OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

A reflective blog exploring recycling & sustainability initiatives at the Overseas School of Colombo

E-Waste Recycling Efforts in Sri Lanka: A Field Study Report

leave a comment »

E - Waste 1

E-Waste field study visit.

Electronic waste, otherwise known as E-Waste , involves the discarding of electronic devices. As the world is developing, the growth of electronic devices is increasing and therefore also the amount of e-waste. But with this, comes many complications to the environment. This includes:

  • Decreasing resources
  • Release of harmful toxins (ex: mercury, brominated dioxin and lead)
  • Increasing solid waste dump spaces

Hence, the importance of managing e-waste is very important especially with rising demands on electronics. In 2014 alone, there was 41.8 million tons of electronics discarded worldwide with an expected 49.8 million tons to be produced in 2018. However, only 15-20% of total e-waste is recycled worldwide. (See more.) (Leblanc)

Exploring in a canyon of old TV sets and computers destined for recycling at the Ceylon Waste Management Plant in Horona.

Sri Lanka is in an even worse state. Most e-waste is dumped with regular trash and is not separated. So its toxins are disposed improperly but is also recycled with regular plastic items. For example: children’s plastic toys are being manufactured using recycled e-waste in which some are contaminated with toxic flame retardant chemicals. (Hettiarachchi)

In order to avoid such issues of growing e-waste in dumps (such as the Meethotamulla garbage dump) and the aid in the possible future of recovering resources such as gold, copper and other valuable materials, Sri Lanka has investments in many e-waste recycling plants.

On the 12th of March 2018, the DP1 Geography students at the Overseas School of Colombo visited an e-waste management plant owned by Ceylon Waste Management. This is one of Sri Lanka’s largest e-waste factories and is aided in funding by Singer electronics. This factory receives approximately 1000 electronic pieces a day from local suppliers and exports most of its recycled materials to Europe (including the Netherlands and other European contries). In this plant, waste is treated in multiple ways. Some electronics are tested for reuse or resale. However, majority of electronics are too old to have value. Therefore, most items are salvaged for plastics, cathode tubes, copper, gold and other valuable metals.

This recycling plant is one of the first steps in a more sustainable Sri Lanka, helping reclaim valuable items while preventing environmental pollution and wasted resources.

So what can you do?

  • REDUCE: Try not to buy unnecessary electronics. Instead of buying a DVD player, use the one on a computer you may already have.
  • REUSE: If you have any e-waste that still works, resell it or give it for reuse.
  • RECYCLE: If you have any e-waste, do not throw it away. Most places in Sri Lanka have a local scrap dealers as a middle person to help manage e-waste. If you sell your e-waste, there’s a chance your waste may go to a recycling plant such as the Ceylon Waste Management factory. But if not, some value from the waste would still be recovered (and you can earn some money from this at least too.)

Works Cited

Ceylon Waste Management Co. Interview. 12 Mar. 2018.

“Electronic Waste.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Mar. 2018. Web. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.

Hettiarachchi, Kumudini. “Experts warn of e-waste being dumped together with garbage.” The Sunday Times Sri Lanka, 7 May 2017.  Web. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.

Leblanc, Rick. “E-Waste Recycling Facts and Figures.” The Balance, 15 Mar. 2018. Web.  Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.

Warakaptiya, Kasun. “E-waste: Turn pollution into prosperity.” The Sunday Times Sri Lanka, 31 Dec. 2017.Web. Accessed 21 Mar. 2018.


Article by Sarah Shea, Class of 2019 DP Geography class

Pictures by Lukas Hettiaratchi, Class of 2019 DP Geography class


Written by ianlockwood

2018-03-22 at 12:27 PM

Posted in E-Waste, Guest Articles

Recycling Paper in the OSC and Pelawatte community: A 2018 Update

leave a comment »

Pelawatte Scrap Dealer who buys OSC paper ad cardboard. Photos & collage by Dominic & Maha

As our world is developing, solid domestic waste is becoming a significant problem. Solid domestic waste (SDW) is which is garbage from industries. The production of solid domestic waste contributes a lot to air and land pollution. One common type of solid waste is paper. According to The World Counts 50% of business related waste is composed of paper. In the United States alone, 12.1 trillion sheets of paper are used every year, just for office purposes (World Counts) . That is A LOT of trees.

At the Overseas School of Colombo, there is a tradition of recycling as much of our dry waste as possible (especially paper and cardboard). Since 2005 the service group called Recycling and Sustainability (Train to Sustain) has been working with the OSC community to reduce its ecological footprint by focusing on recycling, solid waste reductions and energy saving initiatives. This group has provided each classroom in OSC  with a box to put recyclables. Every Thursday the R&S/TTS group goes around the school and collects the recyclable items. This recyclables are sorted and then transported in the school pick-up truck to a scrap dealer in Pelawatte to be sold. The scrap dealer is located 400 meters away from the OSC campus (see previous posts with maps of its location). The earnings are used to support efforts to educe the ecological footprint of the school. Plastic (mainly PET) is collected and taken to the Viridis recycling plant in Horona,


As part of our unit on resources and solid waste management, the DP Geography class visited several Colombo-based recyclers and scrap dealers. Upon arriving at the local Pelawatte scrap dealer DP 1’s geography class of 2019 (which includes Devin, Dominic, Jordan, Maha, and Sarah), led by Mr. Ian Lockwood , got an insight on what the Recycling and Sustainability service group embark on every Thursday during their service hours. Analogous to the Recycling and Sustainability service group’s ultimate goal of reducing the ecological footprint of the OSC community, the aim of this article is to raise awareness for paper management in the OSC community and to ultimately inspire those affiliated with the school to follow in the footsteps of the former generations of recyclers at OSC and take action against the rising solid waste management crisis that is still ongoing in Sri Lanka.

My first impression of the scrap dealer was that he processed more assets than he actually had the space! There were piles and piles of old refrigerators and vehicle parts lying around the outside of his shop. However, to my amazement, he still had enough room in his office (a recycled shipping container) to take in waste materials such as paper, cardboard, aluminum, and copper all at varying prices (prices in the table below) .

Scrap Dealer 2018 prices

Although the amount of money received on our part and the size of the contribution by our group to the scrap dealer was  minimal, any initiative whether large or small helps to redue the ecological footprint the OSC community . What the field visit to the scrap dealer (and subsequently the Viridis and Ceylon Waste Management company) showed us is that individuals in Sri Lanka are taking actions to help control the damage of solid waste. Through the recycling initiatives the Overseas School of Colombo is on its ways to being more of a solution that a cause of the problem.



John Keells. Plastic Cycle. Web.

Article by Maha Salman & Dominic Harding, Environmentalists & OSC Geography class 0f 2019 students

Written by ianlockwood

2018-03-22 at 12:01 PM

Recycling CFL Bulbs in Colombo

leave a comment »

Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) were introduced with much hype because of their energy efficiency and longer lives. Unfortunately, they are produced using a variety of dangerous elements including mercury. If they are not recycled properly, they can be hazardous to human health. The mercury in them is the most significant concern. Here in Sri Lanka I have seen old CFLs in rubbish bins and amongst smoldering fires of mixed household waste!

Thankfully there are options to recycle CFLs here in Sri Lanka. In fact Sri lanka was the first country in South Asia to set up a CFL recycling program. The Orange company has an innovative program to recycle CFLS. They collect in many lighting and electrical shops around Colombo. At our local level, consumers can take their used bulbs down to Mr. Gunatilaka. He has been taking bulbs that the RS/TTS program collects on the OSC campus.

Location of CFL recycling options + the scrap dealer who buys paper and cardboard.

<iframe src=”https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/embed?mid=1e3ECScd4rW84W-Mjml0MvyX9IbFl8S0d&#8221; width=”640″ height=”480″>


Bandara, Hansani. “The CFL bulb: A double edged sword.” Sunday Times. 25 March 2012. Web.

“Compact Fluorescent Bulbs.” Wikipedia. (a fascinating account of their origins, design and technical aspects). Web.

“Sri Lanka becomes first country in South Asia to recycle compact fluorescent lamps.” EcoBuisness. 12 August 2015. Web.



Written by recycling1011

2017-10-21 at 9:12 AM

A New Year of OSC’s R&S(TTS): 2017-18

leave a comment »


The 2017-18 Semester I Recycling & Sustainability/ Train to Sustain team with dedicated OSC students from the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, the United States and China.

The 2017-18 school year is now well underway. The Recycling & Sustainability group has a new crop of participants but steady leadership with Aashika Jain and Aryaman Satish continuing as student leaders. This year there is good group of motivated participants with a significant number of Grade 8 (MYP III) students. We remain committed to our goal of reducing OSC’s ecological footprint while looking at other aspects of sustainability to address.

Globally, 2017 has witnessed unprecedented natural disasters, many of which may be linked to human-induced climate change. There have been hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, floods and droughts across the world (including here in Sri Lanka), and raging fires in North America. All of these environmental issues have human dimensions both in the cause and consequences of the disaster. In a significant development  China has decided to ban the import of recycled plastic. This has serious consequences to small countries like Sri Lanka and large countries such as the USA that depend on China to send their recycled plastic to. Exactly how this impacts the recycling industry here and if it results in more waste plastic being untreated is yet to be seen.

The local and national challenge of solid waste management remains a significant concern.  The Meethotamulla dump collapse on April 14th 2017 brought the issue into the limelight here in Sri Lanka. There was growing public resolve that something be done. The government’s Central Environment Authority (CEA) ordered a ban on a variety of plastic bags as of September 1st  but this has not been successfully implemented. There is confusion about the ban and as of now you will see most commercial establishments generously giving out plastic bags. There are proposals to dump waste near Puttalam but these do not address the root problem of actually reducing the inputs.

Here are on campus we are exploring several initiatives to further reduce the campus’ ecological footprint.

  • Better separate and deal with food waste. One idea is to invest in a bio-digester. We have hesitated to push for this solution because we don’t see commitment to having a maintenance employee assigned to take care of the job.
  • Do a better job with recycling e-waste. The student leaders are looking a running a CAS Project that identifies a better way to deal with electronic waste. One thought it is that if we find a place to deal with it the school could become a community center for people to bring e-waste to. UNDP and Dialog have ideas on recycling e-waste in Sri Lanka.
  • Raise awareness on the campus. In particular, about using bins to segregate waste better.

*text & images by RS&S faculty supervisor Ian Lockwood


“China tries to keep foreign rubbish out.” The Economist. 23 August 2017. Web.

Christopher, Chrishanthi. “Drowning in waste: Garbage problems out of control. Sunday Times. 19 June 2016. Web.

Christopher, Chrishanthi. “Measures in the bag to cut vast polythene waste at supermarkets.” Sunday Times. 6 August 2017. Web.

Christopher, Chrishanthi. “Plastic industry claims and lobbying intensify, but regulator insists ban stays.” Sunday Times. 20 August 2017. Web.

Hettiarachchi, Kumudini. “Playing football with Colombo’s garbage.” Sunday Times. 14 May 2017. Web.

Kotelawala, Himal. “Polythene Ban: Should We Celebrate Just Yet?” Roar. 13 July 2017. Web.

Jayawardana, Sandun. “Govt. waste deep in its (mis)management and disposal.” Sunday Times. 26 June 2017. Web. (has Buddhika from Viridis in it)

Nafeel, Nushka. “Banning Plastic.” Daily News. 14 September 2017. Web.

“Polythene Ban Goodbye for Ever? Or Only a Temporary Measure?” Sunday Observer. 10 September 2017. Web.


Written by recycling1011

2017-10-20 at 3:17 PM

2016-17 Recycling & Sustainability Initiatives In Review

leave a comment »

The following graph highlights amounts of paper, cardboard and plastic recycled by OSC’s recycling & sustainability service project between 2008 and 2017. These resources are collected and sorted by students during our Thursday afternoon service block. We then take them in the school pickup to our neighborhood scrap dealer where the paper and cardboard is sold and weighed. We also collect plastic, batteries, cartridges, but we do not get paid significantly for these. Glass and metals are also collected but our numbers are not significant. Prices for recycled paper and card board have roughly stayed the same during this period (1kg of card board sells for 10 LKR and 1 kg of mixed paper sells for 6 LKR). While we have been working to recycle more of our school’s waste, we are also concerned about consumption patterns and are working to educate the community about reducing these levels. Nevertheless, there is a general decline in paper being recycled (perhaps due to lower consumption patterns when the school moved to an electronic, 1:1 teaching & learning environment in 2014).

This has been an important year in the work of the Recycling & Sustainability program. We had an infusion of new leadership in August and the new avatar Train to Sustain out a focus on bringing a wider circle of the community into the sustainability picture. This post is being published at the end of the school year as we look back at important landmarks and consider jobs that still need to be done in the future.

The land slide at the Meethotamulla Dump Site was a major environmental disaster in our local area. The media coverage was quite comprehensive and there had been a good deal of self- reflection on the deeper causes that led to loss of lives and property. At the time of writing it, is still unsure if the country is going to adopt the kind of policies that will address the solid municipal waste (SMW) problem and tackle it with aggressive efforts to reduce, recycle or compost what is left over.

At the school we made major headway with moving the cafeteria to be more sustainable. Significantly we eliminated all disposables: paper boxes, paper cubs, and finally straws. The credit for this is also due to the Canteen committee and Reefkepers who support the effort to eliminate disposables. The group continued to its weekly paper and cardboard collection and the results are shared above. This year we started to get paid higher rates when we delivered better segregated A4 paper and cardboard. Generally, the price was LKR 6 per kg but a few times we earned LKR 10 for paper and LKR 15 for cardboard. The school has a printing quote and we hypothesized that this has reduced overall consumption of paper. At this stage we can not comment on that since our data on paper purchased and consumed is incomplete.

We continued to build our relationship with Viridis, the country’s leading plastic recycling. The DP Environmental Systems & Societies class and several recycling leaders took a field trip to their site. Later Viridis set up a PET bottle collection point at the school. We have extended the option of recycling plastic bottles for the whole OSC community.

We still have work to do in the following areas:

  • General awareness spreading in the community.
  • Better use of the waste bins on campus. We have noted that, despite having three different bins, people are mixing what they throw away.
  • Overall reduction in the amount of solid waste generated by OSC.
  • Highlighting E-waste and doing a better job with recycling what we produce.

Several Important articles have been published about the Solid Waste crisis and ways to solve the problem in Sri Lanka. See the following references:


Economic Benefits of Waste Management. Mirror Business. 2 May 2017. Web.

Maligapse, Rajith. “Sri Lanka’s Waste (Mis) Management.” Roar. 18 May 2017. Web.

Ravishan. “The Story Behind Our Solid Waste (Mis) Management.” Roar. 5 June 2017. Web.

The Garbage Economy. LMD. Web.

Weeraratne, Bilesha. “Pay as You Throw! A Solution to Sri Lanka’s Mounting Garbage Issue?” Talking Economics. 24 April 2017. Web.

Written by recycling1011

2017-06-07 at 10:19 AM

Learning from Meethotamulla

leave a comment »

Meethotamulla dump site after the landslide and tragedy. Image courtesy of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

A week ago disaster and tragedy struck Colombo’s Meethotamulla garbage dump. The images and stories depict a heartbreaking chronicle of poor management, environmental neglect and human misery. Thus far, the press has been busy pointing fingers at various government agencies and political parties for blame of the disaster. The more difficult truth is that all of us are culpable in the problem that led to the disaster at Meethotamulla. The root problem is our high-consumption lifestyle and the solid waste that it generates. The amount of waste is significant but it is largely out of sight to most of us. Meethotamulla has provided a painful wakeup call. There are now efforts underway in our community to assist families affected by the collapse of the garbage dump. These are important initiatives but the tragedy provides a broader teachable moment where each one of us can do something to address the root problem that led to the landslide.

All of us are consumers and our waste, whether at home or at work, is collected and has been added to the mountain of rubbish at Meethotamulla. To get a sense for our school’s waste generation walk up the gym approach road and note the smell and sometimes overflowing numbers of black garbage bags. We send an average of two wagon load of solid waste off campus every week. I suggest that an appropriate response to the tragedy is to look for ways that we can reduce the amount of solid waste that we produce at school and at home. In the following section I include some suggestions that are based on personal experience and experiments to reduce my own ecological footprint at school and at home.

Reducing Solid Waste at School

  • At OSC we have had an ongoing campaign get the canteen to use washable plates and silverware. The initiative started with the Recycling & Sustainability (Train to Sustain) service group but was taken up by Reefkeepers and eventually the Canteen Committee. The initiative took several years of active lobbying but the changeover in December 2016 has made a difference in reducing solid waste. There is still, however, work to be done. The canteen is still selling juice in disposable cups with plastic lids and straws. We need to move on eliminating all the plastics and using washable cups.
  • Thus far, we are not composting any kitchen or garden waste produced by OSC.  In 2015 a Grade 5 class exhibition group  investigated the idea of using a biodigester to deal with kitchen and garden waste. The R&S group agreed to fund it with money from recycled paper sales but that proposal has not been given sanction from the school.
  • Waste separation is an area that each one of us on campus can do a better job with. The feedback from the maintenance crew is that the OSC community is not separating items in the three categories of bins. This makes it hard for the garbage collectors to separate, recycle and thus reduce the amount going to the landfill.

Reducing Solid Waste at Home

  • Follow the three Rs (Reduce Reuse Recycle). Reduce what you consume and make every effort to not take or buy disposable items like plastic bags.
  • When you shop, use reusable shopping bags. There are even reusable mesh bags for vegetables that have been pioneered in our community by Rachel Jackson, Clover Hicks and Raina Lockwood. Reefkeepers will be selling these shortly. These efforts reduce the amount of single use plastic that you take home. Check out Rice and Carry’s innovative ways of reusing rice bags to help reduce disposable shopping bags.
  • Separate your waste at home. This is probably the single best thing that you can do. Wet waste from the kitchen can be composted. A study that I did of my home suggests that roughly 50% or more of household waste is wet waste and mostly compostable. Household composting is a viable option for most of us with gardens and, if managed correctly, will lead to reduction in solid waste and smelly garbage bags.
  • We have the facility to recycle cardboard and paper and PET plastic here at school and you are welcome to bring in items to us. We ask that any plastic bottles are cleaned. For parents and teachers, the R&S group can provide guidance on where to go to sell your paper and cardboard if you have large volumes. This waste actually pays and the R&S groups has built up a capital fund thanks to paper and cardboard sales over the past 12 years.
  • We collect hazardous and E-waste items such as batteries and printer cartridges. We are working with Dialog to give these items to them or recycling. The Orange lighting company takes back CFLs bulbs. Thus don’t mix these into regular garbage bags.

Meethotamulla was an unnecessary human-made tragedy but we can learn from the experience and do a better job so that we do not contribute to a future solid waste disaster.



Bresnick, Sam.  “Lessons from the World.” Daily News. 18 April 2017. Web.

Kotelawala, Himal. “Sri Lanka Death Toll Rises in Garbage Dump Collapse.” New York Times. 17 April 2017.   Web.

“Meethotamulla tragedy.” Daily Mirror. 18 April 2017.  Web.

Wipulasena, Aanya. “Authorities’ promises stink as much as garbage mountain.” Daily Mirror. 6 July  2014.  Web.

Written by recycling1011

2017-04-20 at 3:04 PM

DP Geography Study of Pelawatte Recycling Operations

leave a comment »


The two recycling centers we visited (photo collage by Adrián Yáñez )

Solid waste is a global problem that is becoming difficult to manage. Most of us throw our garbage into a rubbish bin, but do we know where this garbage goes? On the 3rd of March, the DP 1 Geography class visited two recycling and scrap centers in the Pelawatte Area (near the OSC campus). They were relatively small places, but they gave the class an idea of what happens to the items that we throw away.

Solid waste management is a problem that Sri Lanka is facing, and there is only a small group of people who are working to recycle some of the items we throw away. In Colombo itself, 700 tons of garbage is collected each day (Roar), which is 58.6% of the total garbage collected in Sri Lanka (Sunday Times). To the majority of us, this value may not concern us, but where does this garbage go?

In Colombo, the garbage collected has historically been dumped at the Meethotamulla landfill, which is located 30 minutes from OSC, and has now become unusable, because of the various environmental hazards caused by the large amount of garbage dumped there. The problem in Sri Lanka is that the majority of garbage collected is not separated. Therefore it cannot be effectively recycled or disposed of. Based on a study conducted in 2012 by the Central Environmental Authority, 54.5% of the waste that is collected is biodegradable, which means that they can be composted (CSECM). If people were to compost this biodegradable waste, half of the garbage at the landfills would have never even be there. Separation is the key.

The people at the recycling and scrap centers we visited are examples of environmental heroes, who are not given the credit they deserve for the work they do. The picture below is the first recycling center we visited. It was a small place,but there is a lot of cardboard stacked out in front. All of that will be recycled. If this center was not there. That cardboard would have ended up at a landfill (or been burnt). Inside the the recycling center there were plastics, glass (bottles), and scrap metals which were all being collected to be recycled.


Weighing the paper collected from school at the first recycling center (2 minutes from OSC). This is where the Recycling & Sustainability (Train to Sustain) service group takes its paper every Thursday.

Graph showing comparative buying costs for commonly recycled items in Pelawatte (where OSC sells its items), Battaramulla and the United States. Compiled and graphed by Thiany, Yuki & Malaika.

A graph comparing prices of low-cost recycled goods (buying price) in Pelawatte (where we sell our material, Battaramulla and the US.

The people who own centers like this, are not recycling materials because they want to save the environment, instead they are doing it for an economic reason. They are able to make money off recycling materials, and by doing this, both themselves and them and the environment are benefiting from it.

Solid waste disposal is becoming a huge problem that needs proper management. A step each of us can take is separating our biodegradable waste from the rest, and compost it. This would reduce almost half of the garbage that is collected from us, and in turn reduce half of the garbage that is dumped in a landfill. The next step is recycling items such as paper, and plastic. By taking these steps, solid waste would not be such a large problem.


Concluding the field trip with reusable soft drink bottles

Article by Anaath & Adrian with contributions of the Class of 2018 DP Geography class. Data analysis and presentation by Thiany, Tuki & Malaika. Survey 123 data and analysis by Fatma, Easmond and Zoe. Photographs by Adrian and Mr. Lockwood.


Doole, Cassandra. “Garbage Separation And Recycling Are Finally Here (For Colombo, At Least).” Roar. 5 July 2016. Web.

“Garbage Collection and Recycling in the Dumps.” The Sunday Times Sri Lanka.”17 Jan. 2016. Web.

Sapra, Satyanshu. “The Business of Reincarnation – Bringing Discarded Metal Back to Life!”  Recycling & Sustainability Blog. 2014. Web.

Sustainable Approaches to the Municipal Solid Waste Management in Sri Lanka.” Municipal Solid Waste Management in Developing Countries (2016): 119-32. SECM. 13 Dec. 2015. Web.

Widanapathirana, Akash. “Biggest garbage generator tries to put house in order.” Sunday Times. 19 March 2017. Web.

Written by recycling1011

2017-03-14 at 12:35 PM