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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Solid Waste Accumulates As Authorities Fail To

VZCZCXRO6503
RR RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #0758/01 1450901
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 250901Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6122
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 1007
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 0144
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 7125
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 5220
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 7711
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000758

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR SCA/INS AND OES/STC K FERGUSON
MCC FOR S GROFF, D TETER, D NASSIRY, AND E BURKE

E.O 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAID SENV CE

SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: SOLID WASTE ACCUMULATES AS AUTHORITIES FAIL TO
PLAN OR MANAGE

1. Summary: Solid Waste Management in Sri Lanka, particularly in
urban areas, is a severe environmental issue. Around 6,400 tons of
waste is generated each day in Sri Lanka, and only 40% of this
volume is collected. Sri Lanka has not created sufficient landfill
space to keep up with the volume of waste it is generating. Absence
of proper management practices, lack of political will, and
corruption within the relevant authorities also contribute to the
adverse situation. Sri Lanka has a published national strategy on
solid waste disposal, but it lacks a detailed plan for how to
implement the strategy. To address this, the Central Environmental
Authority is drafting for parliamentary approval a national plan for
solid waste management. The Board of Investment offers incentives
for solid waste projects which could present opportunities for U.S.
companies in the waste management and waste-to-energy sectors. End
Summary.

SOLID WASTE MISMANAGEMENT: THE PROBLEM
--------------------------------------

2. Sri Lanka is rapidly piling up unmanaged solid waste. Experts
blame ineffective, often haphazard disposal practices, which are not
nearly keeping up with the country's rising rate of new trash
generation. Uncollected waste is widespread in many areas of the
greater Colombo region, including on Colombo's main commercial road
within a few blocks of the Embassy compound.

3. The solid waste problem is most severe in Sri Lanka's prosperous
and densely populated Western Province, with that region's waste
collection averaging 1,800 tons per day. The Eastern Province
collects the second largest quantity of refuse, with approximately
350 tons collected daily, and has begun to experience the same
problems currently facing the Western Province. Biodegradable
substances (wood, paper, plastics, glass, saw dust, paddy husks,
garments, slaughterhouse waste and metal) comprise around 60% of
solid waste collected in the country.

4. Local government authorities are responsible for managing solid
waste disposal. Many municipalities lack sorting and treatment
facilities and contract out this service. Their solid waste
contractors often simply deposit the waste in uncontrolled landfills
in the outskirts of cities and towns. Solid waste from Board of
Investment (BOI) export processing zones is collected by local
authorities and contracted private collectors. The waste is often
disposed at uncontrolled landfills near the zones, with minimal
recycling taking place.

5. Under the proposed national plan on solid waste, which is
currently in draft form, all local authorities will be required to
have their own disposal systems. Rapid economic changes resulting
from more liberal and Pro-growth industrial policies of the past two
decades have not been balanced by necessary urban planning and
infrastructure

COLOMBO'S MILLION TON GARBAGE MOUNTAIN
--------------------------------------

6. The Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) is responsible for
collection of garbage within Colombo municipal limits. Its fleet of
trash trucks cannot collect all the waste in the city, however. For
this reason, the council also contracts waste collection out to
private firms. The council and private trash collectors dispose
Colombo's garbage at a 12-acre open plot within Colombo city limits.
Current estimates place the garbage accumulated at this site at
well over 1 million tons. The CMC has contracted with another
private company to manage the dump. The contract requires this
company to convert the organic content within the garbage to compost
fertilizer. However, the waste is accumulating faster than the
company can manage it. The small percentage of the waste actually
converted to compost is sold by the company in the local market.
The rest is added to the rapidly mounting garbage heap at the site.
According to local environmental experts, the company accepts solid
waste from jurisdictions outside Colombo, exacerbating the problem.


CORRUPTION IN GARBAGE
---------------------

7. Environmental NGOs, donor agency experts, and privately even
some government officials allege that corruption in waste disposal
is widespread. Currently, a sum of around $6-7 is paid per ton of
garbage collected. There is little or no accountability in how

COLOMBO 00000758 002 OF 003


payments are made to private collectors or dump management
companies. These factors are sufficient to create an incentive for
local authorities and private companies to falsify volumes of actual
garbage collected in order to receive higher payments. Further,
local authorities expect commissions from private sector collection
contractors. Hence, they show little resolve to adopt effective
waste management practices.

8. Additionally, the lack of transparency in contracting processes
lends credibility to accusations of corruption in the solid waste
sector. According to a World Bank regional environmental
specialist, government authorities have failed to draw up proper
agreements with contractors in solid waste disposal, especially in
the greater Colombo area. These agreements lack clauses to deal
with performance standards, monitoring, or penalties to be applied
for breach of contract. There thus has been no pressure on either
the government authorities or the private contractors to do the job
properly.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH HAZARDS
POSED BY TRASH ACCUMULATION
--------------------------------

9. The consequences of this poor solid waste management are that
Colombo's mountain of garbage, and smaller mismanaged garbage dumps
around Sri Lanka, cause serious environmental damage, including:

- Carbon monoxide emissions, contributing unnecessarily to global
warming;
- Soot, which adds to airborne particulate matter;
- Pollution of ground water.

The health implications are also significant:

- Respiratory diseases due to air pollution;
- Waterborne disease due to water contamination;
- Dengue, chikungunya and other viral infections due to breeding of
mosquitoes that transmit these diseases.

10. Recognizing the significance of these hazards, the Director of
Environment at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources
informed Econ FSN that the government is looking for assistance from
donors. He would like to implement a program to reduce and recycle
the garbage in Colombo's dump yard. He also seeks financial
assistance to purchase additional trucks to be used to collect
waste.

THIN POLYTHENE BAN - COMPLIANCE LIMITED
---------------------------------------

11. In January, Sri Lanka imposed a ban on polythene with a
thickness of up to 20 microns. According to the Secretary to the
Ministry of Environment, thin gauge plastic has a particularly
harmful effect on the environment. Such thin plastic accumulates in
the environment, getting caught up in trees, gathering in bunches,
and clogging up drainage systems. It is hard to unravel and dispose
of in an environmentally friendly manner. Further, it is difficult
to recycle as it cannot be effectively cleaned, according to Dr.
Ajantha Perera, the founder of the National Program on Recycling
Solid Waste. She notes that thicker bags are easier to clean and
more likely to be reused. The Ministry of Environment intends to
extend the ban to cover plastic up to a thickness of 70 microns.

12. Comment: While the government's goal is laudable, progress is
not easy. The ban has proven hard to enforce. Supermarkets and
shops continue to offer shopping bags of a thin gauge. Further, it
is unclear that consumer actually reuse the thicker bags more, so
the ban risks actually adding to the total volume of plastic that is
disposed of. End Comment.

RECYCLING - LARGELY AN INFORMAL SECTOR INDUSTRY
--------------------------------------------- --

13. Recycling of inorganic garbage is mainly carried out through an
informal market system, rather than in a planned manner. According
to the Asian Institute of Technology and the World Bank, recycling
technologies in Sri Lanka are unsophisticated and expensive. Items
are recovered at different stages in the collection process - at
household level, during collection and transport, and at final
disposal sites. The types of items recovered include plastic,
glass, ferrous and non-ferrous material, waste paper and cardboard.

COLOMBO 00000758 003 OF 003


Recyclables are sold to collection shops which clean and either
export them or sell them to local industries. However, plastic
waste collection is incomplete in this informal market, since
already recycled plastic pellets can be imported at lower-cost from
India and elsewhere.

14. Opportunities for recycling are greater in urban areas,
particularly in the Western Province, due availability of larger
volume of waste. Therefore, design of future recycling programs
must be consistent with the amount and type of waste generated from
urban and rural areas. The Colombo Municipal Council and a local
NGO are implementing limited recycling programs in some parts of
Colombo and the southern region, respectively.

INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN SOLID WASTE PROJECTS
--------------------------------------------- ---

15. The Board of Investment (BOI) offers incentives for investors in
the solid waste sector. Investments of up to $500,000 qualify for
five year income tax holidays and duty exemptions for capital goods.
Large scale projects with a minimum investment of $12.5 million
qualify for tax holidays up to fifteen years and duty free import of
capital goods. Several solid waste projects are currently in the
BOI approval process, including a waste-to-energy project using
relatively new U.S.-based plasma technology. Another U.S. company
is also exploring the possibility of implementing a similar project
using the same technology with an additional component of
waste-to-compost factored into the project. Some local experts are
uncertain of the viability of the plasma technology and its
effectiveness and economic feasibility to resolve the garbage
problem as it has not been widely implemented previously.

EMBASSY DVC BRINGS U.S. ADVICE TO SRI LANKA
-------------------------------------------

16. Post organized a Digital Video Conference featuring Wesley
Chesbro, a founding member of the California Integrated Waste
Management Board, and a leader in California's modern recycling
movement. Key figures from the country's environmental sector
including government officials, academics, donors, and environmental
activists participated in this program. Chesbro urged patience and
persistence to implement effective solutions to waste problems,
adding that his city took around fifteen years to implement an
effective waste recycling program. Participants also discussed
making producers more responsible for reducing waste, using garbage
collection fees as incentives for waste reduction, and developing a
broader acceptance of recycling technologies among Sri Lankan
consumers.

17. Comment: Sri Lanka, as it develops and urbanizes, is consuming
more packaged products and producing more garbage, but reusing or
recycling less. Unless it soon begins to reverse this trend, it
could lose its reputation as "the pearl of the Indian Ocean."
Currently, aside from a few impressive but limited grass roots
efforts, neither government nor the private sector has taken the
lead to address the trash problem. Post will seek to steer
interested Sri Lankans toward expert assistance, best practices, and
new technologies to improve waste management. We will also look out
for opportunities for U.S. companies to provide expertise or sell
equipment in the waste management and waste-to-energy sectors.
BLAKE

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