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A rubbish dump next to a slum in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
  • Turning waste into resources in Sri Lanka

A rubbish dump next to a slum in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Copyright: Robin Hammond / Panos

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  • Rapid urban development is leading to waste management issues in Sri Lanka

  • Integrated waste management plants can generate bio-fuels and electricity

  • Long-term financial viability is a challenge for integrated waste processing plants

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[COLOMBO] An integrated resource recovery centre (IRRC) model, which uses composting, recycling and bio-digestion, offers an inexpensive solution to the escalating problem of waste management in Sri Lanka, say the authors of a new Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) publication.

The island nation’s cities face multiple waste management challenges arising from economic development, a growing population and inadequate awareness on recycling.  The IRRC model offers a low-cost, low-technology, community-based and decentralized solution.

The IRRC model, successfully deployed in Bangladesh, was adopted in Sri Lanka’s Pilisaru Waste Management Programme in 2014, led by the Central Environmental Authority. Biogas, biodiesel, compost, plastic, paper, glass and even electricity can be among the end products of an IRRC model and it is due to be replicated nationally.

“One of the advantages of the IRRC model is that it is adaptable,” Donovan Storey, chief of the sustainable urban development, environment and development division at ESCAP tells SciDev.Net. “Each facility can be customised to cope with the waste composition and the needs and limitations of the communities it serves.”

Currently, several cities are only partially served by waste collection services. In Matale, for example, the municipality collects only 60 per cent of the waste, leaving the informal sector to play a key role in collection, separation and recycling, particularly of inorganic materials.

Sudarshana Fernando, a resource recovery and reuse expert at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Colombo says the IRRC model, which includes an emphasis on both physical facilities and social systems, is a viable alternative option to a centralised composting system.

“Long-term financial sustainability seems to be the major challenge of the industry at present,” Fernando tells SciDev.Net.  “The current average cost-recovery potential of central compost plants in Sri Lanka is as low as one-third of the operation and maintenance (O&M) cost of the compost plants.

However, Fernando says IRRC can be an alternative to centralised composting.  “By reducing O&M costs and seeking additional value propositions [inorganic recyclables, residual derived fuels, etc.] to reduce the gap in cash flow, the outcome may be a positive impact on long-term sustainability of the plants.”

According to ESCAP a waste crisis is emerging in the Asia and Pacific region as a result of rising quantities of waste, on the one hand, and poor regulation and management, on the other. ‘This crisis threatens to overwhelm the resources and capacity of local governments and communities alike,’ the publication says.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South Asia desk.

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