OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

Learning from Meethotamulla

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Meethotamulla dump site after the landslide and tragedy. Image courtesy of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

A week ago disaster and tragedy struck Colombo’s Meethotamulla garbage dump. The images and stories depict a heartbreaking chronicle of poor management, environmental neglect and human misery. Thus far, the press has been busy pointing fingers at various government agencies and political parties for blame of the disaster. The more difficult truth is that all of us are culpable in the problem that led to the disaster at Meethotamulla. The root problem is our high-consumption lifestyle and the solid waste that it generates. The amount of waste is significant but it is largely out of sight to most of us. Meethotamulla has provided a painful wakeup call. There are now efforts underway in our community to assist families affected by the collapse of the garbage dump. These are important initiatives but the tragedy provides a broader teachable moment where each one of us can do something to address the root problem that led to the landslide.

All of us are consumers and our waste, whether at home or at work, is collected and has been added to the mountain of rubbish at Meethotamulla. To get a sense for our school’s waste generation walk up the gym approach road and note the smell and sometimes overflowing numbers of black garbage bags. We send an average of two wagon load of solid waste off campus every week. I suggest that an appropriate response to the tragedy is to look for ways that we can reduce the amount of solid waste that we produce at school and at home. In the following section I include some suggestions that are based on personal experience and experiments to reduce my own ecological footprint at school and at home.

Reducing Solid Waste at School

  • At OSC we have had an ongoing campaign get the canteen to use washable plates and silverware. The initiative started with the Recycling & Sustainability (Train to Sustain) service group but was taken up by Reefkeepers and eventually the Canteen Committee. The initiative took several years of active lobbying but the changeover in December 2016 has made a difference in reducing solid waste. There is still, however, work to be done. The canteen is still selling juice in disposable cups with plastic lids and straws. We need to move on eliminating all the plastics and using washable cups.
  • Thus far, we are not composting any kitchen or garden waste produced by OSC.  In 2015 a Grade 5 class exhibition group  investigated the idea of using a biodigester to deal with kitchen and garden waste. The R&S group agreed to fund it with money from recycled paper sales but that proposal has not been given sanction from the school.
  • Waste separation is an area that each one of us on campus can do a better job with. The feedback from the maintenance crew is that the OSC community is not separating items in the three categories of bins. This makes it hard for the garbage collectors to separate, recycle and thus reduce the amount going to the landfill.

Reducing Solid Waste at Home

  • Follow the three Rs (Reduce Reuse Recycle). Reduce what you consume and make every effort to not take or buy disposable items like plastic bags.
  • When you shop, use reusable shopping bags. There are even reusable mesh bags for vegetables that have been pioneered in our community by Rachel Jackson, Clover Hicks and Raina Lockwood. Reefkeepers will be selling these shortly. These efforts reduce the amount of single use plastic that you take home. Check out Rice and Carry’s innovative ways of reusing rice bags to help reduce disposable shopping bags.
  • Separate your waste at home. This is probably the single best thing that you can do. Wet waste from the kitchen can be composted. A study that I did of my home suggests that roughly 50% or more of household waste is wet waste and mostly compostable. Household composting is a viable option for most of us with gardens and, if managed correctly, will lead to reduction in solid waste and smelly garbage bags.
  • We have the facility to recycle cardboard and paper and PET plastic here at school and you are welcome to bring in items to us. We ask that any plastic bottles are cleaned. For parents and teachers, the R&S group can provide guidance on where to go to sell your paper and cardboard if you have large volumes. This waste actually pays and the R&S groups has built up a capital fund thanks to paper and cardboard sales over the past 12 years.
  • We collect hazardous and E-waste items such as batteries and printer cartridges. We are working with Dialog to give these items to them or recycling. The Orange lighting company takes back CFLs bulbs. Thus don’t mix these into regular garbage bags.

Meethotamulla was an unnecessary human-made tragedy but we can learn from the experience and do a better job so that we do not contribute to a future solid waste disaster.



Bresnick, Sam.  “Lessons from the World.” Daily News. 18 April 2017. Web.

Kotelawala, Himal. “Sri Lanka Death Toll Rises in Garbage Dump Collapse.” New York Times. 17 April 2017.   Web.

“Meethotamulla tragedy.” Daily Mirror. 18 April 2017.  Web.

Wipulasena, Aanya. “Authorities’ promises stink as much as garbage mountain.” Daily Mirror. 6 July  2014.  Web.


Written by recycling1011

2017-04-20 at 3:04 PM

DP Geography Study of Pelawatte Recycling Operations

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The two recycling centers we visited (photo collage by Adrián Yáñez )

Solid waste is a global problem that is becoming difficult to manage. Most of us throw our garbage into a rubbish bin, but do we know where this garbage goes? On the 3rd of March, the DP 1 Geography class visited two recycling and scrap centers in the Pelawatte Area (near the OSC campus). They were relatively small places, but they gave the class an idea of what happens to the items that we throw away.

Solid waste management is a problem that Sri Lanka is facing, and there is only a small group of people who are working to recycle some of the items we throw away. In Colombo itself, 700 tons of garbage is collected each day (Roar), which is 58.6% of the total garbage collected in Sri Lanka (Sunday Times). To the majority of us, this value may not concern us, but where does this garbage go?

In Colombo, the garbage collected has historically been dumped at the Meethotamulla landfill, which is located 30 minutes from OSC, and has now become unusable, because of the various environmental hazards caused by the large amount of garbage dumped there. The problem in Sri Lanka is that the majority of garbage collected is not separated. Therefore it cannot be effectively recycled or disposed of. Based on a study conducted in 2012 by the Central Environmental Authority, 54.5% of the waste that is collected is biodegradable, which means that they can be composted (CSECM). If people were to compost this biodegradable waste, half of the garbage at the landfills would have never even be there. Separation is the key.

The people at the recycling and scrap centers we visited are examples of environmental heroes, who are not given the credit they deserve for the work they do. The picture below is the first recycling center we visited. It was a small place,but there is a lot of cardboard stacked out in front. All of that will be recycled. If this center was not there. That cardboard would have ended up at a landfill (or been burnt). Inside the the recycling center there were plastics, glass (bottles), and scrap metals which were all being collected to be recycled.


Weighing the paper collected from school at the first recycling center (2 minutes from OSC). This is where the Recycling & Sustainability (Train to Sustain) service group takes its paper every Thursday.

Graph showing comparative buying costs for commonly recycled items in Pelawatte (where OSC sells its items), Battaramulla and the United States. Compiled and graphed by Thiany, Yuki & Malaika.

A graph comparing prices of low-cost recycled goods (buying price) in Pelawatte (where we sell our material, Battaramulla and the US.

The people who own centers like this, are not recycling materials because they want to save the environment, instead they are doing it for an economic reason. They are able to make money off recycling materials, and by doing this, both themselves and them and the environment are benefiting from it.

Solid waste disposal is becoming a huge problem that needs proper management. A step each of us can take is separating our biodegradable waste from the rest, and compost it. This would reduce almost half of the garbage that is collected from us, and in turn reduce half of the garbage that is dumped in a landfill. The next step is recycling items such as paper, and plastic. By taking these steps, solid waste would not be such a large problem.


Concluding the field trip with reusable soft drink bottles

Article by Anaath & Adrian with contributions of the Class of 2018 DP Geography class. Data analysis and presentation by Thiany, Tuki & Malaika. Survey 123 data and analysis by Fatma, Easmond and Zoe. Photographs by Adrian and Mr. Lockwood.


Doole, Cassandra. “Garbage Separation And Recycling Are Finally Here (For Colombo, At Least).” Roar. 5 July 2016. Web.

“Garbage Collection and Recycling in the Dumps.” The Sunday Times Sri Lanka.”17 Jan. 2016. Web.

Sapra, Satyanshu. “The Business of Reincarnation – Bringing Discarded Metal Back to Life!”  Recycling & Sustainability Blog. 2014. Web.

Sustainable Approaches to the Municipal Solid Waste Management in Sri Lanka.” Municipal Solid Waste Management in Developing Countries (2016): 119-32. SECM. 13 Dec. 2015. Web.

Widanapathirana, Akash. “Biggest garbage generator tries to put house in order.” Sunday Times. 19 March 2017. Web.

Written by recycling1011

2017-03-14 at 12:35 PM

2017 Progress in Recycling & Sustainability

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In the second semester of the 2016-17 school year a new crop of students joined the Recycling & Sustainability/ Train to Sustain team. We find ourselves busy once again managing the regular collections and doing various outreach activities to enhance solid waste reductions on the campus.There have been several developments in the last few weeks:

  • We have purchased a new set of plastic bins (made by Arpico with recycled plastic) that are being trialed out in classrooms for paper collection. They were bought with funds that we earn from selling waste paper.

MYP 4 student Anuda providing a new plastic green paper recycling basket to Mr. Haris Darmasiri to be used in the OSC science labs.

  • Our local scrap dealer who we sell our collected paper to has asked us to separate colored paper from other (white A4 & A3) paper. He is willing to pay more for unmixed paper (LKR 8 instead of LKR 6). For folder cardboard he is willing to pay LKR12 instead of LKR 10. These are the first price increases that we have seen in almost 10 years.
  • The group is keen to explore and invest in a biodigester to better deal with some of our campus’ food waste. Aprico seems to have the best model. We have the money and now we just need to secure permission and devise a plan for the unit’s management and maintenance.
  • Several OSC classes have been on field trips to sites related to Solid Waste management and recycling. On February 24th the DP ES&S class visited the Viridis Recycling plant (a facility featured in a past post on this blog). Student leaders Aashika, Ary and Sangmin were all able to join this trip and once again we came away with a new appreciation for the extent and possibility of plastic recycling here in Sri Lanka. On March 3rd the DP Geography class visited our Pelawatte scrap dealer and his larger sister shop in Battaramulla (see images above). They conducted a short study on prices and the economics of recycling. I am now in touch with the Central Environmental Authority‘s Waste Management unit and we are planning class visits there in the coming weeks.

Photos & Text by Ian Lockwood, R&S/TTS Faculty Supervisor



Written by recycling1011

2017-03-10 at 12:46 PM

Posted in Train to Sustain

Two Steps Forward in the OSC Canteen

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Last semester the Recycling and Sustainability/Train to Sustain group worked with the Reefkeepers service group on a joint effort to reduce the use the of disposable plates. Anyone who has been following this blog will know that problems with disposable items in the canteen has been a long standing issue that we have written and campaigned about (see posts in November 2014 and February 2017). At last the momentum built up and, with the support of the canteen committee and school administration, money was set aside to buy melamine plates and cups. The changes were made without much fanfare at the end of semester 1 and we have now seen significant reductions in solid waste generated by the canteen.

We still have a residual problem of the canteen supplying disposable plastic cutlery (and cups). We aren’t sure why this is happening given the investment in nice washable silverware. There is also the issue of drinks being served in disposable cups (with plastic caps and straws). Thus, as this goes to press we have new target to address to continue making the campus more sustainable.

News bins for waster separation at OSC.

News bins for waster separation at OSC.

Another development has been the implementation of a better waste collection system. In January 2017 the school maintenance department put out a new system to better segregate solid waste on campus. They have a three tier system for a) food b) paper and c) plastic etc. This waste is collected by the maintenance department and then given to the municipal waste collectors who visit the campus twice a week. The campus community is still having difficulty separating waste and we have noted that there is a need for a campaign to have people use the bins appropriately.

Written by recycling1011

2017-02-21 at 12:17 PM

Canteen Sustainability Initiatives…again

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Waste disposal is significant concern both locally and globally. Articles in the Colombo-based Sunday Times as well as globally-oriented Guardian frequently highlight this negative aspect of our consumer culture. At OSC we are not immune to the problem and our school generates a significant amount of solid waste, especially in the canteen. In response to this challenge several groups have started an initiative to help the OSC canteen become more sustainable.

The main sustainability issue in the OSC canteen is the high volume of disposable items that are used and the poor separation when meals are finished. Most students are now using disposable cardboard boxes and plastic ware to eat their lunches. Drinks are served in disposable cups. In the secondary school students are eating in a number of places on the campus. After single use containers and plastic ware are thrown away. At the time of disposal there is no separation and thus almost every bin on campus has mixed waste of plastic, food scraps, paper and other items. Aside from this being an issue of health and safety (think of rodents, ants etc.) the mixed waste is virtually impossible to separate recyclables from. OSC’s waste is given to the municipal waste collectors in numerous bags of mixed, smelly waste. All in all, it contributes to an extra large ecological footprint for our OSC community. In a school where we emphasize the values of global citizenship the current situation with waste is an embarrassment.

The issue of disposable items was initially raised by the Recycling and Sustainability service group in 2014. Despite a study of the issue and suggestions for trying to tax disposables there has been little progress and the waste problem has festered. Since then then other groups have become interested in addressing the issue. The PYP Science activity has taken a lead in the primary school on waste issues. Reefkeepers, which draws attention to pollution of marine environments, is actively involved in pushing our community to address the issue. They made a presentation to the OSC Canteen Committee seeking support in addressing the canteen waste issue. In the past the Committee has focused on menus, diet and hygiene but is now considering sustainability issues.

To address the problem with disposables there is a clear way forward and the Canteen Committee is working to enable this. Simply put, the canteen needs to have all washable, reusable items (plates, cups, silverware). It is proposed to use washable melamine dishes with the OSC logo marked on them. This means an investment in new items and a dishwashing machine to enable quick washing and the ability to serve the school community. It also means that we need to rethink where people are eating canteen food on the campus. As of their last meeting, the Canteen committee had approached the SCN and school to allocate money for these investments. The response has been favorable and the plan is to roll out the new items at the beginning of the 2nd semester.

Simply bringing in new washable dishes is really only just the beginning of addressing the issue of OSC’s solid waste and broader sustainability challenges. Ideally we need to raise the awareness in the whole community on several areas where we can make a difference. With the support of the SGA, PSGA and the school administration the various service groups hope to draw attention to the role of individuals in helping OSC be a more sustainable community. Stay tuned for further developments.

Article by Ian Lockwood & Aashika Jain on behalf of groups mentioned above. Written in November 2016

Written by recycling1011

2017-02-18 at 1:25 PM

Train to Sustain: A New Chapter for OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability Group

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OSC's Recycling and Sustainability group at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. This new chapter of the 12 year old group is called Train to Sustain.

OSC’s Recycling and Sustainability group at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. This new chapter of the 12-year-old group is called “Train to Sustain.”

In the 2016-17 school year the OSC Recycling & Sustainability service group is once again taking on a range of environmental issues at the school. This is the 12th year of the service group and it continues to benefit from a clear mission to reduce the school’s ecological footprint and able student leadership facilitated by faculty guidance. Articles in the Colombo-based Sunday Times as well as globally-oriented Guardian frequently highlight this negative aspect of our consumer culture. The service group seeks to address these issues and work with other members of the community to reduce harmful activities and better inform the community about sustainable solutions.

Train to Sustain is the new chapter of the OSC Recycling & Sustainability service group. In the words of the new batch of student leaders “Train to Sustain strives to not only train ourselves on investigating potential solutions for reducing the ecological footprint in school, but also to train the school community (students, faculty, support staff & parents) on how they may do their part to aid our service, their school and Sri Lanka itself. Recycling has been our role but sustainability is our goal.”

Our 2016-17 service leaders include Aashika Jain, Aryaman Satish and Sangmin Kim. See our Facebook page for more information on the Train to Sustain chapter.

Written by recycling1011

2016-10-20 at 1:27 PM

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.

Written by recycling1011

2016-05-31 at 12:26 PM