Heaps of garbage lay piled up at every nook and corner of Colombo, letting stray dogs drag and feed on it and as the week wears on, garbage from Colombo has nowhere to go.
Colombo Municipal Council trucks in the meantime, were seen wandering the city looking for dumping grounds amidst strong protests by residents surrounding the landfill sites of Dompe and Karadiyana, calling for authorities to not dump “Colombo Garbage” close to their homes. Protesters on Wednesday alleged that the government was trying to turn their city into another ‘Meethotamulla’.
The general public however also have a part to play in managing their own waste and thus far have failed to realize their responsibility towards creating change.
Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Sociologist, Nimal Premathilake said there was no need to wait for huge projects to commence reducing waste as Provincial Councils and Urban Councils could on their own, take small initiatives to bring about great change.
“Garbage is a resource and that can be used very effectively. Our people are so used to just dumping all waste into one bag and throwing it. Firstly, the mentality of the people has to be changed to make a difference in the whole process,” he said.
Premathilake who was the former Chief Public Health Inspector of Balangoda Urban Council recalled his experiences at Balangoda, which too went through a garbage crisis. “There was a huge garbage problem in Balangoda as well and empty lands were used to dump garbage. In 2000 however, the administration of the Balangoda urban council realized the challenges pertaining to garbage and introduced a well organized waste management project,” he said.
At a time when all the garbage was being dumped within the town of Balangoda itself, Premathilake said the Urban Council reached out to the people and educated them on the importance of making their own compost.
“Following that initiative we told the people that they can sell their waste and they were given a small value for it. There are many technical issues when waste is taken for recycling. The garbage collector was trained to collect the waste and segregate it in proper manner,” he added.
Premathilake further explained that another small initiative that was taken in Balangoda was to introduce the same system to Schools.
“The students were taught and trained to keep the environment clean. They learnt about the compost making process and they contributed a lot to making the project a success. Creating awareness among a thousand students would lead to cleanliness in thousand homes,” he said.
He said the mixed composting method could be easily implemented and that it would not consume much space and added that nearly 80 percent of the problem would be solved if a proper method was implemented to manage degradable garbage.
Premathilake however, also noted that the biggest challenge in Colombo was managing the garbage generated by a floating population.
“In Meethotamulla, all waste has been dumped together and that is not an effective measure,” he said.
He further said that he is currently taking measures with the support of the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development to introduce mixed compost methods in all condominium flats in Colombo.
Premathilake pointed out that there are nearly 150 recycling companies; both small and large scale industries but they were not being used fruitfully.
“Currently, waste has become a social problem as well as an environmental problem. A small step will make greater changes in the whole system,” he said.
Bhagya Seneviratne - Bambalapitiya
I live in an apartment in Bambalapitiya and I don’t have a garden to make natural compost and neither do I have the space to keep a compost bin. I think that, this is the situation for many people living in Colombo, not enough space do all that. Provincial Councils have a vast role to play in this regard.
We segregate the waste but the CMC workers put it all together in their trucks. What is the purpose of making it mandatory for all people to segregate the garbage if they are not collecting it properly?
Fathima Zuhair - Nawala
When I called the Kotte Municipal Council they said they will collect it on Wednesday but the garbage keeps piling up and no one has come to collect it.
We also try our best to separate the garbage and dispose of it but the Municipal Council truck just puts it together.
We need some effort from the Municipal Councils as well to reduce the garbage.
They say they have compost bins for all residents but they are yet to give it to us.
Pathum Wickremasinghe - Dehiwala
The garbage issue has become the talk of the town now. The public blames the government for the whole calamity. Even though the government took responsibility for the incident, they should realize that the tragedy occurred because of their inability to introduce a proper waste management system.
Meanwhile, the public also have a responsibility to reduce waste.
I saw people protesting not to put Colombo Garbage in their residential area.
We cannot blame them for doing so. Meethotamulla garbage dump was initiated as a temporary project, but it continued for years despite several objections from the public. Therefore, it is fair from their end.
A. Goonetilleke - Colpetty
Soon, Meethotamulla will be forgotten, except by those affected by the tragedy. By now, most of us would have thrown the usual brickbats at the Government and authorities and moved on to newer local or global happenings. The Meethotamulla tragedy need not have happened, and need never happen anywhere in this country again if I, an ordinary citizen, accepts responsibility for my part in it and is determined to do my part in the future for the betterment of my country.
My garbage is my responsibility. Even if I pay taxes for garbage collection, I am responsible for the way it is sorted and packed before collection. My garbage has no place in front of my neighbour's house, beside a lamp post, or in the nearest drain. Public roads do not need my bus tickets, and beaches and parks don't need my empty plastic bottles and wrappers.
You and I can practically make a difference by allocating three to five minutes a day to separate biodegradable from non-biodegradable waste. Even children can be taught to dispose of garbage responsibly. Such basic separation at point of source will result in an increase of the lifespan of the final disposal site. The recent tragedy could have been averted if each of us had handled domestic garbage more responsibly.
Try and use biodegradable kitchen waste as compost. Disposable plastic containers work well as pots for plants, collect unsoiled plastic bags and donate them to street vendors and the cost of buying shopping bags for their customers reduces.
Accept the offer of sturdy reusable shopping bags sold by most supermarkets at a nominal price, and use them as much as possible. Leaves or rubbish outside your own garden is not meant to be swept in front of your neighbour's garden and forgotten. Bag it, sort it out and dispose of it.
In addition, consider repairing things before you replace them, if possible. Selfishness and negligence could give rise to another tragedy like the one that hit Meethotamulla. Likewise, responsible action, individually and collectively, will eventually give rise to a cleaner and more disciplined nation.
Vidya Abayagunawardena - Environmentalist
So far Sri Lanka has failed to manage its own garbage for several decades and Meethotamulla was the highlight of this issue. The collapsing of the Meethotamulla garbage mountain cost many lives, injured hundreds and destroyed hundreds of houses. Previous governments and also the current government did not give high priority to finding a lasting solution to the garbage issue in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka produces only 2.3 million tons of waste compared to 45 million in Australia annually, where they recycle waste within the same year. Sri Lanka accumulates waste each year, piles it and dumps it on open dumping sites, open burning and into water bodies. This has created severe health and environmental hazards. Apart from the current amount of waste produced in the Colombo city limits, this will double within a few years’ time. This is mainly due to the fact that the Port City, new residential apartments, hotels and new businesses will generate more garbage in years to come.
Sri Lanka needs to find an immediate solution to this burning issue without delay, otherwise Sri Lanka will face multiple issues relating to health, environment, socio-economic and political factors. The only solution for Sri Lanka's waste management is to set up proper recycling plants in the country.
Open dumps, burning and filling of water bodies is not the solution for waste management in Sri Lanka any more. Due to some unknown reasons, the setting up of recycling plants is not seen as a solution to Sri Lanka's garbage issue.
People and businesses can separate garbage but there is no proper facility to recycle them. Under these circumstances Sri Lanka will have several garbage mountains collapsing, similar to the Meethotamulla story in years to come.
The Meethotamulla incident was reported by leading mass media around the world and unprecedented publicity was given to this incident. Sri Lanka will become more famous for the collapse of Garbage Mountains rather than the country's achievements in the socio-economic, political and other sectors if the country if it does not address its garbage issue.