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

The State of Glass Recycling in Sri Lanka: A Neiborhood Case Study

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Weigh scale with glass bottles stacked in the back at the scrap dealer near the OSC campus. He is quite picky about what he buys and only wants clear glass.

Weigh scale with glass bottles stacked in the back at the scrap dealer near the OSC campus. He is quite picky about what he buys and only wants clear glass.

From packaging, to tableware and solar panels, glass has a multitude of uses in our 21sr Century world. Glass can be moulded into many different shapes, and is made from silica-commonly found in sand. Glass is one of the most commonly consumed resources that is reused and recycled in Sri Lanka. Our DP Geography class saw this first hand on a field study near the OSC campus

Situated in small tin huts to large garage-like storage areas, the scrap dealers in Battaramulla are one of the few ways in which Sri Lanka’s garbage ends up in somewhat environmentally friendly uses. Copper, paper, aluminium, plastic and glass are all collected by these scrap dealers. In exchange for 2 LKR per kilo, the scrap dealer accepts glass; the cheapest commodity to recycle (by comparison paper sells for LKR 5). Glass is one of the easiest resources to recycle and reuse, but to what extent does Sri Lanka do this?

Glass is 100% recyclable and does not lose its value the way plastic does (Berryman). Due to the fact that glass can be shaped manually and is hard, it can be and fortunately is used for a lot of different things; especially storing food and drinks as it does not flavor its content. Glass is made mostly out of the raw material sand, and the production of glass reduces emissions. Not all types of glass can be recycled though, for example windows and panels and glass containers that are too small. They then have to go through a different process to be recycled which is not as environmentally friendly as the usual way to melt and recycle glass (Glass Packaging Institute). In Battaramulla, the scrap dealer therefore only accepts glass bottles, and this one specifically only takes clear bottles.

As a geography class we visited the scrap dealer near OSC to ask him about his business and the materials that he accepts for recycling. The small house next to the road is stacked up with cardboard, metal pieces, paper and glass bottles, mostly Arak bottles as they are clear and is a popular choice amongst Sri Lankans. An Arak bottle weighs around 200 grams, which means that he takes five bottles for 2 rupees. The glass and the other materials are then taken by a bigger corporation and later transported to India to be processed and recycled there. The problem that the scrap dealer in Battaramulla and other ones as well face is that they only get minimal support from the government, which makes it problematic for their own businesses but also for more scrap dealers to start businesses and recycle more.

The statistics of recycling of glass in Sri Lanka are limited, but there is global information available. According to Glass Products Germany is the biggest glass exporter in the world, and the US is the biggest importer of glass bottles. Not only does glass save energy by using recycled glass, but each 1000 tonnes of recycled glass that we melt saves 314 tonnes of CO2 (Berryman). Glass is made of silica sand, soda ash and limestone. While the extraction of limestone releases Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, it is still more environmentally friendly than most other packaging materials. Recycled glass is used in the production of new glass. Colour in glass is added by adding substances such as carbon and iron. Click on the following link to find out more about how bottles are manufactured.

Using glass bottles (as opposed to plastic) is a significant benefit to the environment, especially when technology is rapidly growing, and global warming is increasing. Using glass will reduce the amount of harmful substances that are released when using other materials for everyday uses. It is stable and is easily used and cheap. All around the world using glass would be a more environmentally friendly choice than plastics and cardboard. Glass does not only have to be recycled in factories, but it can also be reused healthily at home e.g. for containers and bottles, while cheap types of plastic get cracks and scratches where bacteria can grow. For environmental health and human health, increasing the use of glass and decreasing the use of materials like plastics and paper would help, but as a start, the simple act of recycling glass bottles would help local scrap dealers and the environment.

Article ©Anjulie Grimm 2016  (with some editing by her teacher)

WORKS CITED

Berryman. “Benefits of Glass Recycling.” World Class in Glass Recycling RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.

Chan, Amanda L. “What You Need To Know Before You Reuse That Plastic Water Bottle.” The Huffington Post. n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

“Glass Bottles.” OEC. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.            .

Glass Packaging Institute. Recycling. 2015. List. 3 Web. March 2016.

“Learn About Glass.” Glass Packaging Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.

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

Written by recycling1011

2016-03-25 at 12:03 PM

Posted in Glass, Guest Articles

2014-15 Recycling & Sustainability In Review

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The following graph highlights amounts of paper, cardboard and plastic recycled by OSC's recycling & sustainability service project. 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 5 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 as the school moves to a electronic, 1:1 teaching & learning environment).

The following graph highlights amounts of paper, cardboard and plastic recycled by OSC’s recycling & sustainability service project. 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 5 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 as the school moves to a electronic, 1:1 teaching & learning environment).

This has been a good year for OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability service group. In fact, this is a milestone year-the 10th that the group has been functioning! This school year was marked by strong student leadership and smaller but more efficient student numbers.  The group continues to occupy itself with managing recycled paper for the campus but we also delved into advocacy this year. Here is a quick review of activities and issues:

  • We worked with the canteen on trying to reduce the usage of disposable containers that are used for snack and lunches. We had initial success with this and consumption of disposable boxes decreased. However, after some time, it jumped back, highlighting several issues.
    • Firstly, what is driving the problem is the dearth of appropriate washable containers and cutlery in the canteen.
    • Secondly, there is wide spread apathy amongst students about using disposable materials. Our student leader Nisala has come up with further proposals to deal with this modeled on his observations and ideas from seeing the way that ASB handles solid waste (including food) in Mumbai.
  • In terms of amounts recycled our data shows that the total volume is going down. At the moment we don’t have exact numbers on how much paper was consumed but my guess is that it is less. This is likely because the school is moving to do much more of its communication electronically. This year, for example, student reports were all given out electronically. The business office has promised to share data on paper consumption that will either support of refute this hypothesis.
  • Students used Managebac to do their service reflections this year. Other than simply talking about what they were doing in the activity we emphasized reflecting on broader learning and trends in solid waste issues in Colombo and beyond.
  • In April several of us accompanied the PYP Grade 5 class on a visit to the large Colombo Municipal waste dump located near Dahampura. We were able to observe dozens of truck coming into to dump unsegregated solid waste. With the support of a scientist from IWMI the students collected water sample from nearby ponds and ran basic water quality tests on it. They have approached OSC’s administration to get a bio-digester (made by Arpico) to handle our food waste. The R&S service group has committed to supporting this with money raised from paper and cardboard sold over recent years.

We close the year with an acknowledgement that there is much, much more to be done. The solid waste crisis seems to get worse here (see news articles below) but we believe that our efforts are beginning to address issues both from a consumption and recycling point of view.

Collage of snapshots fromt he waste dump at XXXX. Taken on a field visit with MYP5 students & teachers to test water in adjacent ponds & streams.

Collage of snapshots from the waste dump at Dahampura (near to north-central Colombo). Taken on a field visit in April with MYP5 students & teachers to test water in adjacent ponds & streams. (Photos courtesy the R&S faculty facilitator)

 

IN THE SRI LANKAN NEWS LATELY

“Angry Sirisena blasts officials: Clean up cities, suburbs within a week or go.”  Sunday Times. 24 May 2015 Web.

Warakapitiya, Kasun. “Garbage rots on roadsides as councils fumble for lasting solutions.”  Sunday Times. 24 May 2015 Web.

Written by recycling1011

2015-06-12 at 12:09 PM

Leadership Transitions in 2015

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March 2015 group shot of  the Recycling & Sustainability activity. (Below) Nandini, Nisala, Yoon Jae and Nishant getting a typical Thursday afternoon session going.

March 2015 group shot of the Recycling & Sustainability activity. (Below) Nandini, Nisala, Yoon Jae and Nishant getting a typical Thursday afternoon session going.

This week marks an important point in the service calendar. DPII (senior) students are about to step back from leadership positions and turn over the reins to younger students. In the Recycling & Sustainability service activity Yoon Jae Hwang and Nishant Matthew from the Class of 2015 have both served the group with distinction. They have led from the trenches and modeled excellent approaches to achieving the group’s mission of reducing the school’s ecological footprint. Aside from managing the weekly recycling rounds and paper/cardboard sales they have helped younger students with guided reflection. We wish them well as they step back, prepare for exams and get ready to move out into the world. We are fortunate to have Nandiini  and Nisala from the Class of 2016 ready to sep into Yoon Jae and Nishant’s shoes. Both Nandini and Nisala have already served in the R&S service activity for several years and bring their own  strengths and ideas to the group.

Borrowed form Mr. Lockwood's recent blog post. OSC recycling in action (from the top): Students in the Thursday afternoon R&S service activity collect and sort paper, cardboard and other materials outside the recycling room near the gym. DP Geography students weigh and sell cardboard to our main scrap dealer buyer who will resell it for recycling in India. DP R&S student leaders Nisala, Nandini and Nishant work with younger students on a reflection at the end of the Thursday service session. Data about patterns in consumption and recycling is gathered and analyzed as a key part of this activity.

(Borrowed from Mr. Lockwood’s recent blog post).OSC recycling in action (from the top): Students in the Thursday afternoon R&S service activity collect and sort paper, cardboard and other materials outside the recycling room near the gym. DP Geography students weigh and sell cardboard to our main scrap dealer buyer who will resell it for recycling in India. DP R&S student leaders Nisala, Nishant and Nandini work with younger students on a reflection at the end of the Thursday service session. Data about patterns in consumption and recycling is gathered and analyzed as a key part of this activity.

Written by recycling1011

2015-03-24 at 8:52 PM

OSC Canteen Solid Waste Reduction Initiative

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Scenes form the OSC canteen: paper boxes on sale at the end of 2014, disposable cups: the target of a future campaign? and boxes with foot waste being disposed of.

Scenes form the OSC canteen: paper boxes on sale at the end of 2014, disposable cups: the target of a future campaign (?) and boxes with food waste being disposed of. The goals of the paper box campaign was to try to get students to use them less frequently and thus reduce the mixed solid waste being produced by the cafeteria.  We used economic incentives to encourage the usage  of washable plates and penalties to discourage disposable boxes. The campaign had positive results initially, but a shortage of washable plates and ambivalence to the economic costs by older students has meant the problem has not yet been solved. (updated in March 2014)

In the last week of November 2014 our service group (OSC Recycling and Sustainability)  launched a new initiative to work to help reduce the number of disposable items consumed in the cafeteria. Our goal of this effort is to reduce solid waste by encouraging the use of reusable, washable plates and utensils. The initiative is being supported by the Student Government Association (SGA) and School Community Network (SCN- formerly the PTA) .

In the last week of November 2014 our service group launched a new initiative to reduce the number of disposable items consumed in the school’s cafeteria. Our goal is to reduce solid waste by encouraging the use of reusable, washable plates, cups and utensils. The initiative is being supported by the Student Government Association (SGA) and School Community Network (SCN- formerly the PTA). Our efforts are closely tied in with our overall goal to reduce the ecological footprint of the school. We went through a process of studying and identifying the problem, thinking up possible solutions, sharing ideas with other stakeholders and then helping to implement a plan. There are still a variety of issues to address and this is only a first step. Here are some key thoughts that came out of our brainstorming:

We identified several problems:

  • There is a widespread use of disposable containers. Disposable containers were originally designed for people to take to lunch meetings but increasingly they are used inside the cafeteria. This adds to a significant, avoidable problem of solid waste. The problem is with paper boxes (we had previously used Styrofoam- an even more problematic choice) as well as cups that are only used once and then thrown out.
  • When there were washable plates and silverware, there have been incidents of them disappearing, thus adding to the costs of running the canteen. In fact the losses are quite significant-30% to 40% a school year.
  • Students in secondary school leave soiled containers in places beyond the canteen (lockers, picnic tables etc.).
  • The labeled bins do not always work effectively and people mix food into paper and plastic or vice versa.
  • Water for washing is not an issue on our campus. We have a plentiful supply, it costs less and washing reduces solid waste.

Several ideas emerged to counter these problems. Here is what we agreed to do:

  • Charge a nominal fee for paper boxes to discourage their use and steer people towards using washable plates and cutlery. Thus there is a disincentive attached to the consumption of disposable utensils. Rukshan and Mr. Lockwood have agreed to a trial price of 20 rupees.
  • The R&S group will create a sign that highlights this initiative from the point of view of trying to reduce the overall ecological footprint of OSC.  We will also put a short notice in the newsletter
  • We will start the initiative on Monday November 24th.
  • We need the support of SGA in promoting this initiative and getting “buy in” from the student body. Their job will be to deliver the message about waste reduction and not removing plates/silverware from the canteen through homerooms.
  • Rukshan will work to get more washable plates and silverware.
  • We need a bin labeled “Mixed Waste.” The usefulness of the “Tin/Metal” bins is doubtful as there isn’t a high consumption of metal or tin items.

Future thoughts:

  • In the future the school needs to invest in a better dish washing system to allow for washing of reusable plates, cups and silverware. In fact during the meeting with the SCN and Rukshan (November 11th) this was identified as a possible fund-raising objective for the Food & Fun Fair.
  • Using washable trays for serving food may help to reduce losses of items…this will need financial support from the school.
  • Use washable plastic cups for juice
  • At the meeting with the SCN we discussed having a weight scale attached to the food waste bin (like at the Borderlands camp) that would tell us how much food waste is being generated. We could use this data to encourage people not to waste food.
  • There are good opportunities to runs math/I&S  student projects to gather and analyze data from the canteen to see the impact of these initiatives and interventions.
  • The school should explore opportunities to compost our food waste using a Bio-digester (as higlighted in an earlier blog post)

Written by recycling1011

2014-11-27 at 3:38 PM

2014 15 Recycling & Sustainability Group

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OSC's Recycling & Sustainability group in the first semester of the school year. Ranjit who helps us with getting the materials to the scarp dealer is on the far right.

OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability group in the first semester of the school year. Ranjit who helps us with getting the materials to the scarp dealer is on the far right.

This is the 10th year that OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability group has been in operation! This school year we have Yoon Jae Hwang as the principal student leader with the support of Nishant in  Grade 12. They are supported by  DP1 students Nisala and Nandini. We have a relatively small group and have been working to handle the schools’ paper recycling without too many difficulties. This year we expect to see a decline in the amount of paper consumed and therefore recycled as OSC moves to a more digital learning environment. We continue to gather data on consumption and recycling patterns.

Written by recycling1011

2014-10-30 at 3:35 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

Plastic Recycling Update

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From bottles and supermarket bags to chairs and computer monitors—plastic is everywhere! So where does plastic come from? Plastic comes from organic products such as crude oil. Crude oil goes through a distillation process in an oil refinery and 2 main polymer groups which are thermoplastics and thermosets. Thermoplastics are the ones that are produced overly, used constantly. On the other hand, thermosets are plastics that cannot be undone. With all of these plastic, there should be a place where they all go when it is used.

According to The Atlantic, out of the global solid waste composition, 10% is plastic. We often use PET bottles and plastic bags because they are cheap and easily available. Now, where do they go? What do we do? Recycle! Recycling plastic is very handy and helps a lot when we reuse the material. It helps in our environment and that is what we want especially because plastic are non-biodegradable because it does not decompose. Hence, we need to act upon this issue. In Sri Lanka, recycling is not mandatory, unlike other countries. It is hard to recycle because you have to go to the recycling shops and sell your things.

In Colombo very few of the recycling/scrap shops recycle plastic. The recycling shops that do accept plastic waste only allow high-grade plastic. This may be because of the cost of it. It is more valuable than PET bottles or shopping bags. The average cost of high-grade plastic is 10 LKR per kilo while the average global cost of plastic is $50 per pound (source). Compared to other recyclable materials and from the average global cost, it is cheap to sell plastic here. These recycling shops then sell it to other countries like India and the recycling process is done there. It cannot be done here because we learnt that the Sri Lankan government does not support recycling. Therefore, we should partake in recycling plastic! Little things can make a huge difference. When we just separate plastic from other materials, it will be easier for the recycling shops to organize the materials and segregate them. We can also implement using paper bags instead of plastic bags because plastic does not decompose.

Article ©Mikka Pesigan, 2014.

Freudenrich, Craig. “How Plastics Work.” How Stuff Works. N.p., n.d. Web.12 Mar. 2014.

“Green Insider: The Truth about Plastic Recycling.”  Atlanta INtown Paper. AtlantaINtown Paper. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

“How Plastic Is Made.” The Plastics Portal. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014.

Thompson, Derek. “2.6 Trillion Pounds of Garbage: Where Does the World’s Trash Go?” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 07 June 2012. Web. 09 Mar. 2014.

Written by recycling1011

2014-04-07 at 12:34 PM