OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

The State of Plastic Recycling in Sri Lanka: A Case Study of Viridis

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Plastic waste brought from Hikkaduwa for recycling at Viridis.

Plastic waste brought from the beach town/ tourist hub at Hikkaduwa for recycling at Viridis.

Plastic remains one of the single biggest and intractable solid waste management challenges in Sri Lanka. One doesn’t have to look too far to see plastic waste dumped along roadside or smoldering in small neighborhood fires. Currently, the Sri Lankan government as a part of their effort to improve recycling and resource management has been slowly trying to ban more of the less degradable plastic (CEA). The issue was covered by the Sunday Times and other news organizations (see links below). However, annual plastic consumption is increasing in Sri Lanka and  is set to increase from 6kg to 8kg per capita (Sunday Times). Waste management strategies not able to fully deal with the existing amount of plastic solid waste so what happens when the amount increases? This short post will look at the basic economics and geography of what is being done by a plastic recycling factory in the OSC neighborhood.

One of the largest plastic recycling companies in Sri Lanka is Viridis Pvt. Ltd. They have a fleet of 6-9 trucks that gather plastic from the most densely populated parts of Sri Lanka (from Anuradhapura in the north to Katharagama in the south). They currently buy plastic at around 20 LKR/kg but it fluctuates depending on petroleum prices (two years ago it was 40/kg). At the moment, petroleum prices are low and virgin plastic is cheap. Thus, the price for recycled plastic is relatively low. The global price for a unit of plastic has fluctuated as from 86 to 274 LKR (0.6 – 1.9 US$). Viridis collects most types of recyclable plastic such as PET bottles and higher grade plastics (buckets, toilet seats etc.). They used to collect plastic bags, but it is no longer cost effective.

OSC’s DP Geography class visited the Viridis recycling plant as part of their Patterns in Resource Consumption unit. They were joined by several members of the Recycling & Sustainability group. In fact, student leaders Nandini Hannak and Nisala Shaheed along with their faculty facilitator Ian Lockwood had made a preliminary visit in December (see their blog posts linked below). Viridis’ manager Buddhika Muthukumarana took us on a tour to show us the steps of sorting, clearing and palletization that happen in the process of recycling the plastic.

The key to plastic recycling seems to be in the economics of production and collection. At the moment the price of petroleum is low and virgin plastic (which is a byproduct of the petroleum refining process) is at one of the lowest levels (see these links: PN and FT). Thus, the price for recycled plastic has gone down significantly to the point that it is hardly a viable process to collect, clean, chip and sell it. After the eye opening tour we were left to ponder ways to consider improving the recycling business while at the same time discouraging wasteful use of plastic in Sri Lanka and other places. A key step would be to get the producers of plastic to have a larger role in the recycling or substitution of their materials. At the moment they produce an abundance of disposable items but play no role in helping society to deal with the waste! Surely this has to change as part of a broad-based solution to address solid waste challenges that Sri Lanka faces.

Article © Sadira Sittampalam & Ian Lockwood 2016

Sorting plastic based on type and color at the Viridis recycling plant.

Sorting plastic based on type and color at the Viridis recycling plant.

Portraits of Viridis employees sorting PET plastics.

Portraits of Viridis employees sorting PET plastics.

Portrait of Viridis employee sorting PET plastics.

Portrait of Viridis employee sorting PET plastics.

OSC students learning about the process and economics of plastic recycling at the Viridis plant. Buhhika, the plant manager, is giving the DP Geography class and R&S members the tour.

OSC students learning about the process and economics of plastic recycling at the Viridis plant. Buddhika, the plant manager, is giving the DP Geography class and R&S members the tour.

Plastic pellets made from recycled plastic (mainly PET) ready for export to markets (mainly in China).

Plastic pellets made from recycled plastic ready for export to markets (mainly in China). On the right are cleaned plastic bottles being readied to be chipped.

Photographs © Ian Lockwood

 

Works Cited/References

Christopher, Chrishanthi. “Sri Lanka among the ‘dirty five’.” Sunday Times. 17 January 2016. Web & Print.

“Garbage collection and recycling in the dumps.” Sunday Times. 17 January 2016. Web. 25 March 2016.

Hannak, Nandini. “Viridis Lanka Plastic Recycling Center.” The Nautilus (Nandini CAS blog). 4 December 2015. Web.

Plastic Pollution Coalition. Web.

Rodrigo, Malaka. “Polythene baddies hammered from tomorrow.” Sunday Times. 31 January 2016. Web. 25 March 2016.

Saheed, Nisala. “Viridis Recycling Plant Visit.” CAS: A Step Outside Shelter. 27 December 2015. Web.

Warakapitiya, Kasun. “Poor rubbish collection hatching dengue menace.” The Sunday Times. 31 January 2016. Web & Print.

Waste Management Unit. Sri Lanka Central Environmental Authority. Web.

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Written by recycling1011

2016-05-31 at 12:26 PM

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