OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

Catching a Flame: Biogas Explorations Part II

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Biogas_Temp_Measurement_4(MR)(04_19)

First flame: burning biogas and heating a liter of water. One of the first trials by the Class of 2020 ES&S class.

Sri Lanka is experiencing significant challenges with a power deficit in the last month and the outlook does not look good into the foreseeable future. There are now scheduled blackouts of about 4-5 hours in most parts of Sri Lanka every working day (see article below for analysis on cause and consequences). Meanwhile at OSC we are making slow progress with our school biogas plant. This system was installed in October it has taken a while to be fully functioning. In the first month of April 2019 we made the first successful trials of heating water using a stove and gas from the tank.

Though the system was installed in October 2018, it took several months to get the anaerobic bacteria charged inside the digester. To enable this, we fed the system with fresh cow dung every 2-3 days.  Team from OSC’s maintenance department was put in charge of feeding it regularly. Unfortunately, the biogas plant was unintentionally neglected over the winter holidays and we had to start all over again in January. It is a reminder of the importance of maintaining and being consistent with the inputs int the system.

The problem that we have had at the beginning stages of the biogas plant was controlling the CO2 levels. The inputs were almost all cow dung (with no food waste) but our outputs were high in CO2 and relatively low in methane (CH4). We attempted to measure samples of the gas with the Vernier CO2 gas sensor/probe. However, every attempt to monitor the CO2 showed very high readings that were off the charts (@ 10,022 ppm). After many failed attempts we were advised by Sunil to keep giving it cow dung.

We finally got a flame at the end of March. At, first after putting a match to the burner, we were unaware that the gas was lit. However, we tried putting some paper over the burner and it lit (see linked video)! The gas has an odor but when burnt this goes away. Since the first firing we have been heating up a liter of water and recording data every 2-3 days. It takes the biogas tank about 72 hours to digest and produce enough gas. At this stage the inputs are being controlled by maintenance and we need to get better data on their additions (both in quantity and quality and frequency). We will start adding food waste to the system after returning from our April break.

 

FIRST BURN_ HEATING A LITER OF WATER WITH BIOGAS (TEMPERATURE CHANGE AND FLOAT HEIGHT) (2)

Data recorded on first run of the OSC biogas plant on 1 April 2019. Data recorded and processed by the OSC ES&S Class of 2020 (Nehe & Shivani) with input from their teacher.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Lanka Biogas. Web.

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Written by ianlockwood

2019-04-09 at 2:36 PM

Visits to the Pelawatte Scrap Dealer

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Class of 2020 DP Geography students learning about the economics of the scrap and recycling business at our local scrap dealer.

On Monday April 1st the DP1 Geography class visited our local scrap dealer to get a better sense of what happens to school recyclables.  This short field trip followed up a longer two week field investigation  into solid waste patterns in the OSC neighborhood (see separate post). The group of eight students took several bags of mixed paper as well as some folded cardboard. The scrap dealer is based out of an old shipping container on the side of Panipitiya road. Students were able to ask a series of questions and learn more about the economics of recycling from the perspective of this dealer. We also sold our mixed paper (12kg) and cardboard (5 kg) for a grand total of 146 LKR. Students also got a chance to speak with Matt Jackson, a patron and OSC community member. He outlined what he does in terms of collecting and sorting recyclables which are deposited at the dealer. He doe not take any money for his materials.

2019 Data

2018 Data

The class has updated the buying (and selling) costs of the materials that our scarp dealer deals with in. Some prices have climbed while others have decreased since we gathered the same data last year. These are purely based on what our dealer is telling us and we know from past studies that we could probably get better prices at other locations. Our goal, however, is to reduce solid waste and not to earn more money. We remain interested in patterns of recyclables and commodity prices.

 

REFERENCES

Salman, Malaika and Dominic Harding. “Recycling Paper in the OSC and Pelawatte community: A 2018 Update.” Recycling & Sustainability Blog. 22 March 2018. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2019-04-03 at 1:22 PM

OSC Neighborhood Solid Waste Study 2019

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Preparing to run a solid waste survey at a modern house east of the OSC campus.

The 2nd semester is a time of class field trips to various recycling and solid waste operations in the OSC neighborhood.  The DP Geography class is preparing to conduct field research in Sinharaja so as a trial they conducted a field survey of solid waste patterns in the OSC neighborhood. There were several stages to this operation:

  1. Taking a preliminary observation-based walk to assess the study area.
  2. Devising the research questions
  3. Creating an appropriate survey using Survey 123
  4. Preparing a base map using OpenStreeMap as well as new 1:10,000 data from the Sri Lanka Survey Department. Revieiwng and updating data on OSM for the OSC neighborhood
  5. Conducting the field work (over two lessons)
  6. Compiling, processing and graphing the data.
  7. Sharing the data in a poster, individual assignments and online (this post)

Field Work Skills task sheet 2019

Screen grab showing Survey 123 raw data and map area.

As a part of the project the class worked with a variety of maps to get a sense of their study area.  OpenStreetMap is a great source but most of the building have not yet been mapped. Previous classes of OSC students have mapped the school campus but the Class of 2020 worked to expand the area. The maps below show the progress that they made on this ongoing project.

 

CONCLUSION

The field study was completed after two blocks of data collection in the OSC neighborhood. Together the class was able to survey 26 different households near to the OSC campus. We have a much better sense of of our neighborhood though it would be good to continue the study and get more houses surveyed. There were a few conclusions.

  • Most residents are getting some sort of municipal solid waste pick up. 23 of 26 respondents(86.5%). Respondents mostly appeared satisfied with this arrangement abut several remembered times when the collection system had broken down in the past 2-3 years.
  • 23 of the 27 (92.3%) respondents are separating waste. This makes sense as it is now required by the municipality.
  • A few residents stated that they did weekly burns of leaves and paper. (3 of 26 or 11.5% households surveyed). However it seems, based on observation, that other items (Tetrapacks, plastic bits) are being mixed in with these burn piles.
  • Only a few households were composting (3 of 26 or 11.5% households surveyed).

 

REFERENCES

“Analysis & Recommendations.” Curious Geographer. February 2019 Web.

ESRI. ArcGIS Book(s). Web.

Hunter College Department of Geography. “The geographic inquiry process: a way to problem solve.” Web.

Nagel, Garrett & Briony Cooke. Geography: For the IB Diploma, 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Print.

Nagel, Garrett & Briony Cooke. “5 Skills for DP Geography.” Web/PDF.

 

 

 

 

A Visit to the Viridis Plastic Recycling Plant

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According to the World Bank, 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW or SDW) are produced annually around the world (World Bank). The increase of solid waste, including the production of non-biodegradable plastic, is one of the most significant human induced problem that the world faces today. Today large amounts of discarded plastic end up in the environment-both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Ocean plastic is responsible for serious pollution and negative impacts to marine ecosystems is well documented. A negative aspect of plastic on the environment that Sri Lanka faces is the uncontrolled burning of plastics and other solid domestic waste (SDW). There are serious health impacts of this widespread practice that are not fully understood yet. “Some plastics we know are toxic, such as poly-vinyl-chloride (PVC). PVC contains phthalates and heavy metals and creates dioxins when it burns” (Ecology Center). In Sri Lanka, solid waste has become a serious, but uncomfortable  problem for urban planners to deal with. This was brought into the public sphere when the Meethotamulla garbage dump collapsed and destroyed many homes on April 14th 2017 (Roar).  Two years on and the country is still struggling with how best to manage solid waste in the face of growing production of SDW.

Global production and consumption of plastic continuously rises in an age of sometimes contradictory development, prosperity, disparity and globalization. The challenge with plastic waste in now well documented (see links below)  and understood but the momentum of the problem and its links to consumption habits which drive economies is hard to address. The idea of recycling plastic (and other) waste has economic merits while also addressing part of the problem that countries like Sri Lanka face. Several businesses are working as recyclers in Sri Lanka. They help to manage the rather enormous amounts of single use and other plastic produced by this small island while also struggling to run a profitable business at a time when petroleum and virgin prices are relatively low.

On March 1, our DP2 Environmental Systems and Societies class visited the Viridis Recycling Plant. We spoke with Sathyajith Wijerathne, who gave us a tour of the facility. This company focuses on the recycling of plastic materials in Sri Lanka. At the moment, it is the leading plastic recycler and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) flake exporter in Sri Lanka. Waste plastic bottles and other items are collected and brought to the factory in the Templeburg Industrial Zone, Panagoda, Homagama. The company employs 30  manual workers and an additional 4 drivers. Once inside the facility the plastic is segregated and then cut into small pieces called PET flakes. “These PET flakes are [later] used as the raw material for a range of products that would otherwise be made of be made of polyester” (Viridis). Most of the plastic that they recycle is exported while a smaller percentage is used in local manufacturing in Sri Lanka.

During our visit, we had the opportunity to see what procedures were taken with the plastic they collect. The different types of plastic first have to be separated into colors and types. They are then cut into very small pieces in a machine and are later washed and dried. They are first soaked in barrels, cleaned and then water is extracted. In order to completely dry the tiny pieces of plastic, they are set on trays and are baked in a large electric oven. Finally, the many pieces of plastic are set in bags to be sent to other companies that will create products out of the recycled plastic. Most of this is exported outside of Sri Lanka.

Viridis_plastic_product_1(03_19)

Recycled Viridis plastic ready for sale. The Color of the plastics has an important influences on how much recyclers can get for their products. Clear plastic earns more.

Through this experience, we learned more about the different types of plastics, such as HDPE (for example, chairs) and HIPS (for example, computers). It is therefore important to separate plastics since they are used for different purposes.

It is important to have companies, like Viridis, that recycle plastic in order to move towards a more sustainable planet. However, recycling requires a lot of energy and thus reducing and reusing are still preferable strategies for dealing with how we consume plastics.

Article by Camille-Anh Goulet (with editing from her teacher)

Photographs  © Ian Lockwood, 2019

REFERENCES

Albeck-Ripka, Livia. “Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not.” New York Times. 29 May 2018. Web.

de Freytas-Tamura Kimiko “Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling. “ New York Times. January 2018. Web.

Kaza, Silpa et al. What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. Washington, DC: World Bank. 2017. Web.

Milman, Oliver. “‘Moment of reckoning’: US cities burn recyclables after China bans imports.” The Guardian. 21 February 2019. Web.

Parker, Lisa. “Planet-or Plastic?” National Geographic. June 2018. Web.

Semuels, Alana. “Is This the End of Recycling?” The Atlantic. 5 March 2019. Web.

 

Written by ianlockwood

2019-03-22 at 1:47 PM

2019 Beginnings

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OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability semester 1 group before the first collection of 2019.

OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability group is starting the 2nd part of the school year’ service session this week. We have a group of veteran participants, all of who have worked with us at some point in the past.

We have several exciting challenges ahead:

  • To continue working to reduce the school’s ecological footprint on campus with a special focus on solid waste reduction and separation.
  • To run an informative and produce OSC Environment Day on March 12th while also supporting the more globally focused Earth Day on April 24th. We are looking forward to working with other campus groups addressing sustainability (Reefkeepers etc.) in these endeavors.
  • To work with the school maintenance team to ensure that the new Biogas Plant is properly maintained and fed. Over the winter holidays it was neglected and so we are having to recharge it with come dung to prepare it for taking in school foot waste.

Recent Press Reports on Recycling, Sustainability & Solid Waste in Colombo & Sri Lanka

Dawoodbhoy, Zahara. “Colombo’s Unseen: Those Who Sweep Our Streets.” Roar Media. 29 January 2019. Web.

“Plastic Recycling Project in Sri Lanka.” Roar Media. 13 December 2018. Web.

Rubatheesan, Sandaran. “Concerns grow as report shows plastic killing off our fish.” Sunday Times. 10 February 2019. Web.

 

 

 

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Written by ianlockwood

2019-02-15 at 11:52 AM

Biogas Initiative at OSC

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OSC’s Biogas unit being installed by the school’s maintenance team behind the science labs in October 2018.

Solid domestic waste (SDW) continues to be a pressing issue at different scales here in Sri Lanka. The problem of managing solid waste on OSC’s campus challenges our community as it does the city and country. Earlier this semester we took small steps to address the issue of managing the campus’ biodegradable food waste using a biogas plant.

Local Challenges with The Global Issue of SDW

Readers will remember that Sri Lanka’s solid waste problem exploded in the public’s consciousness with the tragic Meethotamulla collapse in April 2017. Since then the authorities have struggled to propose a way forward. Key leaders include the Governments Central Environment Authority and the Ministry of Megapolis. At the moment, the management approach is focused on making a larger landfill north of the city at Kerwalapitiya in the Puttalam District (see Sunday Observer). However, this is fraught with risks and there are already alarming reports and images of elephants and other wildlife feeding on poorly managed SDW in rural areas of Sri Lanka (see Sunday Times). The merits of putting a large land fill site next to Wilpattu National Park, one of Sri Lanka’s most important protected areas, is also questionable. There is also discussion on developing “waste to energy” plants to deal with Colombo’s SDW (see the Daily Mirror from August 10 2017)

R&S SDW Strategy at OSC

The approach of OSC’s Recycling and Sustainability service group is to work hard to reduce and recycle what the school community is discarding. Our group’s mission, of course, is to reduce the school’s ecological footprint. We know from informal studies that more than half of our SWD is organic and can be composted if we have the right infrastructure in place. About 10 years ago we experimented with compost on campus but poor maintenance, oversight and the design of the concrete bins contributed to a lack of success with this will intended initiative. Since then our organic waste has been being picked up by municipal workers. This is a less than perfect situation as the wet waste it is often mixed with recyclables and other waste contributing to a foul smell at the garbage depot near the school entrance.

Biogas Dreams

The idea of installing a biogas plant to deal with campus organic waste was rooted in developments in household biogas plants by the plastic manufacturer Arpico and a MYP exhibition project in 2014. The exhibition was a student exploration of alternatives with leadership provided by Tassy Dalhan in the Grade 5 team. It took a while, but the ideas have finally resulted in concrete action. A year ago Class of 2020 student Disara Samayawardhena researched biogas plants and made a model unit for her MYP Personal Project. In May 2018 Disara, Mr Cirshanta Fernando the campus administrator and I visited the household plant designed and owned by Sunil Weilvata, an employee of the National Engineering Research  and Development Centre of Sri Lanka (NERDC). We were impressed by what we saw and it was Sunil’s unit that formed the basis for our plan. At the end of the school year the R&S Service group committed funds (from our years of paper recycling earnings) to the biogas project and the school made up the small difference of the LKR 70,000 unit.

Over the summer Sunil worked on the unit and it was delivered and installed behind the science labs in early October 2018. At the moment, we are charging it with daily inputs of cow dung and it will soon be ready to start taking organic waste from the cafeteria.

OSC’s Biogas plant has several goals:

  • To better manage and reduce the wet (food) waste on the OSC campus.
  • To produce renewable CH4 to use as a fuel source (for demonstration cooking).
  • To produce slurry that can be used as a fertilizer (we will add this to the septic system initially)

Our current challenges are the following:

  • The system needs careful weekly, if not daily, monitoring.
  • We need to be able to measure inputs and outputs from the system using weigh scales and gas pressure gauges. At the moment, these systems are not in place.
  • We need the school community to do a better job with separating waste in the canteen. At the moment plastic, tinfoil and other non-biodegradables are showing up in our food bins.

 

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Attanayake, Dimuthu. “How to dump the trash.” Sunday Observer. 10 June 2018. Web.

Daniel, Shannine. “Meethotamulla: One Year On.” Roar. 2 May 2018. Web.

Environmental Impact Assessment Report of the Proposed Project on Metro Colombo Solid Waste Management project Final Report. Ministry of Urban Development, Water Supply and Drainage. Colombo, 2015. Web.

Fairways Waste Management. Web.

“Garbage projects coming on stream to help ease disposal issues.” Sunday Times. 5 August 2018. Web.

Lanka Biogas. Web.

“Solid Waste Management: A Way Forward.” Daily Financial Times (FT).  25 July 2017. Web.

“Status of Waste Management in Sri Lanka.” Environment Foundation Ltd. (EFL).14 June 2017. Web.

The Metro Colombo Solid Waste Management Project.  Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. Central Environment Authority. 2017.Web.

Wipulasena, Aanya. “Despite EIA report and protests: Govt ploughs through Aruwakkalu landfill project.” Sunday Observer. 10 October 2018. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2018-11-27 at 8:32 AM

A New School Year

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The 2018-19 Recycling & Sustainability service group at the beginning of the school year.

This year we have several goals for OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability group in  the 2018-19 school year.

  • Continue to pursue our mission statement of reducing the school’s ecological footprint through active recycling and information campaigns to help reduce consumption.
  • Improve the process of waste segregation on campus. It is not working very well at the moment.
  • Promote the composting of school garden waster through the in house design of a large leaf composter.
  • Sponsor a 2nd annual Environment Day (scheduled for March 2019).
  • Facilitate the installation and maintenance of a Biogas plant. The plant is being paid for with money that the R&S group raised through the sale of paper and cardboard over the last 13 years. OSC student Disara Samayawardhena is helping and taking a personal lead in this enterprise.
  • Work with other school collaborators on achieving our goals, namely the school maintenance department and the Reefkeepers service group.
  • Promote the idea of installing solar photovoltaic panels on our roofs. This is a significant investment but we believe it will help make OSC a more sustainable campus and Ms. Chameela’s case study demonstrated that it both both economic sense and good for the environment. We are pushing the idea with the school board who commissioned a feasibility study in 2017-18.

 

Written by ianlockwood

2018-09-18 at 2:15 PM