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There appeared recently lengthy articles on the problem of garbage collection and disposal in Colombo and suburbs. This nuisance has been going on for over three decades, and no firm action has been taken by authorities, both the Colombo Municipal Council and the government.

We heard of the Colombo Municipality proposing to transport the garbage to Puttalam by rail and for this purpose a railway line was to be constructed from Orugodawatte to the present garbage dumps at Meetotamulla.The recent development is that the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development is to allocate land to three companies this year for three separate solid waste disposal projects.

We have read and heard such assurances earlier too and as time passes, they are forgotten till some demonstration is held by those affected. As for the transport of Colombo garbage to Puttalam, time may come when those at Puttalam will also demonstrate and the government will have to again find solutions. This action reminds me of a Sinhala saying athi sareta amuda gahanawa wagai – I leave the readers to translate this saying to English.

As far back as late 1988, I wrote on this subject quoting a report by M/s Lhamere, a German consulting firm, who undertook a comprehensive study of energy requirements in this country on the invitation of the Ministry for Power and Energy and the report touched on the possibility of setting up a power plant which at that time would have generated 40 Mw of electricity on the assessment of garbage collection then, which was said to be in the region of 600,000 tons annually. The present collection, as reported is around 1200 tons per day. Below, is an extract from that report.

“Incinerator plants use garbage to produce electricity. They are similar to conventional coal fired steam plants, but require elaborate refuse feeder, grate, firing and air quality control systems. Also the required land area is greater.

Some two million people [this figure could be trebled as the estimated stated was in 1988] in the Greater Colombo area and the amount of garbage collected annually could be around 600,000 tons [the present collection is estimated to be 1200 per day]. About 65 percent is made up of organic substances.The garbage is at present dumped on marshy land in the vicinity of Colombo, for the purpose of land reclamation, this practice causes environmental problems (i.e. bad smells and ground and surface water pollution) – I may add this short-sighted haphazard action could have caused flooding of areas in Colombo and suburbs; a problem not yet solved.

The average heat content of the garbage is not exactly known on the few tests done. It may be in the region of Gjoule per ton, compared to with 40 to 45 Gjoule per ton of oil. Hence the fuel saving potentially, achievable with an incinerator plant could be 100,000 tons oil per year [under 1988 conditions] This would be sufficient for the generation of some 40 Mw of power and at the same time would contribute largely to the solution of the Greater Colombo waste disposal problem.”

Although the above report does not touch on the possibility of producing compost manure, which will greatly bring down the import of fertilizers, it is a matter the authorities should seriously think of, in view of the government efforts to encourage organic manure in cultivation of crops.

Incidentally, reading my letters on this subject at various times, I received a letter from one who was interested in coming forward to solve the problem and he says that they had developed an excellent anaerobic system and had made various proposals, but gave up due to government inaction and blocks.

This is a sad state of affairs. The government should have studied the proposals and, if feasible, given all assistance. Reason for such inaction is left for readers to speculate. Let us cross our fingers and wait to see whether the present effort, giving three companies land for this purpose would materialize
G.A.D.Sirimal [SLAS]
Retired Former Assistant Secretary
Ministry for Power and Energy