Garbage Dumping and its Telling Impact on Environment and Habitat
By Faadhila Thassim
The common and horrid dilemma of clearing of forests in Sri Lanka for several, different unacceptable reasons has not only left us with a dwindling forest cover but has also drastically affected the food chain of animals living in it.
The source of food for animals living within a forest reserve is what lay within it and when the same is being cleared for economical factors, grossly ignoring the destruction of the source of food for animals, they naturally tend to resort to eating anything that is available within their reach.
Sadly, these animals today have been pushed to eating solid waste that is being dumped without proper management of areas adjacent to forests while making it easily accessible to wild animals and to add salt to injury, forest reserves are also cleared to dump waste.
In a scenario of a pitiful incident where wild elephants in Oluvil were seen consuming garbage that was dumped by encroaching their habitat, received International coverage, raising concerns on the adverse impact on the health resulting from consuming waste which also includes polythene and plastic, environmentalists have been vociferous on the clearing of a forest reserve in the Trincomalee District with plans to convert it into a garbage dump.
Over 10 acres in the Kantale Forest Reserve has so far been cleared to dump solid waste and a German Company has entered into an Agreement with the local authority to use the dumped garbage in the said land, to carry out a waste-to-energy project. Environmentalists have expressed their disapproval and dissension against such dumping citing the reduction of the forest cover, the clearing of a forest reserve to dump waste and the harmful effects to wildlife including elephants whose habitat has been ransacked over the years, let alone feeding on such garbage.
Agreement to carry out a waste-to-energy project
Secretary to the Trincomalee Urban Council, T. Jeyavishdnu speaking to Ceylon Today said an Agreement was signed between the Local authority and a German private Company in 2016 for a five year waste-to-energy project.
He added thereby the garbage collection from Trincomalee would be dumped in the demarcated area as waste required for such a project and that it would not undergo the usual garbage sorting process. He also remarked that a proportion of the income generated from the said project would be channelled to the relevant Local Government Institutions.
Jeyavinshdnu said, however a mutual agreement has not been reached between the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) and the German Company on the price of the units of the power so generated. Owing to this even though the project has not got off the ground the waste continues to be dumped in the reserve leaving a telling effect to its environs.
He further stated that the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) had made several inspections to the area in question and although they had made repeated requests to allocate a separate land to dump waste instead of the forest reserve and to transform such garbage into compost the authorities concerned had not heeded their requests.
Social Specialist at Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development, Nimal Premathilaka, said the private Company has taken total ownership of the land adding that the Company had also obtained a mobilisation advance at a low interest rate on the understanding that it would carry out the waste-to-energy project but it appears that the advance so obtained has not in any manner been used for the said purpose.
He said, in order to carry out a waste-to-energy project, the Company is required to enter into a Power Purchase Agreement and the fact that the German Company had not signed such an agreement would make them ineligible for a further loan for the said purpose.
‘’The project has been held up for several reasons, yet the advice of technical experts to provide a viable solution has not been considered,’’ he remarked.
When Ceylon Today contacted the local representative of the German Company, they said although the main purpose of entering into an Agreement was to carry out a waste-to-energy project, the CEB did not agree to the unit cost of power generation and thereby they were unable to start the project as planned.
When queried as to whether they would discontinue dumping garbage in the designated area as the work on the proposed project is yet to commence, taking into consideration the impact on both wildlife and the environment or in the alternative whether there was a possibility of moving the garbage to a suitable location, they responded that the Company is hopeful that it could to come to terms with CEB as per the Agreement that provides for 400 tonnes of garbage each day and that land specified for waste dump is the land in question.
Elaborating further he said that although they had applied to obtain a licence from the CEA to carry out the project work, they have still not been granted the same thereby causing further delays.
The impact of dumping garbage in forest reserves and land adjacent to forests to the health and well-being of wildlife
Senior adviser to the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) and the Chair of Friends of Earth International, Hemantha Withanage, said it is not only elephants that consume garbage but also other wildlife species too, that roam on the lookout for food within their habitat.
He said they tend to feed on garbage dumped in forests and in adjacent lands adding that Elephants most customarily look for remnants of fruits and vegetables while stating, however, due to their inability to separate them from polythene and plastic waste, they habitually consume these hazardous materials.
He noted, there are no statistics on the number of Elephants that have succumbed by such consumption and contributed to its premature death.
Other consequences of clearing of forests for waste dumping on wild elephants
Convener of Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle (BCRC), Supun Lahiru Prakash said one direct consequence of clearing of forests for waste dumping is the increase in the Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) adding that this will undermine the efforts to minimise deaths.
He noted that Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are listed as ‘Endangered’ and HEC poses a serious challenge to their conservation adding that Sri Lanka had the highest number in elephant deaths and second highest in human deaths annually resulting from HEC and the mortality of males was higher in both cases.
Is dumping waste in a reserved forest permitted by law?
Section 7 of the Forest Conservation Ordinance sets out acts prohibited within a forest reserve and according to Section 7 (1) (d), it is an offence to pollute the forest environment by dumping and disposing garbage in the forest.
Accordingly, those involved in such offences shall be held guilty and be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not less than Rs 10,000 and not exceeding Rs 100,000 or both.
In addition, the Court may award compensation for any damage caused to the forest reserve and such compensation shall be equivalent to the actual value of the damage caused to the Forest Reserve and shall be charged and recovered in the form of a Fine imposed by the Court.
Attorney-at-Law Ravindranath Dabare stated that while it is an offence to dump waste within a forest reserve, dumping of waste in an ordinary land that is not declared as a forest also requires a licence from the Central Environmental Authority (CEA).
The persistent issue of Solid Waste Management in Sri Lanka
CEA stated that solid waste, especially Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), is a growing problem in urban areas, aggravating by the day, due to the lack of an efficient and effective solid waste management system in the country.
At present, in many instances, solid waste are collected in an unsorted and jumbled state and dumped in environmentally-sensitive places such as waysides, marshy lands, low lying areas, public places, forests, wild life sanctuaries and water courses. CEA complained that it causes disastrous environmental consequences such as ground and surface water pollution and air pollution.
Further, the ‘open dumps’ of solid waste are ideal places for breeding of mosquitoes and leads to vector-borne diseases such as Malaria and Dengue. Haphazard throwaway and dumping of solid waste reduce aesthetic value and scenic beauty of the environment thereby creating negative visible impact and affecting tourism, adversely.
Efforts of the authorities to put an end to the clearing of forests for waste dumping
The Ministry of Environment pledged to put an end to disposing garbage in forest reserves by the end of 2021 while instructing officials to take stern legal action against those involved in such acts taking into account its telling impact on the environment and wildlife.
According to the Ministry of Environment, over 50 such areas where waste has been disposed of, have been identified and the authorities have since managed to reduce the numbers to nine.
Thereby vital issues including that of clearing of forest reserves for garbage dumping and the lack of solid waste management has to be strongly addressed in order to negate the effects of garbage dumping on the environment that in turn results in wild animals feeding on garbage leading to fatalities.