OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

Archive for February 2020

OSC Neighborhood Plastic Collection, Audit and Recycling

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Plastic patrol in action in Perera Gardens just behind the school. (February 2020)

On Sunday February 2nd the OSC community participated in a neighborhood plastic collection and brand audit organized by the school’s Reefkeepers service group. Several members of the Recycling & Sustainability group lent a hand and it was a fulfilling community experience for the benefit of our neighborhood. Both the Reefkeepers and Recycling and Sustainability groups have been working to address plastic waste in our community. R&S has been working to reduce the overall ecological footprint of the campus while Reefkeepers has focused in on reducing plastic waste, raising awareness about plastic pollution and working to make OSC a plastic-free campus. They are supporting and working through the Break Free from Plastic initiative.

Global Developments

In the last 12 months there have been significant concerns about the export of solid waste from high income countries (HICs) to low or middle-income countries (LICs and MICs). Back in late 2017 China officially stopped importing plastic which set in a motion a global reckoning with how to deal with the large amounts of plastic waste being created by our current model of human existence. In August 2019 Sri Lanka uncovered containers of mixed solid waste at the Colombo port that were supposedly destined for “recycling.” There were similar discoveries in the Philippines and Malaysia (see articles below). Overall there is a feeling that rich countries have been abusing the idea of recycling on a global scale to transfer solid waste from their shores to poorer countries. The World Bank has studied the issue of solid waste on a global scale in several important studies including What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050.

Closer to home here in Sri Lanka

While there is concern about the transfer of plastic and other solid waste between countries, Sri Lanka has been dealing with a glut of plastic that is being produced and consumed but not recycled on the island. Several surveys have concluded that Sri Lanka is a high producer of plastic waste (a Loops post from October 2019 cites the Earth Day network to say that Sri Lanka ranked as “fifth largest plastic polluter” in the world). Dinushka Paranavitana’s article on the situation gives an overview of efforts to manage plastic waste in Sri Lanka. At the moment, there are still few economic penalties or incentives to discourage plastic production and consumption in Sri Lanka while globally there is a move to address the significant challenge of plastic waste through such tools. The government, in fact, is looking at “waste to energy” options to deal with solid domestic waste (SDW) in Sri Lanka. These solutions may cut down the volume of SDW but they don’t solve the problem of growing consumption and can have negative environmental consequences (emissions, ash production etc.). The articles listed at the end of this post are just a few of what is being published in the local and global press.


Sorting and auditing what was collected on the plastic patrol. (February 2020)

The plastic patrol/audit was designed to raise awareness in our community and make a small contribution to cleaning up our neighborhood. About 50 students, parents and teachers gather on February 2nd morning. Clover Hicks and the Reefkeepers’ student leaders Alex and Talia welcomed the volunteers. They handed out reusable gloves and rice bags and provided clear instructions about what and what not to collect from a health and safety point of view. We then set out in three big groups to do a sweep. I accompanied a cohort of enthusiastic MYP and DP students who very thorough about picking up items. Our group collected a large number of glass bottles (mostly Arrack), aluminum cans (largely Lion strong) as well as quite a bit of PET, used tetra packs (Milo etc.), chip packets, CFL bulbs, batteries and more. The neighbors who we passed seemed appreciative. During our walk a few soldiers from the new army camp brought out water for us. When we returned two hours later all the waste was separated into different piles and we counted out what was collected. The data from the sweep is being contributed by the Reefkeepers to the Break Free From Plastic initiative.

The R&S group helped with recycling as much of the collected material from the sweep as possible. Glass bottles and aluminum cans were taken by Kevin, Mathisha and Danaj to the local scrap dealer during our Thursday session the following week. On February 7th the DP1 Geography class took all the PET bottles to Viridis so that they could recycle them. Talia and Imandi were on the sweep so it was good to show them where it goes when plastic PET gets recycled. It seems like a drop in the ocean but perhaps the best part of the sweep and audit was the important conversations about consumption and solutions at an individual level. Clearly, we all agreed that change needed to happen at a number of levels starting with individuals and going up to neighborhoods and governments.

article and images © Ian Lockwood, 2020 all right reserved.


Break Free from Plastics. Web.

Cagle, Susan. “Humans have made 8.3bn tons of plastic since 1950. This is the illustrated story of where it’s gone.” The Guardian. 24 June 2019. Web.

Convery, Frank et al. “The most popular tax in Europe? Lessons from the Irish plastic bags levy.” Environmental Resources Economics. 38. 2007.  Web.

Corkery, Michal. “Federal Bill Seeks to Make Companies Responsible for Plastic Waste.” New York Times. 10 February 2020.

de Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko. “Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling.” New York Times. 11 January 2018. Web.

Holden, Emily. “US produces far more waste and recycles far less of it than other developed countries.” The Guardian. 3 July 2019. Web.

Fonseka, Reka Tharangani and Priyantha Wickramarachchi. Sunday Times. “Food, waste and poverty.” 20 October 2019. Web.

Franklin-Wallis, Oliver. “Plastic recycling is a myth’: what really happens to your rubbish?” The Guardian. 17 August 2019. Web.

Ives, Mike. “Recyclers Cringe as Southeast Asia Says It’s Sick of the West’s Trash.” Web.

Joyce, Christopher. “Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It?” NPR. 13 March 2019. 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.

Plastic Cycle (John Keells co.). Web.

Paranavitana, Dinushka. “Trash Talk: Dealing with Marine Plastic Pollution in Sri Lanka’s Oceans.” IPS Talking Economics. 27 May 2019. Web.

Saheed, Zulfath. “Dirty Talk: Trash Woes Persist.”  LMD: The Voice of Business. ND. Web.  

Vidal, John. “The solution to the plastic waste crisis? It isn’t recycling.” The Guardian. January 2020. Web.

Voulvoulis N. and Richard Kirkman. Shaping the Circular Economy: Taxing the use of Virgin Resources. Imperial College London, 13 July 2019. Web.

Wichramasinghe, Kamanthi. “Why waste-to-energy plants will not be successful in Sri Lanka.” Daily Mirror. 11 September 2019. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2020-02-14 at 2:50 PM