutes the wells in the area.
A resident said that there are some 6,500 houses in the area with a population of 25,000.
The residents have said the action of the Colombo Municipal Council, the Urban Development Authority, the Central Environmental Authority, the Wattala Pradeshiya Sabha and a few others should be prevented by the Court.
Additional Solicitor General, Sanjay Rajaratnam President’s Counsel, asked for time to obtain instructions from the Central Environmental Authority and the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau cited among the respondents.
The court fixed the date of Support for July 22. The bench comprised Chief Justice Priyasarth Dep and Justice Anil Gooneratne.

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