Archive for the ‘Waste Management’ Category

Toxic waste water disposal goes on unchecked

March 26, 2017
World Water Day falls on 22nd of March. This article was published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2017http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170319/news/toxic-waste-water-disposal-goes-on-unchecked-233273.html

A canal brings pollutants into the Kelani River. Note the difference in colour of the water

Industrial waste water and municipal sewage released untreated poses a danger to Sri Lanka’s environment, experts warn on the eve of World Water Day, which falls on Wednesday  (March 22).

The theme this year is “waste water” with the campaign focusing on reducing and reusing waste water.

Globally, over 80 per cent of the waste water generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused, says a United Nation’s report. This has been the case even locally, water experts in Sri Lanka say.

“Most collected waste water in Sri Lanka is released to surface water bodies and eventually the ocean without any treatment. Even Colombo has so far only a sea outfall for its waste water,” says Pay Drechsel researcher at International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

A recent study by the Ministry of Environment in partnership with UNICEF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals that pollution in the Kelani River basin is severe and industrial waste water as well as domestic waste water aggravates the pollution.

A separate study by the Environmental Foundation Limited to identify industries located along the river mapped facilities that discharge waste water to the river.

Service stations are another major waste water generating source, but the discharge goes directly to natural water sources.

These polluting industries and service stations should not be allowed on river and stream banks, says Kusum Athukorala of Sri Lanka Water Partnership. She suggests zoning laws that restrict these into industrial zones.

Apart from industrial polluters, there are also households which discharge their effluents into rivers and water bodies.

The World Health Organisation says in a 2014 report that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water contaminated with faeces, putting them at risk of contracting cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio. Unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene cause around 842,000 deaths each year.

“Too many toilets pits in business premises and houses in wayside communities such as Gampola and Pilimatalawa seem to lead directly into streams and rivers. “Trucks transporting sewage are often seen dumping loads into main rivers such as the Kelani in places such as Sedawatta,” said Kusum Athukorala, chairperson of Sri Lanka Water Partnership.

Most households rely on septic tanks or pit latrines. However, there are only very few treatment plants for human waste collected from these pits or septic tanks, once they fill up. Only 1 per cent of the excreta (fecal sludge) are treated. Due to the lack of dumping/treatment sites, illegal dumping in landfills is common, and surface and groundwater can get heavily polluted, points out IWMI researcher Drechsel.

Due to population growth, accelerated urbanisation and economic development, the waste water volumes and pollution are increasing globally.

This will be an issue for the proposed megapolis development, and experts say waste water management should not be neglected.

But there are ways to make use of waste water. Safely managed waste water is an affordable and sustainable source of water, energy, nutrients and other recoverable materials. There are many treatment processes and operational systems that will allow cities to use waste water to meet the growing water demand, support sustainable agriculture, and enhance energy production and industrial development.

Experts say treated waste water can be used safely for agriculture or service stations etc.

Waste water has its uses

Every time we use water, we produce waste water. According to UN Water, 80 per cent of all our waste water just flows back to nature untreated. Households should to try to reduce waste water, said Kusum Athukorala of Sri Lanka Water Partnership. And the waste water that is generated can be used for watering of plants and washing cars.  

20 Ways to Conserve Water at Home

Deadly garbage dumps pose elephantine problems ?

March 5, 2017

Agonising death: The elephant which died after suffering for more than a month after eating garbage at Manampitiya. Pic by Karunaratne Gamage

An elephant which had been regularly eating garbage at Manampitiya died last Saturday after suffering from a sickness for a month.

This well grown male, about 20 years of age, was part of a herd that fed on garbage from a dump at Manampitiya. It had fallen ill in the third week of January. A veterinary surgeon and a team of wildlife officers tried to flush out any non-digestive materials from its stomach. One even inserted a hand through its anus to manually pull anything that remained. At first they pulled out about 15 kilograms of polythene in a day and over a month about 30 kilograms were removed.

Dr Pramuditha Devasurendra who had treated the elephant, rejected the idea that the polythene was the cause of death. He said toxic bacteria in rotting food may have been the cause. “The garbage pit contains lots of lunch sheets with rotten food. Deadly bacteria can grow on the food. This is main reason for the death of the elephant.”

Dr Devasurendra revealed that a post-mortem did not find any polythene in the bowels of the dead elephant. Its liver and spleen were damaged.

He said he had treated another elephant about half a kilometre away from the garbage dump at Manampitiya. “That elephant too died and I have been unfortunate to witness deaths of at least 10 elephants since I assumed duties in this area four years ago,” Dr Devasurendra said.

The Manampitiya dump is not the only one that attracts elephants. A garbage dump in Dambulla attracts elephants. Yet another dump in Hambantota is protected by an electric fence. Dr. Devasurendra said an electric fence was needed at Manampitiya.

Meanwhile, Dr Prithiviraj Fernando, estimates that there are at least 50 locations where elephants come to forage at the dump. They are mostly in the dry zone.

Dr Fernando said piles of vegetables, over ripe fruit, flour, rice, bread and the like are more nutritious than what is found naturally. Elephants which rummage for these at the dumps are in better health, he said.

But he said every day 500 elephants may be eating garbage. “In a year, how many of them would die as a result? How does this compare with other ‘unnatural’ causes of elephant deaths? Such as being shot, hakka patas, injuries from trap guns and nooses, train or vehicle accidents, starving to death inside parks after being driven in and restricted with electric fences,” he asks.

It is mostly adult males living outside Wildlife Department protected areas that eat garbage.

The Manampitiya dump: Veritable death trap for wild animals. Pic by Kanchana Kumara

This also means the elephants are not raiding farms. So if they are to be prevented from raiding garbage dumps would it increase the human elephant conflict, and how many of them would be injured and killed? And how many people would be injured and killed? Dr Fernando asks.

“So before jumping in and trying to ‘fix’ something one should first find out what the problem is, figure out the cost and benefit of ‘fixing’ and make an informed decision. Otherwise the cure may be worse than the disease,” he warns.

Dr. Fernando suggests separating the organic matter from the plastics, metals, and glass materials before being dumped.

Published on SundayTimes on 05.03.2017 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/170305/news/deadly-garbage-dumps-pose-elephantine-problems-231517.html 

Don’t trash nature’s gifts, wildlife experts plead

December 11, 2016

Birds; victims of careless garbage dumping by us humans.
Pix by Sumith Bandara

Reckless disposal of garbage in our localities can put precious bird life in peril as two recent incidents showed.Wildlife specialists are appealing to Sri Lankans to be a lot more considerate after rescuing two species of bird that endured the horrors of human encroachment of their habitat.

Herpetologist and wildlife photographer Mendis Wickramasinghe and two assistants Sumith Bandara and Saman waited until dusk last Sunday to go to the aid of a purple heron (karawal koka), which often feeds on fish in marshes and paddy fields, struggling to free its beak tangled in a plastic contraption.
Photos of its plight at Boralasgamuwa tank, caught the attention of social media users and drew the usual chatter.

Wickramasinghe and his aides freed the blue heron from its misery. They then checked for possible wounds and released the bird. The following morning they visited the location to give it a meal of fish, but the blue heron had other ideas and flew off to feed itself.Bandara said it was a happy outcome, but he pleaded with Sri Lankans to abandon destructive habits. “People need to be more careful when dumping waste,” he said.

But then two days later, he had to rescue another bird from similar circumstances.Being a keen wildlife photographer, Bandara again visited the Boralasgamuwa tank on Wednesday evening. He soon saw a yellow bittern (kaha metikoka) with its beak entangled in a net. Bandara noticed it was a discarded mosquito net.

As dusk approached Bandara and friend Amila Ranga waded into deep water and released the bird from the net. It was a risky exercise. The exhausted bird appeared disoriented and stood by for a few minutes before taking flight.Bandara also noted that strings used for kite flying have also become death traps for birds.

Published on SundayTimes on 11.12.2016 – http://www.sundaytimes.lk/161211/news/dont-trash-natures-gifts-wildlife-experts-plead-219744.html

Environmentalists derail garbage train to Aruwakkalu

October 7, 2015
Experts fear EIA report may go to the dustbin, point out major damage to habitat and heritage. 

Garbage disposal has been a major headache for Colombo which generates as much as 1,200 metric tonnes of rubbish every day. The dumping sites, some of them in the midst of residential areas, are also bursting at the seams.

No solution yet for Colombo’s garbage problem: The Meethotamulla garbage dump

 As the crisis aggravated, a new project to collect the garbage, transport it by train and dump it in a Sanitary Landfill in Puttalam emerged as a solution. But environmentalists are now raising serious concerns over the project.

The plan seeks to convert the present garbage dump at Meethotamulla in Kolonnawa into a collection center complete with rail tracks and loading facilities.

The compacted waste will be packed in 20-foot containers and sent by train to the landfill site at Aruwakkalu, just North of Puttalam, about 170 kilometres away from Colombo.

The 30-hectare Aruwakkalu site, leased out to Holcim Cement Company, has many abandoned quarries, from where limestone was extracted by the Cement Corporation some 20 years ago.

The site will be designed to absorb up to 4,700,000 cubic metres of garbage for 10 years in 2 phases.

But to the dismay of environmentalists, the site is within the one mile buffer zone of the Wilpattu National Park – a fact that has been highlighted in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.

The document points out that the site is frequented by several wild animals, including elephants and warns that once the garbage comes, it can attract more elephants to the area, aggravating the human-elephant conflict, especially in the fishing village near the site.

The EIA report recommends several steps to prevent elephants and other animals from coming to the area. They include erecting an electric fence and closing up the landfill on a daily basis after the garbage has been deposited.

The forest adjacent to the landfill site is also home for a critically endangered legume crop, a wild relative of ‘Bu-kollu’ (Rhynchosia velutina) which has so far been spotted only in two places in Sri Lanka.

The environmentalists also express concerns over the impact of the project on the Kala Oya/Lunu Oya Estuary which supports the largest, richest, and the most pristine mangrove patch in Sri Lanka and is also just 200 m northeast of the site.

Hemantha Withanage of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) says the project is a crime and not worth the cost. He says the solution lies not in dumping garbage at landfill sites but addressing the root cause.

“Go for a zero-waste model promoting recycling. It will be a sustainable solution. Sometimes drastic measures such as banning polythene and plastic might have to be taken – but it will help in the long run,” he said.  Mr. Withanage said the people must also act with responsibility to minimise garbage.

The US$ 107 million landfill site project was approved by the previous government after a cabinet paper was submitted by the then President Mahinda Rajapakse in his capacity as Minister of Urban Development.

Environmentalists fear that just as the previous regime showed scant respect for EIAs and tweaked the findings to do development at ‘any cost’; the present Government also could distort the EIA.

Many experts recognise that the solid waste problem requires an urgent solution but it does not mean creating another environmental crisis.
Due to the limestone base and dynamiting, the base of the solid waste pit could be impermeable.

The leachate will contaminate the pristine habitats of the Kala Oya. Some experts suggest that to minimise the negative impacts, the solid waste should be dumped in the abandoned Holcim pits which are more towards the interior of Aruwakkalu.But the company is not in favour of this suggestion, environmentalists say.

This is why the present site has been selected for the project even though its negative impacts are apparent. It is also feared that uncontrolled dynamiting could damage the bottom lining of the landfill site, paving the way for leakages.

When contacted, a Holcim spokesperson said the quarry was being blasted with permission from the Geological and Mines Bureau and the company was following standard protocols. They said the landfill was a government project and it had nothing to do with it.

However, the project needs approval not only from the Central Environment Authority (CEA) but also from the North Western Provincial Council and the Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) as the site is located within the buffer zone of a national park.

When contacted, CEA Chairman Lal Dharmaratne said the EIA had been submitted to the technical committee and was being evaluated. The EIA is posted on the CEA’s website http://www.cea.lk for the public to send protests and comments before October 13.

Wedi Pitiya: 25 million year heritage site cannot go under garbage 

Palaeobiologists who explore prehistoric biodiversity have joined environmentalists to oppose the Aruwakkalu project as it is likely to harm South Asia’s prime Miocene fossil site.The quarry that Holcim excavates contains fossils belonging to the Miocene era some 25 million years ago. During this era, this area had been a sea bed and the cement raw material that is being dug is in fact calcified fossilised shells or bony remains of many sea creatures which died millions of years ago.

The site known as ‘Wedi Pitiya’ is particularly unique as it is in its vicinity that P.E.P. Deraniyagala documented nearly 40 species of prehistoric invertebrates and marine vertebrates such as Dugongs, dolphins, whales and sea turtles from their bony remains belonging to the Miocene era.

This indicates that ‘Wedi Pitiya’ could in fact be a deeper zone of the sea. The Red Bed which lies above the Miocene Bed also contains stone tools, potsherds, beads and bony remains of prehistoric human habitation dating back to more than 250,000 years.

Considering its place in the history of Sri Lanka and its evolutionary importance to biodiversity in view of possible future finds, the Palaeobiodiversity Conservation Programme under the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the Forest Department (to whom the land belongs) and the Department of Archaeology has identified a 300m x 500m area at ‘wedi pitiya’ along with 3 other sites in Aruwakkalu to be gazzetted as a protected area.

This tiny area will be the only remaining Miocene area in Sri Lanka after the Holcim Company has finished mining Aruwakkalu, but sadly a section of ‘Wedi Pitiya’ has been included in the proposed landfill site.

“Aruwakkalu is a gold mine for palaeobiodiversity studies. The excavation for limestone made visible a large cross section of a wall showing the fossil layers and this could easily attract foreign students studying paleobiodiversity to Sri Lanka,” says Kelum Manamendra-arachchie, who is Sri Lanka’s palaeobiodiversity expert.

“The Aruwakkalu site is the only visible Miocene site in Sri Lanka. Its prehistoric artefacts, the traditional fishing village of ‘Gange Wadiya’ and the legend of Kuveni can be utilised to promote ‘geo tourism’. So it is pity that our heritage is going to be covered by garbage,” Mr. Manamendraarachchie said.

 

“The site is the worst, but concept is good” – Waste Management expert 

The 30-hectare land chosen for the sanitary landfill is the worst possible area in Aruwakkalu, says Solid Waste Management expert Sumith Pilapitiya.

Primarily, the site is too close to Kala Oya, an important water source in the area. Secondly, it is located within the Wilpattu Buffer zone, an ecologically sensitive area.

The site is also close to ‘Gange Wadiya’, the only human settlement in the area and, therefore, the traditional livelihood of the villagers will be disturbed, he explains.

However, unlike many other environmentalists, Dr. Pilapitiya believes that in the absence of a solution to Colombo’ solid waste problem so far, a sanitary landfill at Aruwakkalu could be a good idea only if an alternative suitable site is selected in the same area.

The search for landfill sites within a 50 km radius from Colombo to dump wastes has been going on since 1990 with little or no success amid protests from residents living near the possible sites.

Experts describe this dilemma as typical of the NIMBY syndrome- all want a solution to Colombo’s waste problem, but at the same time they say, “Not in my backyard (NIMBY)”.

This compels the authorities to go for temporary solutions which in turn lead to environmental pollution, the magnitude of which is much bigger than the originally proposed solution. The crisis over the Meethotamulla dump is a classic example.

Aruwakkalu in Puttalam is not a populated area and it has already suffered environmental damage as a result of limestone quarrying by cement companies. Since a suitable landfill site cannot be found closer to Colombo without drawing public protests, this could be a viable option, if the project is properly implemented, Dr. Pilapitiya explains.

To address the concerns raised by some environmentalists, he proposes to select a site further south, more towards new Holcim quarries. “There is about a 15 km stretch of land between the currently selected site and Holcim excavating sites; so there is space for an alternative site,” he says.

Asked about how safe it is to transport solid waste in train wagons, Dr. Pilapitiya says there are specially designed rail rolling stock and containers that will not even let the smell out. He says the authorities should go in for such rolling stock and the cost of buying them could be added to the project.

Considering all these options, Dr. Pilapitiya proposes to make it a National Level project to solve not only Colombo’s solid waste problem but also those of other major cities.

The waste management expert also proposes to sort garbage and compost the perishable waste to minimise pollution and the load to be sent to the sanitary landfill. In this way, the dangerous leachate generated at the landfill site could also be minimised.

People are afraid of sanitary landfills, but if designed and managed properly, a sanitary landfill is good as it will confine pollution within the site, Dr. Pilapitiya says.

Commenting on other solutions proposed for the solid waste crisis, the expert renowned for his waste management work in Sri Lanka and abroad, says some propose incineration that involves the burning of waste material at high temperature as a solution, but garbage in Sri Lanka is largely organic and high in moisture content, and therefore this method is not economically viable.

Another option is plasma gasification – a process in which carbon-based waste is converted into fuel – gas that can be utilised to generate electricity. This has been successfully implemented at small and medium levels to deal with solid waste within a local council area. But Dr. Pilapitiya points to the project’s high human and capital costs and asks whether the authorities could afford it.

“When over 2/3rd of the Pilisaru funded compost plants in the country cannot be operated without odour and flies, I would not advocate sophisticated technology,” he says.

However, if the service provider is from the private sector and has the funds and capacity to sustain a hi-tech project, such an alternative could be explored.

Decision makers should study the waste disposal mechanisms that are being successfully operated in other South Asian countries – this is because the garbage is more or less similar in composition — and take a decision on a proper technology, he advises.

“Under these circumstances, my preference would be for composting the organic portion of the waste and landfilling the residual waste in an engineered, sanitary landfill. If the engineered, sanitary landfill is properly constructed, even if operations slip a little, the pollution can be largely contained,” says Dr. Pilapitiya.

Published on SundayTimes 04.10.2015 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/151004/news/environmentalists-derail-garbage-train-to-aruwakkalu-166659.html

Mounting garbage a problem as pilgrims flock to sacred cities

August 17, 2013

In the wake of the ongoing annual Kataragama Esela Festival, environmentalists and officials have called upon pilgrims to be mindful of not polluting the sacred city with garbage.

A Monkey in search of food at a Garbage Dump

Anything for me? A monkey in a garbage bin full of polythene bags

Shasheendra Rajapakse, the Kataragama Basnayake Nilame told the media that the festival that started on August 7 and continued till the 20th annually attracts thousands of pilgrims. He said although additional garbage bins are placed in many places pilgrims dump their food and the more harmful non-biodegradable polythene bags wherever they want, even into the Menik Ganga.

He said, about 50,000 pilgrims are expected for this year’s traditional ‘pada yatra’ where pilgrims from the north and east cross the Yala National Park to worship at the Kataragama Devale. He said the park tracks were being polluted.

About 900 kg of polythene was collected in the Kumana area in a programme conducted by the Young Zoologists’ Association last year its president Sachindra Deepankara said. The team had distributed cloth bags among pilgrims as an alternative to polythene bags.

Cleaning operation at A'pura in action at A'pura

Cleaning operation at A’pura organized by WildReach

The problem of pilgrims dumping garbage is not only peculiar to Kataragama. Other sacred areas too are facing the same problem, Sunil Gunathilake, who has been in Polonnaruwa for over 30 years studying the primates said. “Polonnaruwa is protected by 2 Acts – Archaeological and Wildlife – but it is sad that no meaningful effort has been taken to prevent pilgrims dumping their polythene. He further said the monkeys at least were intelligent enough not to eat it.

Meanwhile a two-day Shramadana was conducted last week by the WildReach Environment Trust in Anuradhapura. About 1000 kg of garbage spread over an area of 800 acres in ‘Mahamewuna Uyana’ had been collected. The trust’s chairman Nilupul Rangana said in some instances the matter was made worse by monkeys who rummaged open garbage bins in search of food, with polythene bags being scattered in areas that were sometimes inaccessible.

Before - then - After

WildReach Volunteers with collected non-biodigradable left overs by Pilgrims

Published on SundayTimes on 11.08.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130811/news/mounting-garbage-a-problem-as-pilgrims-flock-to-sacred-cities-57322.html

Households urged to sort out garbage for environment’s sake

October 14, 2012

Western Province households will be urged to put a little extra thought and trouble into dealing with their garbage – for the sake of the environment. Homes will be requested to separate perishable and non-recyclable waste from the rest of their garbage. At present, all solid waste generated in households is disposed of in the same way, by dumping, and material that could be used is lost.

Priyantha Samarakkody

Prof.Young Che Ahn

The new approach to garbage disposal is a pilot project of the Western Province Waste Management Authority (WPWM), in association with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).

Eighty per cent of the country’s garbage is perishable. A small percentage is used for composting purposes, but most of it ends up in garbage dumps, and only add to the pollution problem. These open dumps are a source of pollution, but the local authorities are compelled to use them in the absence of proper sanitary landfills.

Under the Source Segregation for Effective Management of Municipal Solid Waste initiative, households will be urged to sort out their garbage before leaving garbage bags out for the Municipal Council to pick up.

The local authorities will issue polyethylene bags (PE bags) for the disposal of garbage. These bags, in different sizes, will be available at shops, stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, etc. These bags will be for perishable waste and non-recyclable waste. The garbage truck or “kunu tractor” will not accept garbage that has not been sorted and put into these special bags. Recyclable waste and hazardous waste such as fluorescent bulbs, batteries and clinical waste will be collected free of charge.

The “polluter pay principle” will encourage good habits among waste generators, WPWM director Priyantha Samarakkody told the Sunday Times. Waste disposal was a high-cost service borne by the local authorities, and there should be separate charge for the service, just as there are for power and water consumption. “If the user does not pay, the Government will have to pay, and this would mean increased taxes.

Otherwise, the environment will have to pay, and this will impact on the society,” he said.�Professor Young Che Ahn of KOICA, and an advisor to the WPWM, told the Sunday Times that the system was a success in South Korea. It had significantly reduced the volume of municipal solid waste sent to landfills and incinerators, and a large increase in the volume of recyclable material.

The new approach would increase citizen participation in recycling and composting activities, reduce waste, and minimise adverse impact on the environment, Prof. Young said.

Published on 07.10.2012 www.sundaytimes.lk/121007/news/households-urged-to-sort-out-garbage-for-environments-sake-15453.html