A viable solution to the disposal of garbage

Published : 9:07 am  April 27, 2017 | No comments so far |  | 


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By Yoshitha Perera
The President declared disposal of garbage as an essential service, soon after the Meethotamulla tragedy. The  has carried a number of articles on the issue and find it prudent to publish an interview with Madhawa Waidyarathana, Additional Secretary to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development and Jayavilal Fernando, Director of the Solid Waste Management Project from the same Ministry.   


The garbage issue 
The garbage issue, mostly found in urban areas is one that has been an issue for years. Changing time and consumption patterns has also changed the components of the garbage collected today. Both officials said there was an increase in the consumption of non- biodegradable items over the years with most packages for goods being sold with non- biodegradable items.   

 “With the changes in life styles and the consumption patterns, the amount of non- biodegradable things started to increase,” they said.   
The country did not have an established system to manage and sort the waste that is being collected. Urbanisation has ensured residents are confined to small living spaces with little to no room to manage and sort waste in the domestic setting.   

Therefore, garbage has now become an issue in all urbanized areas across the world. Statistics reveal that close to 80 percent of the garbage collected are from the urban areas. Sri Lanka collects close to 7,000 metric tons of garbage generated each day.   

“We had got this estimate from the research conducted by various groups of experts,” they said.   

Sixty percent of garbage generated within the country comes from the Western region with the garbage collected from the Colombo Metropolitan area reaching as much as 1,200 tons each day.   


Why government authorities dumped garbage at Meethotamulla
During the last few decades the country had no scientific way of dumping or managing the solid waste generated in any part of the country. There were some important attempts in the past, but unfortunately those attempts had failed due to various political agendas.   
1“The only project we successfully completed was the Dompe sanitary land project which was used to dump garbage and the land was identified by Mr. Jayavilal Fernando,” Waidiyarathana said.   

If the country is using the internationally recognized 3R concept (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) people can manage their waste properly. “But unfortunately the attitude of our citizens is not very positive. Nobody is held accountable for the garbage that is generated from their homes,” both officials said.   

Due to many political agendas in Colombo against managing garbage the authorities had to establish a proper garbage management system in the Dompe area.   

“We had many initiatives like in Dompe, to recycle the garbage, but due to extremist protests by different political forces those projects had to be cancelled,” they said. This then lead to the dumping of garbage within the Colombo District.   

The Colombo Municipality had no other place to dump the garbage and before Bloemendhal and Meethotamulla there was another initiative to dump the garbage at another site at Meepe.  

“That was also stopped by various individuals who had different motives at the time,” they said.   

The project was funded by the World Bank and the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was also issued for the project. “Because all proposals were solutions for the issue in the short term, funding agencies such as the World Bank cancelled their projects,” they said.   

One project was set to construct a railway track from Kochchiikade to Avissawella which was to transport garbage collected from the entire district of Colombo to recycling plants. Not initiating such projects soon lead to the dumping of garbage in areas such as Meethotamulla, the officials said.   



The world had recognized few methods of managing garbage such as garbage sorting at the source, handling the mix waste and sanitary land filling. Every country adopts the policy of sorting the garbage at the source and it is a must in developed countries.   
However, if the waste is mixed it could be used in other ways such as incineration which could generate electricity. This means, the construction of certain incineration plants which would then create energy, which was halted.   

If a country does have more burnable materials in the garbage, that garbage has a more calorific value and it is easy and profitable to establish waste into energy projects.   

Another option would be sanitary land fillings, which would separate the garbage and the earth with the use of a thin material. This would ensure hazardous and chemical material does not leak into the soil and water sources in the area.   

 “You cannot construct anything if pits are filled with the ashes after incineration. However, you can have open gardens in urban areas with sanitary filling if the space is available,” the officials explained, as solutions for the garbage issue.   


Projects scheduled to be implemented by the Ministry in Colombo 
In the recent past, the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry identified a land in Aruwakkalu, Puttalam to construct a sanitary land filling.   

“In Aruwakkalu there is the quarry which was mined for limestone. We can use this to dump garbage. We can use a sanitary filling for them and then use it,” they said.   

Limestone excavation will continue at the site while the Ministry lays out a sanitary land filling in pits that can no longer be excavated for limestone.  

“We found a good place to construct a sanitary land filling in Puttalam District at Aruwakkalu, which is not close to the Wilpattu national park,” the officials said.   

Previously, the government had a plan to transfer garbage to the Puttalam district via train but the project was halted after protests against it. The previous government was forced to halt the project amid planning, despite receiving an Environmental Impact Asessment (EIA) report.   

However, the ministry has found a second site in Aruwakkalu which would be put to use soon after the Ministry received an EIA report for the land.   

The officials said they had already negotiated with the company mining the area as to how the sanitary land filling would be laid out, while the company continues to mine for limestone.   

“The land survey is complete and now we have almost completed the geo-technical survey for the site. We hope to get the EIA by August and start on the project soon after. We had plans to build the train track from Meethotamulla to Aruwakkalu but now we have issues constructing the track there,” they said.   

After the collapse of the garbage mountain earlier this month, the Ministry can no longer use the land to construct a railway track to transport the garbage.   

 “We had to identify an alternative land at Kelaniya which can be used as a transfer point for the garbage,” the officials said.   
The garbage at Meethotamulla and new garbage collected from the Colombo Municipality, will be transferred to the Aruwakkalu sanitary land.   

“Almost 1,200 tons of garbage per day is collected from Colombo and will be transferred to the new sanitary land at Aruwakkalu,” they said.   


However, the garbage issue is the sole responsibility of local government bodies and the Ministry has taken several steps to help these authorities to resolve the issue.   

 “We do the planning, we help them with documents, and help them with the construction of the project, but the operation of the project is the responsibility of the local government bodies,” both officials said.