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Sunday, 05 June 2016

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The streets stand paved with garbage:

E-WASTE PREDOMINATES

By Wednesday, June 1, residents in Wellampitiya had begun the tedious process of sorting their garbage, long before officials from the Disaster Management Centre or the Municipality had arrived.

Post-floods garbage on the streets
Pic: Chintaka Kumarasinghe

Among the many heaps of garbage that continued to pile up on the wayside were an assortment of electronic waste. It wasn't long, before the Civil Defence Forces arrived at the scene, at daybreak, to help haul the garbage away.

A Cabinet paper was passed the very same day approving the use of heavy machinery to clear the accumulated piles of garbage disposed by residents in the surrounding areas.

The Cabinet had approved the deployment of 10 sets of equipment under the supervision of Provincial Councils to dispose of waste accumulated in Kotikawatta and Mulleriyawa since May 30.

"This is an unusual situation for us, because we are responding to the disaster, which is different from the day to day disposal of garbage," said Nalin Mannapperuma, Director, Western Province Waste Management Authority (WPWMA). The Authority he said was yet to ascertain just how much garbage it had been transporting to landfills, considering its sheer magnitude.

Disposal of e-waste

The Civil Defence Forces who were hard at work at Zaras Garden in Wellampitiya had little inclination as to what ought to be done with tech items turned trash. The piles included several television sets, desktop computers, radios and refrigerators.

The WPWMA however, was oddly relying on private companies to take away the electronic waste.

"We don't have a designated place to dump electronic waste," said Mannapperuma. "We are depending on private companies to help, since many of them have been doing it as their Corporate Social Responsibility projects."

On an average, Sri Lanka generates 75, 000 metric tons of electronic waste annually, making it the biggest challenge in waste management, according to a guide published by the UNDP last year. Accumulated Cathode Ray Tubes (CRT) found in television sets, mobile phones, CFL bulbs, batteries and computers are prominent among the piles of e-waste, and are poorly recycled.

At Karadiyana

"We need to have designated dump sites or collection points so we can responsibly dispose of e-waste," Mannapperuma said, adding that it needs to be a concentrated effort carried out at a national level. "At the moment we are hauling all garbage to Karadiyana in Piliyandala as per the ruling given in a court order."

 

During the last few days, piles of garbage including electrical appliances, mostly television screens were hauled away by garbage trucks in Wellampitiya.

Sunil Mendis, a resident of 101 Watta told the Sunday Observer that backhoes were finally brought in to clear the garbage accumulated in his neighborhood, one of the hardest hit areas in Wellampitiya in the recent floods.

E-waste

Sudesh Nandasiri, Managing Director, Ceylon Waste Management Company (CWMC), the only Board of Investment (BOI) approved E-Waste recycling factory in Sri Lanka said it's still a grey area.

"We have begun receiving truck loads of electrical appliances and expect to receive much more in the coming weeks," he said. "We are expecting at least 750 metric tons of e-waste to be hauled into our factory."

One of the trucks which arrived this week, had an assortment of televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, cassette recorders, radios, phones, microwave ovens and iron boxes. "When the trucks stop coming, the calls continue," he said adding that they've been on the receiving end of a barrage of calls from residents asking for information on how to dispose of their electronic waste.

Heavy metals

"Although it's a serious issue, it's not being taken seriously," Nandasiri said. He explained that a single 21 inch television set has a colour tube weighing 18 kilograms of which 2.6 kilograms are pure lead and another 50 milligrams lethal arsenic.

"Imagine a dump site with several such television sets and the repercussions it would have environmentally, and the health hazard it would pose," he said.

The CWMC is already in discussions with the Central Environment Authority to bring about a lasting solution to a problem that will not go away easily.

Collective national effort

Undertaking the recycling of electronic waste single handed would be a mammoth challenge to the company, Nandasiri said. "Only half the items can be recycled here, the rest is sent to the Netherlands. We do so for companies that pay us, but what of all the electronic waste now on the wayside," he queried asking if the government would step in to assist financially with the process.

Last week, two papers sanctioned by the Cabinet saw Rs. 159 million being allocated for post-flood clean up including garbage management in affected areas, and cleaning the Kelani River bank. How much of it has been designated for disposing of e-waste is uncertain.

Private companies such as Abans have advertised calling on customers to bring electrical equipments purchased from Abans to designated mobile services operating in Kolonnawa, Athurugiriya, Hanwella and Ja-ela. The motive behind the CSR campaign was partly to educate consumers on the safe disposal of e-waste by channeling them to the relevant authorities.

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[Delays in disposing debris can contribute to rise in diseases]

Health sector officials have warned, the delay in disposing debris and garbage accumulated outside homes, schools and camps would provide a fertile breeding ground for vector borne diseases such as dengue.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Dr. A.R.M Thowfeek, the National Coordinator for the National Dengue Control Unit said the unit has amplified their efforts to clamp down any outbreak of the disease. He feared that delays in the disposing of garbage by the Municipality could spur the outbreak of non-communicable and vector borne diseases such as dengue.

He confirmed that there has been no outbreak reported, yet, from any of the flood affected areas and added that the unit has deployed inspectors to these areas to fog the camps and search and destroy mosquito breeding places.

"A special door-to-door inspection and fogging program has been organized for the Kolonnawa and Kaduwala areas to be initiated in the next few days," he said. Many people are throwing out their garbage, both organic and others since they cannot be kept indoors, Thowfeek said. Officials have cautioned residents from dumping them randomly and requested to compost organic materials and sort the garbage into gunny bags, which would be easier for collection and disposal.

Thowfeek confirmed that the unit aims to reach more households by the end of next week.

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