Many years ago, there were some interesting proposals to transform waste and garbage to energy. The proposals which came before the Cabinet essentially suggested the utilisation of the garbage from Colombo city and elsewhere and turning it into energy and fuel. Despite various committees sitting on these proposals, there was no conclusion and thus another [...]

Business Times

Gold from waste


Many years ago, there were some interesting proposals to transform waste and garbage to energy. The proposals which came before the Cabinet essentially suggested the utilisation of the garbage from Colombo city and elsewhere and turning it into energy and fuel.

Despite various committees sitting on these proposals, there was no conclusion and thus another effort to turn the waste that citizens of Sri Lanka produce daily and annually into energy, ended inconclusively.

I was reminded of this when Kussi Amma Sera and her companions were discussing the garbage issue this Thursday morning.

“Aruwakkaru wala kunu kasala daana eka gataluwak vela thiyenawa (Dumping of garbage at Aruwakkaru has become a problem),” said Kussi Amma Sera, seated with her two friends under the Margosa tree.

“Eka vitharak neve, kolambama kunu-kasala ekathu karana ekath loku prashnayak-ne (Collection of garbage in Colombo alone is a problem),” noted Serapina.

“Nagarika kamkaruvan kunu ekathu karanna awama kathakarana vidiya hari narakai (The municipal workers are also rude when they come to collect garbage),” opined Mabel Rasthiyadu, adding her contribution to the conversation.

As they continued their discussion on the ‘kunu’ debate and I sipped a cup of piping hot tea brought by Kussi Amma Sera earlier in the morning, my mind went back to a recent categorical statement by a government official on the garbage crisis.

According to Megapolis and Western Development Ministry Secretary Nihal Rupasinghe, the Cabinet has decided it will not allow any future waste-to-energy projects in Sri Lanka as they are too costly.

This statement became the topic of conversation when know-all neighbour Haramanis of broken English fame called on the home line and wanted to discuss ‘kunu’.

“I say, now … government saying we can’t transform kunu to energy. What nonsense is this,” he said.

“Well the argument is that the cost to the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was too high to generate electricity from waste. One of the reasons, Rupasinghe says, is that the quality of local waste was different from the waste commonly found in European countries or Singapore where energy is obtained from waste,” I said in response.

“But … aiyo government must look properly at this problem, know,” he lamented. “On that point, I agree,” I added.

Coming back to the point of many proposals coming before the Cabinet and the government several years ago, the problem in this country is that there is no attempt to look at issues with short-term, medium-term and long-term gains. This is the same for education, health, environment and poverty where long-term solutions on these national issues need to be implemented and maintained on the long term irrespective of which political party or who is in power.

Rupasinghe was quoted as saying at a news conference that the waste generated in Sri Lanka has a high level of humidity and “this means that the cost of incinerating the waste and creating electricity will incur a higher cost”.

He has said that waste-to-energy projects will be run by private sector companies and the energy they produce will be purchased by the CEB.
Sri Lanka’s garbage issue should not be the focus of a mere Cabinet decision. While short-term measures are taken to dispose of the garbage, a national, unified policy after much debate and discussion bringing all the important agencies and experts needs to be implemented because it is certain that waste can be transformed to energy and therefore, all options need to be reviewed.

Then there is also the other side – other options such as good research within Sri Lanka on how to treat waste. A recent example is a simple home-grown waste-to-treat-waste initiative for industrial waste which has been taken forward by the Colombo University’s Science and Technology Cell and MAS Holdings which also includes the aluminium industry.

According to official data, meanwhile, Sri Lanka generates 7,000 metric tonnes of solid waste per day with the Western Province accounting for nearly 60 per cent of waste generation. Each person, it is estimated, generates an average of 1-0.4kg of waste per day.

The current collection of waste is being transported to Puttalam where the sanitary landfill has allegedly created its own share of problems in terms of environmental degradation and other issues.

Waste has become a major environmental issue worldwide and increasingly it is being transformed into energy in most countries. According to, Europe creates over 1.8 billion tonnes of waste each year; in Australia it’s 50 million tonnes of waste per year, while in the UK it was 202.8 million tonnes of waste in 2014.

In Sweden, several waste incineration plants have been set up in order to generate energy for heating purposes with around 20 per cent heating needs being met by this source. Sweden not only collects its own household and industrial waste, but also imports waste from neighbouring European countries in order to recycle it or use it as a fuel in waste incineration plants. Norway is another country that has been turning waste into cash through its waste recycling efforts. It also imports waste from EU countries. Germany is also importing waste from other nations and converting it to energy for its own cities. In the UAE, various firms have been transforming household waste into energy.

Different methods are used to turn waste into energy with the most common technology being incineration.

Experts say that waste-to-energy technology is developing day by day and the world population can save the ecosystem by adopting this technology. It can also solve the energy problem of the world.

Many countries, as reported earlier, using waste to generate energy across the world are making a significant change in the transformation of waste to energy.

Sri Lanka should use this route rather than wait for another 5-10 years when waste starts piling up and we have to create more sanitary landfills, disturb those environments and communities, to dump the garbage. In the short-term, the private sector should be encouraged to undertake small projects in the waste-to-energy transformation offering tax breaks if necessary to get these off the ground. We should not throwaway our garbage just because a set of officials have sat together and decided that the cost of getting energy from waste is too costly.

It needs a deeper study involving a range of expertise and if necessary foreign opinion too. We should not throw the baby out with the bathwater without a proper and detailed study.

It was time for my second cup of tea and as I dash off the finishing paras to this week’s column, in walks Kussi Amma Sera with the tea. “Aney Mahattaya, api kavadada kasala arbudaya visandanne? (When will we ever solve the garbage crisis),”she asks. “Mama balaporottu venava apita eka ikmanata karanna puluwan kiyala (I hope we can do so soon),” I reply, hoping against hope that the authorities will take another look at the waste-to-energy solution and implement it in Sri Lanka as a national policy.

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