Experts and revolutionaries come together in the aftermath of Meetotamulla with a formula that few boasted or envisaged before the tragedy
With the Meetotamulla calamity, garbage has become a burning issue and though the government has taken a decision to dump garbage in several other places including Karadiyana, residents have protested against it being dumped in the proposed sites. Meanwhile, these obstructions have caused a crisis situation as authorities have failed to remove garbage in the city, posing serious health and environmental problems.
Many other proposals including transporting Colombo waste to Avissawella for recycling via rail were shot down by funding Agencies such as the World Bank, because they were only short-term solutions. Transportation of waste to Puttalam was halted amidst protest, despite having done an Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIAR). All this increased the burden on Meetotamulla garbage dump.
However, the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development has earmarked another land in Aruwakkalu and the project is expected to go ahead after the EIA.
According to Project Director, Solid Waste Management, Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Joseph Jayavilal Fernando, disposing garbage in open dumps can be socially and environmentally harmful. Water pollution, soil pollution, air pollution, stench, loss of aesthetic value are some of the environmental issues that arise out of open dumping.
“When garbage is dumped without proper management, economic value of land is lost and socio economic problems are created,” Fernando said.
According to the president, Sri Lanka Public Health Inspectors’ (PHI) Union, Upul Rohana Gunathilaka, there can be long-term issues as well as short-term issues due to lack of proper garbage disposal.
He said that because of garbage chemicals like phthalate, formaldehyde, astatine and antimony being absorbed into water causing food-resulting cancers, issues in the reproductive system and endocrine disorders, some of the long-term issues that affect human health while water ways are polluted, can have severe effects on the environment.
“The breeding of mosquitoes, flies, rats and cockroaches can increased due to this garbage issue and it will be a major problem as they are vectors of dengue and rat-bite fever,” Gunathilaka said.
According to him diarrhea, breathing problems and asthma are some of other short-term issues. He said that some people burn plastic and polythene as a solution to the garbage matter making it harmful for humans as well as to the environment.
According to SAUT Kulathillake vice president of the Union, uncollected garbage has a huge impact on spreading dengue. “When plastic containers and polythene are dumped they have a higher tendency of water collection. Even a little amount of water is enough for dengue to spread,” Kulathillake said.
He claimed the proper way to dump garbage is to flatten a layer of garbage and cover it with a six-inch layer of soil alternatively. But he said people just dump it and as the garbage is not covered systematically there is a higher tendency of increasing fly-breeding.
Kulathillake also added to the fact that burning polythene and plastic is harmful. “Polythene should be incinerated in a temperature over 400F and Holicm is the only place in Sri Lanka where this is done properly,” said Kulathillake. According to him though people were asked not to burn polythene they continue to practise this harmful habit causing environmental issues while harming their health. “The environment is not polluted immediately. It happens gradually,” he said.
Public Health Inspector of Ibbagamuwa, HRSSB Herath said that when polythene is burned, a harmful carcinogen called dioxin is released into the air. “We dispose a large amount of plastic and polythene including shopping bags, biscuit wrappers, tooth brushes and shampoo bottles monthly. If all these are to be burned a large amount of harmful gases are released into the air and they damage the ozone layer,” warned Herath.
According to him this can result in skin disorders and lung diseases and yet the people are unaware of the effects.
Director, National Poisons Information Centre, National Hospital and Consultant Physician and Diabetologist Dr. Waruna Gunathilaka said that when plastic and polythene are burned two chemicals called dioxin and furan are released into air. “These carcinogen chemicals have long-term health effects”, he said. According to Dr. Gunathilaka there is no proper garbage collection and open dump land fillings are not systematic.
“When garbage is not dumped in a proper way chemicals are absorbed into ground water contamination and further these chemicals are added into the food chain,” Dr. Gunathilaka explained.
With the garbage disposal becoming a crisis both the government and local authorities are finding solutions for this ‘burning matter’. Japanese Experts Group headed by Mitsutake Numahat recommended a short-term measure of stabilizing the garbage dump to ensure that there would not be further collapses. Before the onset of the monsoon the shape of the dump should be streamlined and the base should be covered with polythene. As a secondary measure, the shape of the dump should be made symmetrical with a broad-base to ensure proper distribution of the gravity. The experts group also proposed long-term measures to remove the dump by adopting the three-R system of reduce, reuse and recycle.
According to Project Director, Solid Waste Management, Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Joseph Jayavilal Fernando, an open dump, a landfill and a sanitary landfill are contradictory to each other.
“There is a 100 per cent difference between an open dump and a sanitary landfill. Meetotamulla was an open dump where garbage was dumped as it is and in Dompe there is a sanitary landfill, constructed according to the ideal landfill structure,” said Fernando explaining the distinction between a dump and a sanitary landfill.
According to him before dumping in the sanitary landfill all garbage undergo a certain process. Firstly through the three-R, of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle where plastic, polythene, bio disposals and metals are separated from the rest of the garbage. The second is through the intermediate treatment of waste, where garbage is used for compost, bio gasses and power generation. Then the residual waste is dumped in an ideal landfill.
“Residual waste is dumped in an ideal sanitary landfill after the resources are taken out,” said Fernando explaining theoretical side of a sanitary landfill. Describing the practical side of a sanitary landfill, Fernando said that as there is contaminated garbage, the above theory is not a success for it is similar to a dump where Leachate is absorbed into the soil. Therefore the techniques of land filler liners are used.
“In the very bottom of a sanitary landfill normally there are two geo textile liners and above them there is a high-density polyethylene layer of 1.5 mm thickness. It is this layer that prevents the Leachate from absorbing into the soil. There are the clay and Bentonite layers of one foot thickness and atop there is a metal layer,” said Fernando of the technical aspect of the landfill layers.
“Leachate gathered is released to a treatment plant through a piping system or under the gravity. Here Leachate is released out of the plant only after being treated to meet the approved standards of the Central Environmental Authority,” Fernando added.
According to him as the garbage is covered with a soil layer of four to five inches thickness daily there is no smelliness, vector issues and no untidy appearance. “There is one such sanitary landfill at Dompe and it has the capacity of holding 90 tons of garbage daily. Yet at the moment five to ten tons of garbage is collected at Dompe daily,” revealed Fernando. “After 20 or 25 years when this is fully filled it can be converted into an orchard, a garden or a picnic side. Or the whole landfill can be converted into bio gas generator.”
He said the proposed landfill at Karadiyana does not meet the standards of an ideal sanitary landfill but yet it is a dump where there is a management to sort garbage before dumping.
Pay for waste collection
The World Bank estimates that per capita solid waste generation per day in Sri Lanka is 5.10 kgs. Given the average household size of 3.8 persons, this amounts to 23,028 tons of solid waste per day for the 1,077,950 households in Sri Lanka that rely on local authorities for this service. In the Colombo district alone, on average, 8,419 tons of solid waste is generated per day by households for collection by local authorities.
According to a Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), Bilesha Weeraratne, one way to succeed with the division of responsibility of daily solid waste generation is to charge consumers for the solid waste they generate. Versions of ‘pay as you throw’ are adopted by many municipalities across the world in cities such as California, Michigan, New York, Washington, Dresden and Taipei. She suggested that the charges for solid waste disposal by local authorities need not be market prices that would fully offset the common good nature of this service, but significant enough to make consumers conscious about solid waste they generate and to limit over-consumption of the service.
Vikum Sampath, a youth from Gampola had proposed a solution to the garbage issue since 2011 inventing a machine to recycle the waste. Though he has built this machine many years ago before the Meetotamulla calamity, his efforts have been ignored by the relevant authorities.
“This cost me more than Rs.3.7 million and I don’t know whether my effort is worthwhile. Last time I built this I had to sell it to iron and this time also if the relevant authorities don’t pay necessary attention my efforts will be useless,” Vikum regretted. As Vikum explained this invention can be used to recycle unsorted garbage as well as sorted garbage.
“I guarantee that with three or four such vehicles all the garbage in Colombo can be recycled within three to four days. I don’t want money but if the government can buy me the necessary equipment I can build the machine,” Vikum guaranteed. According to him the problem was that there are no insurances available in Sri Lanka for such vehicles.
“Minister Susil Premajayantha along with engineers from the University of Moratuwa and the National Engineering Research and Development Centre (NERD) investigated the machine and its procedure and a letter of certification was also issued. They promised to take it to the President. Yet I am not sure whether my efforts will be worthwhile,” Vikum said.
According to the president, Sri Lanka Public Health Inspectors’ (PHI) Union, Upul Rohana Gunathilaka only 17 per cent of the Sri Lankan population lacks a proper place to dispose garbage.
“Disposing garbage has become such a calamity because everyone tries to get rid of their garbage using the dumping sites meant for those who don’t have a proper place,” Gunathilaka said. He said the current methods used in Sri Lanka to dispose garbage are dumping, land filling and burning and there is a huge necessity for a proper method of garbage disposal.
“As a government, a scientific method should be used to recycle garbage and people should change their attitudes and behaviours according to principles. And there is the necessity of taking legal action against people who don’t obey the rules and regulations. Immediate action should be taken to stop importing polythene and plastic,” Gunathilaka suggested.
According to him people can contribute themselves to solve the garbage problem by minimizing the garbage generation. “As much as garbage should be disposed at their own spaces and garbage should be categorized as disposal and non disposal, we can reduce the garbage we generate by 50 per cent if we act with concern,” said Gunathilaka.
According to Public Health Inspector HRSS Herath, people can contribute directly to solve this matter by dividing their garbage into two as disposal and non-disposal and they can produce compost using disposable garbage while non disposal garbage like polythene and plastic can be handed over to the Municipal Council. “The Kurunegala Municipal Council gives all such collected polythene and plastic to Holcime where they are incinerated properly”, said Herath.
Privatization waste Management
Privatization of waste management is another viable option for the garbage issue. Jetwing Yala is one such programme determined to deal with the garbage issue with their concept of ‘Zero Waste’. According to General Manager, Jetwing Yala, Gamunu Srilal, they do not dispose of their waste to the environment. Instead they manage all their garbage within the hotel by obtaining the maximum usage out of it.
He said waste water is released into a treatment plant, purified and pumped out to the garden. “Organic waste is used to make compost and we follow two ways when making compost. One is to use the natural compost tank and the other is to use a machine which can produce compost within nine hours,” said Srilal. “Compost is used for our own Chena cultivation which gives us a monthly income of Rs. 200,000 and the excess compost is sold to residents for a very fair price.” According to Srilal, cardboard, paper, iron, tin, glass, polythene and plastic are sold for recycling.
“We use all that money for the staff’s welfare and it is much helpful for the annual trip we organize for the staff. We could give the staff a better experience when compared even to other hotels in our association,” said Srilal explaining the benefits of their ‘Zero Waste’ concept. “Some 90 per cent of the staff of 210 members here are from rural areas and going on such a trip is a dream come true for them. So they are much encouraged to sort out garbage in the proper way,” said an elated Srilal.
He said the electronic waste of the company is given to Globle Link, an authorized company for e-waste disposal.
“There is residual waste of three to four per cent like cotton buds, paper napkins, pampers, sanitary pads and cigarette butts. The average daily mass is of five to ten kgs and it is incinerated in a boiler,” Srilal explained.
He said the ‘Zero Waste’ concept costs them only for the machine used to produce compost.
Fairway Waste Management has come up with a proposal to develop a solid waste processing facility at the Thumbowila-Karadiyana landfill site located in the Western Province of Sri Lanka. According to the chief technical officer, Fairway Waste Management, Dr. Pasad Kulatunga, this will be an integrated waste processing facility to process 500 tons per day of fresh municipal solid waste received at the site. The proposed facility is designed to maximize energy production while having minimum environmental impact by optimizing the recovery of energy and nutrients in the waste stream.
“The main benefit of the technologies that we are introducing is the immediate reduction of waste volume (mass) diverted to landfills. Our first priority is to alleviate the pressure on landfills. There are many secondary benefits that result immediately from this,” said Dr. Kulatunga referring to the major benefits of the project.
The processing facility will reduce the amount of waste diverted to landfills by as much as 80 per cent by mass and 90 per cent by volume, while the fraction, which will be disposed in a suitably prepared landfill is mostly inert with no ill effects to the environment.
According to Dr. Kulatunga prevention of ground water and surface water pollution, reduction of numbers and types of vectors that spread diseases (rodents, mosquitoes and others), improvements to human health, skin diseases and asthma that are attributed to landfill emissions and pollution, avoidance of law and order issues dealing with landfill, reduction of air pollution and irritants around the immediate vicinity of landfill and GHG emission reduction by as much 150,000 MT CO2 equivalents are some of the secondary benefits that can be gained from the project.
Other than the thermal treatment the design consists of a biological treatment plant that will process the fast degradable, high moisture content organic waste in a wet fermentation anaerobic digestion system. This system will treat a maximum of 115 tons of fast degradable organic waste per day. The remaining waste will be diverted to an incinerator facility having a capacity of 425 tons per day.
The project will supply a total of 79,000,000 KWH of electricity to the grid per year. This is sufficient to supply the demands of 35,000 households (based on the World Bank per capita energy use in Sri Lanka). In addition to electricity, the plant will generate liquid and solid fertilizer from the biological treatment of the organic fraction of the waste. It will produce 40,000 tons of liquid fertilizer per year, which will be processed to a high quality bio-fertilizer for the local market.