Friday, 28 March 2014 00:00
By Arjuna Jongmoon Choi
Foreign visitors are often impressed by the fresh air and clean streets as well as the natural beauty in Sri Lanka. Particularly, Colombo is regarded as one of the most well-organised cities in South Asia. Furthermore, given all the ongoing mega construction projects, the city will be dramatically developed into the commercial center of the region, bustling with tourists and covered in sparkling lights of skyscrapers. But, as its economy grows, Sri Lanka also needs to cope with a daunting challenge of the waste issue.
Waste management in Sri Lanka
According to the Ministry of Environment, the average waste generated in Sri Lanka amounts to 6,400 tons per day, of which only 2,700 tons are collected and buried in landfills by local authorities. The remaining 3,700 tons of solid waste are thrown away at roadsides, waterways, and low lands.
The Sri Lankan Government clearly recognises the urgency to redress this issue and spends roughly Rs. 3 billion annually on solid waste management. It has mostly focused on regulatory measures, based upon ‘the polluter pays principle’. However, that is only a stopgap measure so it is necessary to seek more fundamental and sustainable solutions.
Korea’s model case
When President Rajapaksa made a state visit to Korea in 2012, he showed a special interest in Korea’s waste management systems, and conducted a site-visit to the ‘Mapo Resource Recovery Facility’.
The Mapo facility is a model case of the waste-to-energy incineration in Korea. It burns up to 750 tons of trash per day while utilising waste heat created in the process to generate 104Mwh of electricity per day. Despite the large amount of trash coming in on a daily basis, the state-of-the-art sanitary technology ensures the keeping of stench and environmental pollution to a minimum.
The surrounding facilities also present different models, including a beautiful park fashioned out of an old garbage dump, which by now only the older members of the community can vaguely remember as being a notorious landfill.
As a follow-up to President Rajapaksa’s visit to Korea, the two governments agreed on environmental cooperation, particularly in the area of waste disposal and incineration.
Korean environmental technology into Sri Lanka
The latest outcome is the first-ever sanitary landfill in Sri Lanka. The Korean Government, channelled through KOICA, provided $ 4.5 million as a grant and opened the facility in Dompe, Gampaha District this month.
Its technical significance lies in the leachate treatment and gas control systems. For example, the waste water and leachate from the landfill will be drained through high density polyethylene pipes, and kept from infiltrating into the soil. The emitting gas will be also properly collected and discharged. With the handling capacity of the collective waste up to 90 tons a day, this landfill will help relieve the burden on local authorities and further serve as a pilot model for numerous anticipated projects throughout the country. Meanwhile, KOICA is also reviewing the two proposed projects on small-scale incinerators for rural areas so that local governments can manage waste on their own.
A similar in kind but significantly larger scale project will be soon launched with the provision of a $ 34 million loan by the Korea Exim Bank. That is, four sanitary landfills are to be built in Kalutara, Galle, Anuradhapura, and Kandy.
Additionally, a possibility of waste-to-energy incineration is being considered. The feasibility study was just completed regarding ‘building an incineration power plant’ inside the Karadeyana dumping site, Colombo District. If implemented, the plant will be able to incinerate 300 tons of solid waste per day and to produce 200Mwh of electricity, replacing the concept of ‘waste’ by a concept of ‘resource.’ Other than these three cases, various forms of cooperation are under consultation between the two countries.
Moving towards greener Sri Lanka
During the economic transition in 1990s, the Korean Government was also facing a possible garbage crisis, but could successfully overcome it with bold investments in long term planning and the implementation of new methods and technologies. Nowadays, Koreans generate more than 380,000 tons of waste a day, but about 85% of them are sorted out and recycled. The remaining 15% are either safely buried in sanitary landfills or incinerated in 37 different resource recovery facilities while contributing to the power production.
As Korea’s experience demonstrates, a well-organised system can have positive impacts on the economy, ecology and the well-being of communities. Likewise, Korea will continue to support the Sri Lankan Government’s efforts to solve the waste issue in a more integrated and effective manner and such cooperation will be able to help Sri Lanka become “greener.”
(The writer is the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in Sri Lanka