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Waste management project

Sri Lanka has a serious problem with solid waste management. In many parts of the country, household, industrial, medical and septage wastes are disposed of together. Plastics and polythenes are degrading soil and waterways, producing unhygienic conditions and harming wildlife.

The urban systems designed by government and supported by private recycling companies neither reach nor are practical for villages and small towns, which are growing and becoming more densely populated. Mounds of waste litter roads and rivers and locals battle with the fallout – from pests and scavenging animals, to blocked waterways, unhygienic public spaces and dirt.

While many solid waste plans have been researched, few are ever implemented. We realised early on that change will have to happen from the ground up – and that it will require individuals in each village to drive it. Over the past four years, through implementing our own local waste management project, we have learned the following:

1. Public mindsets must change – companies or municipalities’ cleaning up after people and sorting waste away from public sight will not solve the problem. People need to learn to sort, re-use and dispose of waste properly at home. 

2. Young people are key - children are more open to new ways of disposing their waste than their parents. They bring new behaviours back home with them, creating a bigger impact.

3. Education must be participatory – projects to educate must be collaborative, practical and emotive. When we see, hear, touch, smell and move while learning, we are more likely to remember. One-on-one conversations with business owners and villagers are important, as well as posters and public relations campaigns.

4. Consequences are important - police need to act on laws that prohibit the disposal of waste on the street or out of the windows of buses.


5. Businesses have a big stake - whether for hygienic or aesthetic reasons, local businesses stand to benefit from proper waste management and cleaning practices. Getting owners on board is key.

6. Goals are powerful – setting a target of for orderly waste separation and disposal within a pilot project area, by a set date, gives a yardstick to work towards.


Our plan to change Morawaka started small - we selected a stretch of road and cleaned it up, as an example plot. We spent hours cleaning the local market with stall owners. We fundraised with local businesses to install bin sets and drafted a pamphlet that educated them on waste separation. We are working with local police to encourage implementation of anti-littering and dumping laws. As individuals, we move through the village educating, asking for participation and demonstrating the value of a clean public space.

It is a long-term project, but it is utterly necessary, and we believe ultimately will be appreciated. Any person who wants to start such a project in their own town is welcome to contact us to share ideas, collaborate on solutions and receive some enthusiastic encouragement. At times, it is sorely needed.

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