Garbage in the city still fights shy of the media | Sunday Observer

Garbage in the city still fights shy of the media

Small ‘mountains’ of uncollected garbage by the road side on Friday were conspicuous-exhibits that the authorities were still grappling to overcome a ‘stinky issue’ created a month ago, with the collapse of the Meetotamulla trash dump.

A full four weeks have elapsed since the Meetotamulla tragedy, but efforts to find a short term solution to dispose the tons of solid waste generated within the city of Colombo and its suburbs have proved futile, so far.

Unsuccessful efforts to contact the Municipal Commissioner, the Solid Waste Director or any other responsible official at the CMC, the whole of last week proved the fact that they were avoiding the media. It was apparent they were trying to give the press the silent treatment, perhaps the reason being, not having a ‘solid answer’ to depart with.

Meanwhile, the CMC and Abans Environmental Services trucks continued to collect waste in the city and the suburbs erratically, much to the chagrin of city dwellers. Bags of rotting and stinky garbage were seen hanging from parapet walls and trees in front of many houses, a clear evidence pointing to the gravity of the problem the government faced today.

However, the garbage issue has lost its initial glory in the media, yet, the problem remains a burning issue for all households, especially, for those within the city, not to mention restaurants and market places that generate mountains of rotting trash every day – with leftover food and spoilt vegetables.

As per the accounts related by street cleaners, the Colombo garbage continues to reach Muthurajawela, a part protected wetland, listed as one of 12 priority wetlands in Sri Lanka. According to IUCN it is the largest saline coastal peat bog in Sri Lanka and has a high biodiversity and ecological significance.

The practice of moving the Colombo Municipal waste to a location near the environmentally sensitive area is said to be a temporary measure. But, the authorities were lost for words, and would not tell for how long the dumping may continue.

Shortly after the Meetotamulla trash mountain collapse on April 14 the authorities sought court intervention and was promptly permitted to shift the Colombo trash to Karadiyana, but only for two weeks. It was told Karadiyana too was in danger of a similar catastrophe if this haphazard dumping is not terminated. With court permission ending on April 28, CMC trash was re-routed to Muthurajawela.

The place accepts only degradable kitchen waste at present; while polythene, plastics and other similar waste is collected only once a week and taken to a place no one knows where, or so they say.

A street cleaner having his work shift in the Fort said, “We have to retain such trash in the cart as the trucks will come to collect them only on Monday. It is not an easy task,“ he said, pointing to his cart over-flowing with polythene bags. But there are rumours that the polythene waste is also reaching Muthurajawela, which is an alarming news.

The garbage dumping at Muthurajawela is prohibited after 6 pm every day. The trucks should leave the place by that time.

In Narahenpita, the truck collects plastics and similar trash from households on Saturdays. But, in the Maligawatte housing scheme, polythene is collected at random. Householders have to be prepared for the eventuality.

The Megapolis and Western Development Ministry in the meantime, is involved in finding a long term scientific solution to the waste disposal crisis, especially, in the Western Province, a senior official who wished to remain anonymous said.

“We have been entrusted with the task to stabilize and rehabilitate the Meetotamulla dump. In addition, the construction of three waste to energy projects – one in Kardiyana and two in Muthurajawela- will help resolve the present crisis .

The biggest long term project, to address the problem would be the commissioning of a 1,200 metric ton capacity sanitary landfill in Puttalam. Executed with South Korean technical knowhow, it is expected to start operations in two years.

The sanitary landfill is to be located outside the Wilpattu National Park buffer zone. Following protests by environmentalists, the Megapolis Ministry has abandoned the previous location earmarked for the project and it will now be constructed in Aruwakkalu, a site 30 km off Puttalam, the official said.

“It is outside the Wilpattu National Park buffer zone, which is an abandoned limestone quarry”, the senior official at the Ministry said, adding “Since it is off the buffer zone, there will be no adverse effects to the Wilpattu Park.”

He said, this landfill is similar to the sanitary landfill in Dompe, a project that has not been frowned upon by the residents since its commencement of operation, years earlier. This dumping site is situated 1 km off Kirindiwela town and borders the Upali Gunaratne Stadium.

“It will be systematic dumping and we will take all environmental concerns on board before the project is begun,” the official said, referring to the Puttalam project. The trash collected in Colombo and the suburbs are to be transported in a special train to the site.

The Cabinet nod for the project has already been granted. At present, the feasibility study and conceptual designs are being done with assistance from South Korea. “We can conclude the feasibility study and conceptual designs within the coming week,” the official said.

Referring to the recent protests by people and environmentalists to this move by the government to transfer Colombo’s waste to Puttalam, he said, “Once we are educated on the project contours and parameters we will launch a massive awareness campaign to allay people’s fears.”

The Karadiyana waste to energy project will be built in an extent of a ten acre land. It will have the capacity to handle 500 metric tons of solid waste per day, generated from Colombo South - Moratuwa, Dehiwala Mt.Lavinia, Maharagama and Boralesgamuwa, etc.- and turn into energy.

The waste to energy plants in Muthurajawela, with 650 MT capacity, will absorb collected trash from the Colombo Municipal area and the Gampaha District (Wattala, Kandana, Ja-Ela, Peliyagoda, etc). These waste processing facilities will be built and operated by private parties at a cost of US $ 400 million each. The Cabinet gave the green light to award Fairway Holdings and KCHT Lanka Jang Ltd. the two projects in February this year.

The generation of energy from waste will be a private-public partnership (PPP) with the Ceylon Electricty Board, Megapolis Ministry, Western Provincial Council and two private companies as joint partners.

The UDA has also been entrusted with the rehabilitation of the old dumping ground at Bloemendhal. At present, the UDA is in the process of calling for proposals from a third party to award the project.

“The plan was to commission the waste to energy plants in Karadiyana and Muthurajawela before the Puttalam project, but with the new turn of events after the Meetotamulla disaster, we are expediting the Puttalam sanitary landfill project,” the senior Ministry official said.

“Once these projects are in place, we hope to launch a more exhaustive campaign on waste segregation and public awareness on the 3 R system – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle,” he added.

Thus, it seems a systematic solid waste disposal project to address the garbage crisis in the Western Province is at least two years away. Will the CMC and the officials concerned come up with a proper short term solution in the meantime?

Pix: Chinthaka Kumarasinghe 

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