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Aruwakkalu landfill, Puttalam, Sri Lanka

Despite ongoing mass protests and a critical Environmental Impact Assessment, a daily 1,200 tons of waste from Colombo are going to be dumped at the new Aruwakkalu landfill, located just next to the fragile ecosystem of Wilpattu National Park.


Sri Lanka’s newly opened Aruwakkalu sanitary landfill is located in the district of Puttalam, 170 kilometers north of Colombo. It was proposed as a long-term solution to the ongoing waste crisis in the country’s Western Province but has been highly controversial for its severe environmental impacts, the complete ignoring of community voices, and the questionable and costly shifting of Colombo’s waste problem to the periphery. Its construction was announced in 2017, just after the tragic garbage dump collapse in Meethotamulla killed 32 people and because no other location could be found in the metropolitan area due to longstanding problems of hazardous dumping and resulting “not in my backyard” protests by residents – see also the two related case entries in the EJAtlas.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Aruwakkalu landfill, Puttalam, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:North Western Province
Location of conflict:Puttalam
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Located in the province of Puttalam, Aruwakkalu landfill is expected to receive 1,200 tons of waste per day (the same amount that Colombo produced in 2019), transported from Colombo via railway. Waste started to be dumped in 2019. the landfill is operated by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). [3][4] The project costs are of US$ 107 million, and financing was provided by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [2]. The landfill area of 30 ha has many abandoned quarries from where limestone was extracted by Holcim Cement Company over the past decades. It is planned to receive 4,700,000 cubic meters of waste over the upcoming 10 years. [3] The site is surrounded by small villages such as Serakkuli, Karaitivu, Periyanagavillu, Mangalapura, Eluwankulam and Gangewadiya, who largely live from fishing. [4]

Project area:30 ha
Level of Investment for the conflictive project107,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:50,000
Start of the conflict:2014
Relevant government actors:Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development (MPWD)
Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR)
Colombo Municipal Council (CMC)
Western Province Waste Management Authority (WPWMA)
Central Environmental Authority (CEA)
National Government
International and Finance InstitutionsAsian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Clean Puttalam
Inter-Religious Committee (DIRC) of Puttalam
Mass Movement for Social Justice - Colombo (MMSJ)
Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)
Palaeobiodiversity Conservation Programme
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Other Environmental impactsHuman-elephant conflict
Health ImpactsPotential: Malnutrition, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Under negotiation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The choice of location is clearly problematic and will cause a number of irreversible damages to local habitats and ecosystems. Instead of pursuing more sustainable zero waste strategies, the government spends money on costly garbage transport in order to shift environmental pollution out of sight. The project has been implemented at all cost, despite massive protests and opposition of a broad civil society alliance, and without any consultation of local communities whose livelihoods are affected.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Environmental Impact Assessment Report of the Proposed Project on Metro Colombo Solid Waste Management, Ministry Of Megapolis and Western Development, August 2017.
[click to view]

[10] Hiru News (2019): Protest against garbage dump in Puthlam – Riot police disperse protestors. 22.03.2019. (Online, last accessed: 31.03.2020)
[click to view]

[12] Lanka Views (2019): Opposition to Aruwakkadu Dumping Yard in Colombo. 20.03.2019. (Online, last accessed: 31.03.2020)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[9] Meelparvai Newspaper (2019): A Protest in Galle Face against dumping of garbage at Puttalam, Aruwakkadu, which was dumped at Meethotamulla. (Picture footage on Twitter)
[click to view]

[11] BBC News Sinhala (2019): Puttalam tense due to a protest against Aruwakkalu (Video footage on Twitter)
[click to view]

Other documents

Environmental Impact Assessment report 2017
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice project (MS)
Last update23/04/2020
Conflict ID:5020
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