Talking rubbish

Wednesday, 13 January 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

DESPITE numerous and serious protests, no efforts have been made to at least minimise Colombo’s garbage problem. Perhaps the main reason for this is that the public views these garbage sites as “necessary evils”. But environmentalists feel differently and point out that policy failures of successive governments have exacerbated the problem to a stinking level.

Basically, the reason the garbage problem is this bad is because of CMC inefficiency rather than the volume of refuse. Environmentalists believe that there are an estimated 58 unmanaged waste dumps in the Western Province alone, most of which are almost filled to capacity. As these dumps continue burning, it creates many health problems too. 

Seven hundred metric tons of garbage generated in the early ’90s in the Colombo metropolitan area has now quadrupled. At the national level, more than 40,000 tons of hazardous waste is being produced per annum. Solid and hazardous waste is unloaded into open dumps, causing serious health hazards and burnt in the open air, where they cause land and water pollution. During the last two decades, dumping destroyed almost all the wetlands around Colombo. Animals die choking on garbage and citizens protesting are brutally hauled off by Police. Clearly, this situation needs to change but recently the Megapolis officials announced it would take at least two years to set up a recycling facility.  

Environmentalists charge that although a waste management policy has been in the hands of the Environment Ministry since 1996, it is yet on hold. Due to this failure, no systematic waste collection is available in Sri Lanka. Those who collect material for re-use have been discouraged by the Government as there is no policy implementation. Even newspaper is being imported as wrapping paper. Except for a few items, there is no glass bottle collection in the country. All glass bottles in the bottling industry have been converted to Plastic (PET) bottles. Paper or cement bags are not collected as there is no market for them due to the use of shopping bags.

The Hazardous Waste Regulation approved in the ’90s has still not seen the light of day. Further, there are no regulations or standards for disposal of used electronic items and waste. Local authorities claim they have no money, with successive Budgets paying scant attention to funds needed for effective garbage disposal systems.

Law suits against offending companies, World Bank loans for better management of municipality dump sites, promotion of recycling and domestic waste disposal through compost making are all tested and failed methods in Sri Lanka. Yet these ideas have taken root and flourished elsewhere in the world. Last year the previous Cabinet approved a $ 102 million plan to transport waste to Puttalam where it would be used as fuel in factories. But the plan was never implemented due to the change in government. Smaller efforts such as making people sort their garbage for better recycling also dropped by the wayside.

Despite Sri Lanka’s oft-boasted high literacy rate, people continue to be unaware of their responsibilities regarding garbage. The new wave of supermarkets and conspicuous consumption is not helping as they add substantially to polythene consumption and environmental pollution. Sri Lanka’s new money spinner, tourism, is heavily dependent on a clean environment and simple health reasons are sufficient motivation. But it would seem that most people and the Government are content to let a few hundred poor families bear the results of their own shortcomings.