OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

Archive for the ‘Solid Domestic Waste (SDW) Management’ Category

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

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.



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).



“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.


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


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

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.



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