Article No 29
Hemantha Withanage Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Justice
Another attempt to handle garbage has become a hot issue among the communities living in Waga, Pelpola which is in not far from Labugama water facility which provides drinking water to about 2 million people in Colombo city. The garbage facility is said to be a sanitary landfill. Nevertheless, people around the proposed site already registered their vehement protest.
The proposed site is in the middle of “Indikada Mukalana” Forest reserve which was recently declared under gazette notification number 1572/9 of 1 st November 2008. This forest releases water to Wak Oya, Hal Dola, Panwila Ela and several other streams. The said area is now planted with “Hora” trees after removing non indigenous Pinus trees. No other explanation needed to show the sensitivity of the site.
According to the proposal made by the Central Environmental Authority, approximately 90 Metric tons of unsorted waste collected from Maharagam, Homagama and Sithawaka area will bring to the site in the first phase. People gathered at “Vijitharamaya” Temple in Pelpola on the 28 th December 2008, don’t believe this statement. They think soon it will be the dumping site for Colombo metropolitan garbage too.
Said planning began in March 2008. However there is no Environmental Assessments made yet. Nevertheless, the Chairman of the Central Environmental Authority insists that this should be the site for the future Sanitary landfill. Unfortunately law seems to be behind the political power. However, he agrees that there will be an EIA open for public soon.
According to Mr. Lal Fernando, Director of the “Pilisaru” project any solution is a good solution as we don’t have any system to handle waste at the moment. Where our waste management policy lies? Authorities have so far failed to introduce waste minimizing, sorting out and recycling as one programme. There are attempts for composting and even recycling under the “Pilisaru” project handled by the Central Environmental Authority and the Waste Management Authority of the Western Province. A recommendation was made to deal waste in own localities in late 90s, due to the opposition made against Meepe, Alupotha proposed sanitary fill. This may not be the best option. However, considering the opposition against large scale landfills, this can be a sound proposal if the government can initiate a good recycling culture in the society. However, this is the least priority among the people’s representatives. Best compositing programmes handled by Horana, Matugama “Pradeshiya Saba” under the Environmental Action 1 project funded by the World Bank have abandoned after the change of the committed officers.
There are some serious disagreements about waste management policies which are sometimes papered over by similar-sounding language. For example, the Japanese government is currently promoting the idea of a “3Rs Society”. In principle, this sounds very similar to ” Zero Waste”, which is a better solution for a resource scarce society. But there is a fundamental difference. While we all agree that product reuse, recycling and composting are essential components of a waste management system, Zero Waste advocates believe that the costs and responsibility for ensuring zero waste must be borne by industry; whereas the advocates of a 3R approach put the responsibility on the consumer and the public. Extended producer Responsibility (EPR) programme in operation in South Korea for e-waste have this approach.
The proposed Integrated Waste Management System supports by the South Korea. Central Environmental Authority has even taken some 30 people including politicians to South Korea to convince them on the sanitary fill. However, many of them still not convinced that Waga, Idikada Mukalana is the site for such a landfill, while they believe that there should be proper waste management including a sanitary landfill for the end disposal. It looks that they have missed the operation of the EPR regulations.
The waste story in Sri Lanka not only about this proposed landfill. Electronic waste is still imports and dump in the market. Soon Holcim cement plant will burn 30 MT of toxic waste in their Factory in Puttalam with the approval of the North Western Provincial Environmental Authority. This will generate pollutions in Puttalam area. Thin plastic shopping bag ban is jammed and seems abandoned. According to the sources there are 17 proposals to burn waste in order to generate electricity. Luckily none of them are not on the ground yet. A waste burning plant with plasma technology which was rejected by the Malaysian courts have been approved by the Sri Lankan government and even provided Rs. 18 electricity tariff for the electricity unit.
Sri Lanka doesn’t have regulations to control landfills. However the Indian Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1999 state that a “landfill site shall be away from habitation clusters, forest areas, water bodies monuments, National Parks, Wetlands and places of important cultural, historical or religious interest.” Waste dumping always proposed in Awissawella area along the Kelani river i.e. Niripola paddy field in 1992, Meepe, Alupotha in 1999 and Waga, Pelpola in 2009. Kelani River was declared as a sensitive area in early 90,s. According to Minister Geethanjana Gunawardena CEA is going to beat the best child. This means Awissawella has the best environment in the Western province with quality water and greenery.
Integrated waste management in Sri Lanka is a two decade long controversy. However, there is no integrated effort to settle the issue. Central Environmental Authority, Western province Waste Management Authority, Ministry of Environment and the other political authorities have no proper dialogue which goes beyond the politics on how best Sri Lanka can handle the problem. Everyone knows that if there is no garbage collection for two days, whole city will stink. But that is not a reason to pollute uncontaminated environment such as “Indikada Mukalana” in Waga.
It would have been better to spend such money used for the South Korea visit to initiate a proper dialogue with the communities and the authorities rather than taking selected politicians to South Korea. They should have realized people’s power is much more powerful than their elected representatives.
Waste problem will have no solution as long as we catch the issue from the dumping tail. Solution only can be made if we solve the problem at waste generation sources which means households, factories, markets etc. Waste management is not only a matter of financing. It determines how much waste, and what kind, is left over after composting and recycling efforts have done their best. Requiring industry to design for waste reduction and reuse means that the quantity and toxicity of material is incrementally reduced towards zero. Allowing industry to manufacture goods and packaging without taking responsibility for their end-of-life use means that we face an ever-increasing quantity of more complex and more toxic waste, which threatens to overwhelm us.
This article was also appered in the Island newspaper on the 14th January 2009..
14 January, 2009