Bringing the Meethotamulla Disaster to our Doorstep

Just over a week ago, the largest landfill site in Meethotamulla, Sri Lanka collapsed and spread past the original landfill perimeters, causing neighboring houses and buildings to be destroyed by this ‘overflowing garbage.’ The situation itself has lead to several deaths and casualties of individuals local to that area as well as a standstill in waste collection all across Sri Lanka. This situation tells us not only that the former solid waste management in Sri Lanka was implemented poorly by the government, but moreover that it is the population of Sri Lanka that could have initially prevented this from taking place. The collapse/spillage of landfill waste was due to the landfill itself containing excess amounts of waste; amounts which could not be sustained within the limited disposal area. It is this excess amount of waste which the society can eliminate in the future simply by finding more responsible ways of disposing of solid waste or limiting this consumption. But before talking about what society can do, let’s identify the global implications of this disaster.

Meethotamulla has now become a worldwide case study regarding the implications of poor solid waste management. After collection, the common global methods of disposing of a nation’s/state’s solid waste are by:

  • Open burning
  • Dumping into the sea
  • Sanitary Landfills
  • Incineration
  • Composting
  • Ploughing in fields
  • Hog feeding
  • Grinding and discharging into sewers
  • Salvaging
  • Fermentation and biological digestion

As you can see, the majority of these common methods of solid waste management are not environmentally compatible, though some are better than others. Once options such as ‘Sanitary Landfills’ (i.e. Meethotamulla Landfill site) have reached their maximum carrying capacity, rather than for nations to continue to test this maximum capacity – until an event such as this takes place – it is best to invest into the environmentally friendly options, such as composting, salvaging or even producing common solid wastes as biodegradable in the coming years. But then again, this stops the issue of environmental hazards at the waste disposal part of the process. But what if we were able to limit these disasters at the earlier waste collection stage of the process?

Our school community is also now being affected as waste collectors have currently stopped collecting from households, the school and Sri Lanka as a whole. Households are now seeing the incentive behind proper waste disposal at a domestic level rather than the minor inconveniences that it may cause. Every household is under some pressure to reduce the amount of solid waste they are disposing of. Therefore, with the help of my service group: Train To Sustain and our Service Administrator: Mr. Ian Lockwood, we have derived a list of actions that will reduce the solid waste disposed of at home for the local community, in hopes that this will reduce the overall OSC communities waste input to landfill sites such as Meethotamulla in the future:

Reducing Solid Waste at Home

  • Follow the three Rs (Reduce Reuse Recycle). Reduce what you consume and make every effort to not take or buy disposable items like plastic bags.
  • When you shop, use reusable shopping bags. There are even reusable mesh bags for vegetables that have been pioneered in our community by Rachel Jackson, Clover Hicks and Raina Lockwood. Reefkeepers will be selling these shortly. These efforts reduce the amount of single use plastic that you take home. Check out Rice and Carry’s innovative ways of reusing rice bags to help reduce disposable shopping bags.
  • Separate your waste at home. This is probably the single best thing that you can do. Wet waste from the kitchen can be composted. A study that I did of my home suggests that roughly 50% or more of household waste is wet waste and mostly compostable. Household composting is a viable option for most of us with gardens and, if managed correctly, will lead to reduction in solid waste and smelly garbage bags.
  • We have the facility to recycle cardboard and paper and PET plastic here at school and you are welcome to bring in items to us. We ask that any plastic bottles are cleaned. For parents and teachers, the R&S group can provide guidance on where to go to sell your paper and cardboard if you have large volumes. This waste actually pays and the R&S groups has built up a capital fund thanks to paper and cardboard sales over the past 12 years.
  • We collect hazardous and E-waste items such as batteries and printer cartridges. We are working with Dialog to give these items to them or recycling. The Orange lighting company takes back CFLs bulbs. Thus don’t mix these into regular garbage bags.

(Courtesy of our OSC: Recycling & Sustainability CAS Blog)

We have identified this issue of global significance and now are planning to make responsible decisions, and take appropriate action in response to this issue both provincially and as a school (service.) [Learning Outcome 6] One of our service group’s main goals, is to promote a reduction in solid waste production on our campus. This ties in with our mission to reduce the ecological footprint of the school. Our actions to support this goal and mission so far have been to:

  • At OSC we have had an ongoing campaign get the canteen to use washable plates and silverware. The initiative started with the Recycling & Sustainability (Train to Sustain) service group but was taken up by Reefkeepers and eventually the Canteen Committee. The initiative took several years of active lobbying but the changeover in December 2016 has made a difference in reducing solid waste. There is still, however, work to be done. The canteen is still selling juice in disposable cups with plastic lids and straws. We need to move on eliminating all the plastics and using washable cups.
  • Thus far, we are not composting any kitchen or garden waste produced by OSC.  In 2015 a Grade 5 class exhibition group  investigated the idea of using a biodigester to deal with kitchen and garden waste. The R&S group agreed to fund it with money from recycled paper sales but that proposal has not been given sanction from the school.
  • Waste separation is an area that each one of us on campus can do a better job with. The feedback from the maintenance crew is that the OSC community is not separating items in the three categories of bins. This makes it hard for the garbage collectors to separate, recycle and thus reduce the amount going to the landfill.

Our school as a non-profit organization, disposes of tons and tons of (corporation sized) solid waste amounts weekly. Post-Landfill disaster, our service has decided to further our actions to reduce solid waste levels that the school disposes of, so that a major portion of the Battaramulla area’s waste collection (that our school contributes to) will be reduced when taken to Landfill sites. Currently our service to following up with our canteen initiatives by getting the Student Governing Association and a partnering service group: Reef Keepers on board with eliminating the last of the disposable products that our canteen sells; being plastic cups. Instead (Just as we had done with the reusable plates) by using reusable cups in our school canteen, the only waste that would then come from the canteen would be food waste, most of which can be composted using a school biodigester initiative that we are also heading.

A current issue we face includes the weekly percentage of lost or broken reusable plastic material (either plates, cups or silverware), which is costly to replace and must be prevented. Train To Sustain is trying to combat the issue by speaking directly with the OSC Food Board and Canteen Committee enforce new rules suggesting that all canteen users, keep plates, cups and silverware on a reusable tray and stay within the canteen, to prevent these supplies from getting lost. This will initially receive some community resistance as this may be an inconvenience from some, but we consider it necessary. We are also having issues with the tri-separating bins (one for paper, one for plastic and one for food) as students, teachers and faculty are disposing of whatever waste they have in whichever bin is of most convenience to them, hence all the waste is becoming mixed. This needs to be next deal with by our team (Train To Sustain) as to how we can either monitor community interactions which the bins we have in place or provide an incentive which will promote the right use of the tri-separating bins.

It has been quoted that “necessity is the mother of invention,” and we, here in Train To Sustain, feel that this is representative of the situation in Sri Lanka, the situation here at OSC and most of all, a situation dealt with through service.

 

Works Cited:

Lockwood, Ian. “Learning from Meethotamulla.” OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group. WordPress, 24 Apr. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://recycling1011.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/learning-from-meethotamulla/&gt;.

Mishra, Gopal. “Methods of Solid Waste Disposal and Management.” The Constructor. Civil Engineering Home, 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://theconstructor.org/environmental-engg/methods-of-solid-waste-disposal/4721/&gt;.

Petley, Dave. “The Meethotamulla Garbage Dump in Sri Lanka, Which Has Killed at Least 26 People.” The Landslide Blog. AGU Blogsphere, 16 Apr. 2017. Web. 01 May 2017. <http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2017/04/16/meethotamulla-1/&gt;.

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