Composting in Municipal Solid Waste Management in Sri Lanka

April 2014

Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSWM) is a fast growing urban environmental issue in Sri Lanka. The quantity of MSW has increased over the years due to rapid urbanisation, economic growth and changes in production and consumer patterns. Waste generation in Sri Lanka totals about 6,400 tonnes per day. Currently, the crucial challenge faced by the local governments (LGs), who manage solid waste, is not merely an increase in the waste generation rate but also inadequate collection and disposal. Only half of the MSW is collected by LGs, with the rest either piled up on the streets or dumped in the lowlands. In addition, 85% of MSW is open dumped in low lying areas such as marshes and abandoned paddy fields, bringing serious environmental, health and social impacts.

The National Solid Waste Management Policy and Strategy issued in 2002 highlights the importance of following the waste management hierarchy: “Avoidance of waste generation; reduction, reuse and recycling of unavoidable waste; and disposal of the residual waste in an environmentally sound manner”. Composting has high potential as a viable, appropriate and low cost option for managing organic waste, especially as 80% of MSW is organic with high moisture content and low calorific value making it inappropriate for incineration.

To promote composting in MSWM, the government initiated a national campaign to increase domestic organic food production using compost. In 2003, Sri Lanka became the first country in the region to issue compost quality standards. Financial and technical support in the form of incentives at national and local level has been given to the LGs to develop and implement more sustainable MSWM strategies. The Ministry of Environment (MOE), Sri Lanka, launched a national programme called Pilisaru in 2008, supporting the construction and operation of composting plants in LGs. The Pilisaru programme also provides training to municipal staff in the operation and maintenance of such plants, as well as providing design and business support. The Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils established the National Solid Waste Management Support Center (NSWMSC) to provide technical support to the nine provinces and to collaborate with the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Planning, the Central Environment Authority, and the Waste Management Authority of the Western Province, as well as international donors.

With national support, many LGs have taken steps to establish compost facilities in their respective cities as a strategy to manage organic waste. Currently, more than 70 medium and small-scale compost plants are in operation nationwide, although most face challenges in ensuring the sustainability of operations. IGES in partnership with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Sri Lanka and the NSWMSC therefore organised a national workshop in March 2014 inviting more than 100 participants from relevant national organisations, local governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and academic institutions to share best practices, discuss key challenges and identify recommendations for improving composting in MSWM.

The workshop participants recognised the co-benefits of composting in MSWM but identified that current composting programmes do not operate to their full potential because composting uses mixed waste and is not integrated into the MSWM system. There is also a lack of capacity in choosing suitable technologies and their application, a lack of financial viability, difficulty in finding suitable land and high operational costs, including quality control and marketing. It was recommended that LGs introduce separated waste collection systems and integrate composting into their MSWM strategies, that synergies between different actors in composting should be recognised, and that partnerships should be formed between actors with complementary skills. Local and national governments need to be convinced of the economic benefits of composting and begin to pass some of these benefits on to producers as tipping fees or gate fees to motivate more private sector participation. There is a need to develop simple and easy to follow procedures for granting national standards for organic quality compost as well as establish research and capacity building programmes in collaboration with local and international research agencies, academic institutions and multilateral development banks.

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