2017 Jul 12
Every year on the day of the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, locals follow the age-old tradition of paying visits to their friends, family and loved ones. On April 14 this year, households of Meethotamulla were graced by a most unwelcome guest; a section of a gigantic garbage pile came crashing down into houses, destroying millions worth of property and taking the lives of over thirty human beings.
Following this macabre incident, the question of waste management became a much-discussed topic across the island.
The Status Quo
The accumulated garbage piles in Greater Colombo starting right from the entrance to the city, were the highlight of conversations during the past few weeks. Welcoming you to the city of Colombo at the Thorana Junction along the Colombo – Kandy road is a staggeringly large mountain of garbage which is steadily rising by the day. Streets are adorned with bags upon pungent bags of overflowing garbage. Lining the walls of houses are yet more bags of garbage– not the most attractive or pleasant adornment.
Without proper waste management mechanisms in place, residents have resorted to burning waste in their own backyards, including the burning of plastics and polythene which release toxic fumes into the atmosphere.
The accumulation of garbage, in addition to emanating a suffocating, vile odour, also contributes to the spread of diseases, including the now widespread Dengue epidemic.
Although the Government has now enforced regulations of methodical waste separation, most of our domestic and commercial waste still contributes to landfills and pollutes the environment.
Without resorting to burning toxic substances and contributing to landfills, there are a number of things we can do to help tackle this tumultuous trash tragedy in our own homes.
Read on to find out how you can manage waste at home under the global waste management hierarchy of the 3 R’s – Reuse, Reduce, Recycle.
REUSE: Substitute reusables for consumables.
- Use towels, rags, and sponges instead of tissues to clean up stains or spills.
- Use cloth napkins instead of paper serviettes.
- Reuse glass and plastic containers for storage and decorative purposes.
- Repurpose – find alternative uses for items whose original use has been outlived.
- Invest in rechargeable batteries and discontinue the use of single-use batteries.
- Keep used lime peels in the refrigerator to eliminate pungent odours.
- Keep used and dried coffee grounds in the refrigerator to eliminate pungent odours.
- Refrigerate used tea bags, dampen them, and place them over your eyes to reduce puffiness.
- Sun-dry leftover ends of bread loaves and make breadcrumbs.
- Reuse packets of silica gel to absorb moisture and ensure longevity of photographs.
REDUCE: The best way to tackle the problem of solid waste is to not produce it in the first place.
- Use reusable cloth bags instead of plastic bags for grocery shopping.
- Donate books and magazines to public libraries or nursing homes.
- Donate old clothes, electronics, and other items that are in decent form to those in need.
- Buy only what you need. This way, the waste output will be reduced.
- Buy durable products, and maintain and repair them to ensure longer product life.
- Borrow or rent items that you don’t often use.
- Make compost at home from plant and food waste.
- Buy groceries with minimal packaging.
- Go paperless with phone bills. Subscribe to online bills instead.
- Take measures to stop junk mailfrom overflowing your mailbox.
RECYCLE: Recycling an aluminium can will save enough energy to power your TV for 3 hours!
What can be recycled
At present, coconut shells, glass, electronic waste, paper and cardboard are collected by industries that use these as raw materials.
What cannot be recycled
As of yet, there is no proper mechanism in Sri Lanka for the recycling of polythene and plastic items such as lunch sheets, shopping bags and yoghurt cups.
There are a number of reasons preventing the establishment of such a mechanism.
When both recyclable and non-recyclable waste components are disposed together without separation, recyclable items cannot be extracted.
On the other hand, the Recyclers’ Association of Sri Lanka stated that Local Government bodies were being uncooperative, which also stood as a barrier to the proper recycling of waste. Even if the waste is separated at the source, if collectors dump both recyclable and non-recyclable garbage together, contamination will prevent recyclable materials from being extracted.
Did you know? Over 700 tonnes of garbage is collected from Colombo alone on a given day.
If a proper recycling mechanism is instigated with the support of both the general public and the Government, a significant percentage of waste collected from all over the island can be recycled, reducing contribution to landfills.
However, until such a mechanism is in place, the use of non-biodegradable materials must be limited.
A win for the environment?
The cabinet today approved the Central Environmental Authority’s proposed ban on polythene lunch sheets, Styrofoam (commonly known as Rigifoam) and plastic shopping bags, effective immediately.
If enforced properly, this new law could be a big win for both the public and the environment.
“Heal the world. Make it a better place for you and for me and the entire human race…”
-Heal the World: Michael Jackson
If each and every household adheres to the practices of Reuse, Reduce and Recycle, the prevalent garbage issue can be mitigated to a great extent. It will also help save the environment, and protect our earth for future generations.
It is our responsibility as dutiful citizens to keep our surroundings clean.