OSC Recycling & Sustainability Service Group

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

Posts Tagged ‘Overseas School of Colombo

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.

Plastic_sorting_2(MR)(02_20)

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.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

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

2019-20 School Year Beginnings

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The 2019-20 Recycling & Sustainability service group.

The 2019-20 is well under way and we have a new group of enthusiastic students in the service activity this year. For the first time in 15 years we have student leadership provided by Grade 9 (MYP4) students. Lexie and Darja have both been committed members for several semester of R&S and this year they are the student leaders. Diviyanshu is  playing an important role as a business advisor. He is also working on a website for the group as part of his CAS Project.

Our activities this year have fouced on paper collection but we are also spending time promoting the use of our biogas plant as a place for students and staff to put waste food. In late October and early November Lexie and Darja started collecting waste food from the canteen at the end of lunch. We cooked the first batch of popcorn using the plant in November. Sharing it around has helped draw attention to the efforts of seeing waste as a resource.

Steps in using the biogas plant to make popcorn.

 

SRI LANKA SOLID WASTE NEWS

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

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

 

 

Written by ianlockwood

2019-11-07 at 2:21 PM

2018-19 R&S Service in Review

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Final group shot of the R&S Group for the 2018-19 School Year.

This has been an excellent year for OSC’s Recycling & Sustainability group. We enjoyed an excellent and enthusiastic team of students supported by fine student leadership from DP2 student Devin Amalean supported by Louis Gunaratne. There were several highlights:

  • We continued to provide a weekly recycling service to the community, taking in paper, cardboard and PET plastic. This is where the bulk of the group times goes to and we have a well-established relationship with our neighborhood scrap dealer. We bought used rice bags this year to put are recycled paper into and this made some of the process easier. Our earning are higher this year than a few years ago but the volume recycled is lower-we hope a result of lower consumption patterns (see graph below).

Accounts of the R&S Group looking back more than 10 years. We are recycling less volume of paper and cardboard compared to several years ago but we’re earning more money thanks to the change in value (and more likely the LKR exchange rate).

  • Energy use and renewable energy was part of the reason that we supported the introduction of a school biogas plant. This simple yet novel device turns wet food waste into useful gas for cooking. The R&S group funded the purchase and installation of the biogas plant (it was installed in October 2018). We utilized our nearly 14 years of funds raised from selling paper and cardboard to do this. (see past reflections for details).
  • On March the Recycling and Sustainability group sponsored a special OSC Environment Day. Aashika Jain had originally started this event off as a CAS project in March 2018. This year we collaborated closely with the Reefkeepers service group in the planning and execution of the event. The PYP environmental club also participated and helped out. This involved prior planning (see pictures) the focus, content and means (skits, talks etc.).

Madeleine & Devin starting off the 2nd annual OSC Environment Day on March 12, 2019. The event was a whole school assembly designed to bring attention to environmental issues with a focus on reducing solid waste on the OSC campus.

  • We produced a R&S T-shirt this year-the brainchild of DP1 student Divyanshu Thakur with support from the faculty facilitator and student leader. We printed 50 t-shirts and sold about 75% of them. The shirts feature a green footprint and the group’s name. Originally, they were supposed to have a message encouraging the community to reduce, reuse and recycle, but unfortunately this was left off on the design that was printed (!!). On Environment Day we were able to present a t-shirt to all of the maintenance staff that are involved with solid waste management. See Divyanshu’s blog reflection on the day to get an idea of the process.
  • This year several OSC classes made close curricular links with issues that the R&S service group is involved with. The DP1 Geography class conducted a neighborhood solid waste study (see post) and Camille-Anh and Jordan of the DP2 ES&S class visited both the Viridis plastic recycling facility and the E-Waste factory (see post). Those trips were learning exercises, but we also delivered OSC’s recyclables to be processed. Meanwhile Nehe and Shivani in DP1 ES&S were instrumental in running the burn tests on the biogas plant (see post).
  • The Recycling and Sustainability group has important support for the OSC maintenance crew. Mr. Imthiaz coordinates this and we have Rohan & Bandara who help drive the school truck with the recyclables every week. With the changed security situation after April we have to rely on 1-2 maintenance workers to help take the paper and cardboard to the scrap dealer on Pannipitiya Road. These folks play a key part in the success of the service group.
  • Finally. at the concluding awards assembly the R&S team of Grade 8 girls was recognized for their contributions to service at OSC. Here is the citation read by OSC’s service coordinator Ms. Linsday O’Sullivan.

“This team of MYP students go above and beyond the norm in their Community Service efforts. They work as a team, supporting and encouraging each other and their peers. All of them have done extra work, ensuring that the communities’ needs are met, even in weeks when Service isn’t officially running. They were all involved in the Environment Day assembly, demonstrating how to support green efforts at OSC. They are a force to be reckoned with as they Train to Sustain. The 2019 Community Service Award goes to Dasha Drechsel, Kevinja Karunaratne, Lexi Wiberg and Huirong Yang.”

Written by ianlockwood

2019-06-07 at 10:33 AM

Catching a Flame: Biogas Explorations Part II

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Biogas_Temp_Measurement_4(MR)(04_19)

First flame: burning biogas and heating a liter of water. One of the first trials by the Class of 2020 ES&S class.

Sri Lanka is experiencing significant challenges with a power deficit in the last month and the outlook does not look good into the foreseeable future. There are now scheduled blackouts of about 4-5 hours in most parts of Sri Lanka every working day (see article below for analysis on cause and consequences). Meanwhile at OSC we are making slow progress with our school biogas plant. This system was installed in October it has taken a while to be fully functioning. In the first month of April 2019 we made the first successful trials of heating water using a stove and gas from the tank.

Though the system was installed in October 2018, it took several months to get the anaerobic bacteria charged inside the digester. To enable this, we fed the system with fresh cow dung every 2-3 days.  Team from OSC’s maintenance department was put in charge of feeding it regularly. Unfortunately, the biogas plant was unintentionally neglected over the winter holidays and we had to start all over again in January. It is a reminder of the importance of maintaining and being consistent with the inputs int the system.

The problem that we have had at the beginning stages of the biogas plant was controlling the CO2 levels. The inputs were almost all cow dung (with no food waste) but our outputs were high in CO2 and relatively low in methane (CH4). We attempted to measure samples of the gas with the Vernier CO2 gas sensor/probe. However, every attempt to monitor the CO2 showed very high readings that were off the charts (@ 10,022 ppm). After many failed attempts we were advised by Sunil to keep giving it cow dung.

We finally got a flame at the end of March. At, first after putting a match to the burner, we were unaware that the gas was lit. However, we tried putting some paper over the burner and it lit (see linked video)! The gas has an odor but when burnt this goes away. Since the first firing we have been heating up a liter of water and recording data every 2-3 days. It takes the biogas tank about 72 hours to digest and produce enough gas. At this stage the inputs are being controlled by maintenance and we need to get better data on their additions (both in quantity and quality and frequency). We will start adding food waste to the system after returning from our April break.

 

FIRST BURN_ HEATING A LITER OF WATER WITH BIOGAS (TEMPERATURE CHANGE AND FLOAT HEIGHT) (2)

Data recorded on first run of the OSC biogas plant on 1 April 2019. Data recorded and processed by the OSC ES&S Class of 2020 (Nehe & Shivani) with input from their teacher.

REFERENCES & FURTHER READING

Lanka Biogas. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2019-04-09 at 2:36 PM

Visits to the Pelawatte Scrap Dealer

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Class of 2020 DP Geography students learning about the economics of the scrap and recycling business at our local scrap dealer.

On Monday April 1st the DP1 Geography class visited our local scrap dealer to get a better sense of what happens to school recyclables.  This short field trip followed up a longer two week field investigation  into solid waste patterns in the OSC neighborhood (see separate post). The group of eight students took several bags of mixed paper as well as some folded cardboard. The scrap dealer is based out of an old shipping container on the side of Panipitiya road. Students were able to ask a series of questions and learn more about the economics of recycling from the perspective of this dealer. We also sold our mixed paper (12kg) and cardboard (5 kg) for a grand total of 146 LKR. Students also got a chance to speak with Matt Jackson, a patron and OSC community member. He outlined what he does in terms of collecting and sorting recyclables which are deposited at the dealer. He doe not take any money for his materials.

2019 Data

2018 Data

The class has updated the buying (and selling) costs of the materials that our scarp dealer deals with in. Some prices have climbed while others have decreased since we gathered the same data last year. These are purely based on what our dealer is telling us and we know from past studies that we could probably get better prices at other locations. Our goal, however, is to reduce solid waste and not to earn more money. We remain interested in patterns of recyclables and commodity prices.

 

REFERENCES

Salman, Malaika and Dominic Harding. “Recycling Paper in the OSC and Pelawatte community: A 2018 Update.” Recycling & Sustainability Blog. 22 March 2018. Web.

Written by ianlockwood

2019-04-03 at 1:22 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.

 

CONCLUSION

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).

 

REFERENCES

“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.

Viridis_plastic_product_1(03_19)

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

REFERENCES

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