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Just a beginning


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Sri Lanka’s first waste-to-energy initiative, amounting to a total investment of $ 193 million, kicked off on Thursday with two public-private partnership (PPP) projects in Muthurajawela. However, Sri Lanka is so far behind in the battle against garbage that it cannot shift focus away, even for a moment, and risk spiralling back into complacency.   

The two plants to be set up in Muthurajawela will add 20 MW worth of electricity to the national grid once commissioned, converting waste generated in Colombo and Gampaha into energy with the third project, with an investment of $ 91 million, slated to begin later this month. 

The project by the Western Power Company, through a fully-owned subsidiary of Aitken Spence Plc, is to construct an incineration plant with the capacity to process 700 MT of waste generated from the Colombo Municipal Council daily. The project, with a total investment of $ 98 million as a PPP, will add 10 MW to the national grid with the CMC supplying the plant with fresh unsorted waste. 

The project was initially proposed in 2009 to be set up at the Meethotamulla landfill but never got off the ground until it was relocated to its current site. These past mistakes have come to haunt Sri Lanka. The Meethotamulla tragedy coupled with the dengue epidemic that left over 300 people dead need to be a red line that will never be breached. Sri Lanka has to pledge such tragedies will not be allowed to happen again. Only unceasing vigilance will achieve that.

The new projects are important but it will be at least two years or 2019 by the time they are completed. In the meantime Sri Lankans still have to figure out how best they can reduce, reuse and recycle their waste. In fact measures that are put into place have to run parallel to the waste-to-energy projects to cope with the ever increasing amounts and the garbage that is already in dumps. In many ways recycling plastic is both difficult and expensive because it has to be collected, sorted and fed to factories that need to be built around the country. This actually takes up more resources and can even add to the pollution. Therefore recycling, while essential, is only one cog in a larger machine to live sustainably. 

Businesses and people have to brace for the looming polythene ban, which will come into effect from 1 September. Already there are concerns that over 300,000 people will potentially lose their jobs and the Industry and Commerce Ministry has raised the need to provide them with alternative livelihoods. It is important for a government to focus on polluters as well as encourage conscious consumerism because they are interlinked aspects of waste management. 

Consumers would be happy to change their lifestyles if they are given cost effective options to do so. For example supermarkets in urban areas are seeing more and more people refusing polythene bags, even at the vegetable aisle, and moving towards more sustainable options. Elsewhere in the world zero-waste shopping has become a hip trend, encouraging entrepreneurship and protecting the environment at the same time. Traditional ‘kades’ and the weekly ‘polas’ are great places to practice these sustainable lifestyles. Sri Lanka still has to deal with garbage in wildlife parks, beaches and even the sea. Collectively, this is still just the beginning for businesses, government and people to tackle the garbage problem.      

  


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