in the mirror
Taking responsibility for the garbage crisis
He didn’t mince his words. Dr Sumith Pilapitiya, Senior Environmental
Engineer, World Bank – never shy of being forthright –
last week revealed many home truths about Sri Lanka’s environmental
crisis, blaming civil society too for the mess. Speaking at a breakfast
meeting organized by the Environmental Foundation Ltd (EFL) and
the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and attended by the corporate sector,
government officials and environmentalists, Pilapitiya said there
was enough and more laws to manage the environment but the implementation
was constrained by lack of discipline, will power and political
blame the government (instead of blaming ourselves) for the degradation
of the environment. As consumers, we like fancy packages to be wrapped
around our food. That not only costs the environment but adds to
our cost,” he said during the open forum on showing the business
community that there are economic benefits in managing waste.
to the pollution of the Beira lake, he said the cost of preventive
action to preserve the lake is $150,000 compared to remedial (repair)
costs of $ 19 million and noted that a bulk of the people living
in and around the lake who dump their waste into the lake are from
said there are 17,500 houses in and around the Beira which pollute
the lake and out of this, only 1500 slums and shanties; the rest
are affluent homes. “So the biggest culprits are affluent
another point, he said local councils don’t operate a proper
solid waste management system because it’s too costly and
these administrations don’t have money. He said they are not
going to do uncomfortable, politically-suicidal exercises like raising
taxes or rates to resort to costly waste management systems.
the first place, he argued, residents in local councils elect their
administrations on national issues and not local ones. Garbage is
never an issue at a local council election, “so why should
councillors worry about garbage?” he asked.
to the corporate sector to invest in waste management systems, he
said it made business sense. In countries like the US consumers
are looking at the labels and making sure the products they buy
are made by companies that conform to good practices, abhor child
labour and are environment-friendly citizens.
said the often-discussed solution for the garbage problem –
incinerators – is not the right solution. Some 70 percent
of Sri Lanka’s waste is organic matter and not favourable
for incineration. “It’s like burning a banana skin as
should not waste time on incinerators. We should go beyond that
debate and look at other options like biogas for example,”
he said adding that whenever local councils discuss the garbage
issue, their focus is on technology to improve dumping or disposal
instead of looking at ways of managing waste.
Navaratne, an environmental scientist attached to EFL, spoke of
the “not in my backyard” culture. “We don’t
want garbage in our backyard, so we put it out. The municipality
collects it and dumps it far away, in another person’s backyard.
We are both happy because the garbage is not in our backyard,”
he said, citing how civil society is part of the problem in this
crisis – not only central and local governments.
to continuous flooding in the city even for light rains, he said
this was because wetlands – which absorbed this water –
are being continuously filled for development. Garbage is also dumped
in wetlands and canals. He said EFL is launching a programme to
change the mindset of Sri Lankans towards protecting the environment.
Pilapitiya and Navaratne said there was no objection to economic
development as long as it is sustainable and takes into account
the environment and other issues.