Last update:
2020-04-20

Hazardous garbage dumping and new waste-to-energy projects in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Uncontrolled dumping has been a major problem in the Colombo metropolitan area, causing deathly contamination and disasters. Dumping has now shifted further away, WtE-plants are being constructed, but the informal recycling sector remains sidelined.


Description:

On April 14, 2017, Colombo’s controversial Methotamulla garbage mountain collapsed, killing 32 people, leaving 8 missings, and destroying the homes of about 1,800 [1][2]. The disaster was the tragic peak of a long-standing controversy over waste management in the Colombo metropolitan area, which already before caused pollution and deathly diseases in the local population. Also after, the problem of hazardous waste dumping and was moved far away from the city while incinerators were presented as a supposed solution.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Hazardous garbage dumping and new waste-to-energy projects in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Country:Sri Lanka
State or province:North Western Province
Location of conflict:Kolonnawa, Colombo
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Waste Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Urban development conflicts
Waste privatisation conflicts / waste-picker access to waste
Incinerators
Specific commodities:Land
Domestic municipal waste
Recycled Metals
Electricity
E-waste
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Colombo South Waste Processing Facility:

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Level of Investment:284,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:1997
Company names or state enterprises:Burns Environmental & Technologies Ltd (BET) from Sri Lanka - Operator of Bloemendhal landfill
Fairway Holding from Sri Lanka - Incinerator operator in Karadiyana
KCHT Lanka Jang (KCHT) from Sri Lanka - Operator of incinerator
Western Power Company (Pvt.) Ltd from Sri Lanka - Operator of incinerator
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)
Urban Development Authority (UDA)
Central Environmental Authority (CEA)
National Government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:People’s Movement against the Meethotamulla Kolonnawa Garbage Dump (PMMKGD)
Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ)
Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
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
Refusal of compensation
Impacts
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil erosion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Malnutrition, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement
Potential: Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession
Outcome
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Criminalization of activists
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Repression
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Sri Lankan Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) suggest Zero Waste strategies to be implemented and adopted in the national legislation [14][23]. Organizations such as the WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment – Globalizing and Organizing) and the Global Alliance of Waste Pickers (Globalrec) suggest a socially inclusive model of recycling, as already practiced in numerous cities around the globe – from Pune in India to Belo Horizonte in Brazil. Also Jayasinghe et al. (2009) call for an acknowledgment of grassroots waste management practices - such as from informal waste pickers – as these support livelihoods and contribute to the cost-efficient reduction of waste volumes and environmental conservation. [5]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Until 2020, 86 percent of Sri Lanka’s waste ended up in open dumps, of which only six percent are composted and four percent recycled [20] - while conditions there were hazardous for both waste pickers and the local population. The recycling rate is not likely to change to the better with the start of incineration. All mentioned dumping projects have been pushed forward by the governments despite public protests and often even with coercive measures against these. Sri Lankan waste management policies generally follow a “out of sight, out of mind” top-down attitude [5], while protests often follow the “not in my backyard” pattern [1][13], leaving the underlying patterns of waste conflicts unaddressed. With such unsustainable and socially unjust solutions, and waste being largely privatized and inadequately dumped, also the informal recycling sector and its role in providing livelihoods for the poor remains more and more sidelined [5].
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[5] Jayasinghe, R.; Azardiadis, M.; Baillie, C. (2019): Waste, Power and Justice: Towards a Socially and Environmentally Just Waste Management System in Sri Lanka. In: Journal of Environment & Development 28 (2), 173-195.

[22] GAIA (2017): GAIA Statement on Sri Lanka Garbage Landslide.
[click to view]

[11] Fast News (2019): Dumping of garbage at Kerawalapitiya stopped. 06.08.2019. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[22] GAIA (2017): GAIA Statement on Sri Lanka Garbage Landslide. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[2] Roar Media (2017): A Brief History Of The Meethotamulla Garbage Dump. 23.04.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[6] Wipulasena, A. (2013): The air is foul with disease, despair and deferred solutions. The Sunday Times, 14.04.2013. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[3] Roar media (2017): The Science Behind The Meethotamulla Disaster. 29.04.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[8] Sathisraja, A. (2016): In Meethotamulla, the suffering just gets worse. 29.05.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[9] Balachandran, P. (2017): Mahinda Govt Plan to Dump Meethotamulla Garbage in Puttalam was Stopped by Politically Connected Contractors. NewsIN Asia, 20.04.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[17] Daily News (2019): Fairway recommences Karadiyana Waste Management Project. 05.09.2019. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[18] Daily FT (2017): Two waste-to-energy plants to get off the ground today. 10.08.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[19] Sirimane, S. (2020): First Waste-to-energy plant to open in May. Daily News, 28.08.2020. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[21] Economy Next (2018): Sri Lanka’s HNB syndicates R9bn loan for waste-to-energy plant. 02.06.2018. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[9a] Balachandran, P. (2017): Mahinda Govt Plan to Dump Meethotamulla Garbage in Puttalam was Stopped by Politically Connected Contractors. NewsIN Asia, 20.04.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[9b] Groundviews (2017): A Tale of Incompetence – RTI Reveals CMC Inaction Leading Up To Meethotamulla Tragedy. 20.06.2017. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[9b] Groundviews (2017): A Tale of Incompetence – RTI Reveals CMC Inaction Leading Up To Meethotamulla Tragedy. 20.06.2017.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[4] Video: “Meethotamulla garbage dump: the unseen story”. Youtube, 18.01.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[4] Video: “Meethotamulla garbage dump: the unseen story”. Youtube, 18.01.2016. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020) *
[click to view]

[7] Video: "Meethotamulla garbage dump: tense situation in Kolonnawa". Youtube, 24.05.2015. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

[7] Ada Derana (2015): Meethotamulla garbage dump: tense situation in Kolonnawa. Youtube, 24.05.2015. (Online, last accessed 30.03.2020)
[click to view]

Other comments:* Video translation provided by Bandula Jayaweera
Meta information
Contributor:EnvJustice Project (MS)
Last update20/04/2020
Comments
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