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DateLine Sunday, 9 September 2007

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Recycling trash: the best solid waste management



Recycled items



Jaime A. Lozano

When you are pointing your finger at somebody how many fingers are pointing back at you? Yes, it's a matter of fact to think seriously. There are three fingers of your own hand waiting impatiently to accuse you.

You may accuse the others, may be the government, Ministry of Environment and Municipal Councils for not sorting out your household trash properly. Did you ever think that three other fingers are accusing you for not sorting out your own household trash and separate the things that can be re-cycled.

This was the message given by Jaime A. Lozano, Environmental Specialist, Bureau of Sanitation, California who was in Sri Lanka to share the experiences in solid waste management systems in California, USA with the Sri Lankan authorities.

"Everyone has to be part of the whole solid waste management programs. Every one should ask the question from him or herself, what did I do to re-cycle trash today", he said in an exclusive interview with the 'Sunday Observer' recently.

The story of solid waste management in California, which generates thousands and thousands of tonnes of waste, did not turn to zero waste overnight. Strong commitment from the political leadership to the villagers through systematic educational and awareness programs implemented to give novel meaning to waste brought good results today. Waste or trash is not waste to the residents of California any more.

Decades-long struggle to give a value to waste have now turned waste into profitable business ventures. California, which generates thousands tonnes of household and business waste daily, has been able to reduced waste by 25 per cent in 1995, then by 50 per cent in 2000 and 60 percent now.

The local authorities have given targets and if they fail they are liable to a fine of US$ 10,000 a day.

The Californians pay taxes for their household waste. The small garbage bins are taxed less and saving waste will save more money. Most of the materials in waste bins end up in re-cycle bins.

"In California we have been working with waste management since the early 70s. Since then lots of people are working on recycling and everybody was talking about recycling. Lots of programs were evolved. But people started asking, if I keep collecting and recycle waste no body wants to buy my products.

Then they found something qualitywise was missing to some extent in the product. Then we created the market for these products and went for market development programs. We started realising that waste is becoming a commodity that something to be sold", Lozano said.

According to Lozano, all these people should be made to come to a common understanding that we live in a limited planet and we do not get any more resources as they are limited. Meanwhile, we have to manage the resources that we already have.

These resources are not in a store and cannot multiply. Therefore, we have to manage what we have. For this we first need to reduce and recycle. Before we reduce, we need to rethink, need to redesign and we need to reevaluate how we have to do things.

We need to refuse and return material that has been made to handle in the wrong way and which are not beneficial to the planet. We all have to take initiatives to use the limited resources on the earth for the use of the next generation.

It is important to think what we are going to leave for them, he said.In California, waste ended up in landfills but now the country has run out of land areas to continue dumping of waste. It costs lots of money to take waste to landfills and land is very expensive.

These obstacles due to limited land resources, the Californian authorities were compelled to re-define waste . In the 1800 we had world's largest resources but after 1900 with population boom it had reduced greatly. Today we have realised that our resources are further shrinking and this is the phenomena around the world. All the countries are suffering from limited resources.

"Then we started to use less energy to save water in effective ways as consumers. In California we have also realised that the resources are becoming more and more expensive. Especially the landfills are more expensive as they have already been filled with trash.

So we thought, why not find other ways to deal the things that people call waste and lets make it a commodity? asked Lozano who called it as a successful saga. Like taking stuff from a magic box Lozano took out re-cycled products brought from California.

"This pen is made out of recycled cardboard and plastic and wood in it recycled popsicle sticks. This is a key tag made out of corn starch, a ruler made out of saw dust. This pencil is made out of blue jeans (denim pants) and this is made using old currency notes which are old and torn. This is just a few out of many products in California," he said after exhibits his products.

According to Lozano it is not difficult to find markets but just to create markets. For an example we have lots of plastics and we found out those who are interested in plastics.

Then we find a company which is interested in. Then find somebody to wash, check and given us the stock in the quality which we need, he said adding that the state would help them to have a private public partnership through the recycling market development zones.

We give them low interest loans to open up their shops. Where do we get money to do that ? We get that by adding small fees at the landfill. At the landfill every household has to pay. What we do is we add small fee into that and that money goes directly to the recycling market development zoneand they are available for low interest loans?, he said.

Educating school children is the most successful step, according to Lozano, that a country can adopt to reduce waste and promote re-cycling.

"The most powerful group is the school children and they will go any home and change the parents, educate the parents and make a sustainable change. We started programs where the teachers got involved. The children are given the training on re-cycling from small days. They are given assignments to understand how does landfill work. Ultimately they will influence their parents and also the neighbours to change their environment", he pointed out.

Lozano said that Sri Lanka can get products from India, China and the USA and it is vital to implement programs to start businesses with trash. "You can consume them, collect them, manage it in a way where you give value added with change them so make them in another industry locally and make a new product, which generatesself employment", he added.

According to Lozano, there are lots of opportunities for education and lots of people are very interesting and but Sri Lankans are not communicating with each other about the matter.

"Solid waste management in Sri Lanka has a growth but I think that the educational experts and the government should get together to implement a workable program on solid waste management. There's lots of promise in Sri Lanka. If not, Sri Lanka is going to face many problems in future", he warned.

shanika@sundayobserver.lk
 

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