Keeping our seas plastic-free

By Faadhila Thassim | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 19 2020
Focus Keeping our seas plastic-free

By Faadhila Thassim 

Marine pollution, an issue that has long plagued Sri Lanka, might finally be curbed through an effective solution, as seen with the first floating trash-trap that was set up in the Dehiwala Canal recently.

The continuous disposal of large amounts of plastic into canals and waterways, eventually leading to the sea and often ending up on our shores, leaves all those concerned for the environment and marine life constantly carrying out beach cleanups to try and mitigate the damage.

However, these efforts, while commendable, have proven insufficient to stem the plastic waste littering our shores – data from the Ministry of Environment suggests that a total of 400 metric tonnes of plastic waste is generated in Sri Lanka on a daily basis.

Thus, for a more sustainable solution to this issue, the trash-trap pilot project was launched by MAS Holdings in collaboration with the Marine Environment Protection Authority Sri Lanka (MEPA), Western Provincial Council, Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and the Environmental Police and the residents of the Dehiwala area.

How does the trash strainer operate?

The strainer or trap is constructed in a manner that allows it to float across the canal, collecting trash and plastic waste towards one of its banks. This prevents the flow of such harmful material to the sea from the canal, putting a stop to one of the main sources of pollution of inland waters. 

The trap is said to collect up to a minimum of 35kg of waste on a daily basis. The waste is then collected by designated residents of the area, who have been given the necessary equipment for such collection. Following this, the collected waste is handed over to the Western Provincial Council for proper disposal.

“Since this is a pilot programme, we, along with MEPA, are observing, testing, and learning from the design. After a few more months, we will make subsequent plans on how to take this forward to other locations. Our intention is to replicate this solution in as many canals and rivers as possible,” said the Director of Environmental Sustainability, MAS Holdings, Sharika Senanayake.

Putting a stop to marine pollution 

MEPA General Manager, 

Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumara noted that of all the waste that reaches the ocean, only 30 per cent comes back to the shore – meaning that over 70 per cent of waste, including plastic, remains at sea. Thus, preventing plastic waste from reaching the ocean is a very crucial step in protecting the marine environment.

Dr. Kumara told Ceylon Today that MAS Holdings funded this pilot project considering the success of the many trash strainers in other countries and increasing concerns over the marine plastic pollution issue. 

“Prior to establishing the strainer in the Dehiwala canal, we also carried out trials in canals in Galle, Trincomalee and Mirissa on a smaller scale. This strainer was built with improved technology and mechanisms,” he added.

Dr. Kumara further added that similar projects will be implemented around Sri Lanka in the near future, noting that although there were initial plans for more strainers to be set in several other canals within 2020, there were difficulties in implementing them due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Our team wanted to work with the relevant local experts, not only to learn from global best practices, but also to understand the context of our local marine environment and canal systems to develop a trash trap design specific to Sri Lankan conditions,” Senanayake said.

“The ‘ocean strainer’ we have installed in the Dehiwala canal is the pilot of this project; the beginning of a journey that we hope will help us understand the impact of this trash trap design and the scope of the plastic pollution issue in the waterways in and around Colombo, which will help us improve and replicate this solution at other locations,” she added.

Dr. Kumara stated the trash trap acts as a mesh fence, capturing waste above and below the water’s surface, and allowing the public to see how much plastic waste is collected on a daily basis – therefore, raising awareness on the scale of the problem.

Will trash strainers only cover canals?

Dr. Kumara noted that the future trash strainers will not be limited to canals; they will also be implanted in rivers around the country, stating that rivers also suffer large-scale pollution on a daily basis.

“Implementing these trash strainers in rivers requires a larger mechanism than that adopted for trash straining in canals, because it covers a wider area. Therefore, the current emphasis is on straining trash when it is in canals before it reaches the sea,” he said, adding that this would help reduce the weight of pollution of oceans.

“This important strainer, designed and developed to tackle one of the pressing environmental issues faced by our country and the world at large, has proven successful within a month of its establishment.”

By Faadhila Thassim | Published: 2:00 AM Sep 19 2020

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