Ashan’s company Shanthi Sustainable Development offers a solution of selling such pollutants to recycling companies such as Ecospindle and Piramel
Cleaning in progress
On an initiative and innovative approach taken by a young entrepreneur, beaches along the north-western coast of Sri Lanka are getting a clean-up.
I first met Ashan Weerakoon in February at the popular bathing spot of Mora Wala, at Pitipana, Negombo, when he, along with friends, volunteers and residents, was cleaning up the beach.
Considerable amounts of plastic bottles, disposable bags and other items are collected during such efforts. Where do they go?
Ashan’s company Shanthi Sustainable Development offers a solution of selling such pollutants to recycling companies such as Ecospindle and Piramel.
Recycling waste items for profit is known internationally as the new green business frontier, though this subject is relatively new to Sri Lanka and still done on a very small scale. Apart from the handful of companies involved, it remains very much a cottage industry.
But recycling is big business in the developed world, and the Global Recycling Day falls between March 03-18 each year. Despite media attention on polluted beaches, roads and public places, and chronic garbage disposal problems, the general public remains extremely ignorant about the importance of not throwing away synthetic products into public spaces. As a result, pollutants pile up everywhere, and the country’s beaches are among the principal victims.
Shanthi Sustainable has selected the North Western Province for a one-year pilot project. Starting with Mundalama, beaches in the Puttalam District will be cleaned up one by one.
Finding people willing to carry out the thankless task of picking up empty bottles and other refuse is the biggest challenge. Using hired labour would be a self-defeating means to a laudable goal.
Though a few residents helped at Pitipana, and sometimes willing foreign nationals can be found, if this project is to be carried out regularly, then a more readily available source of helping hands are required.
At Mundalama, this problem was solved by working with the local Pradeshiya Sabha, the Divisional Secretariat, Grama Niladharis and other authorities. They called for the services of Samurdhi recipients of Mundalama.
As a result, many of those who cleaned up the Mundalama beaches Monday morning were the aged, with a large percentage of women.
The town looks shabby and derelict, and the whole place looks poverty-stricken, in stark contrast to bigger towns like Halawatha (Chilaw) which have an economically vibrant appearance. And yet, the beaches here are as polluted with bottles as elsewhere.
A team from MIPA (Marine Environment Protection Authority) too, were taking part in this project. Shanthi Sustainable is undertaking a number of school projects with MIPA, intending to teach the importance of environmental protection to children.
According to Nilani Priyangika, project coordinator for Shanthi Sustainable, the real difficulties when it comes to recycling lies in logistics.
“Companies don’t have inputs as logistics don’t happen properly,” she says. “So we have to concentrate on the logistics first.”
As people walked in groups to the beach across the road, because of the picturesque bridge and Hindu temple, the hands-on problems became apparent. There is a fine of Rs. 5,000 for throwing litter in public places. But there is no signboard anywhere informing people of this eventuality.
One could argue that visitors would continue to litter even if there are signboards. But they should be there as deterrents.
The morning sun was mercilessly hot as people moved about quickly, gathering bottles, paper, and cans and putting them into separate bins for removal. Looking at them, these poverty-stricken Samurdhi recipients didn’t look the sort of people who’d have the resources to spend time on the beach and litter.
"The morning sun was mercilessly hot as people moved about quickly, gathering bottles, paper, and cans and putting them into separate bins for removal. Looking at them, these poverty-stricken Samurdhi recipients didn’t look the sort of people who’d have the resources to spend time on the beach and litter"
Whoever did it, someone has to clean it up. But that kind of public spirit is rare in this country, and that’s why these Samurdhi recipients were now sweating under the sun. In the future, Shanthi Sustainable hopes to enlist the services of Tharuna Seva Sabhas where younger hands can be recruited for the task.
The Coca Cola company sent a team to distribute soft drinks to those taking part (about 250). While Coca Cola has a negative reputation as a multinational giant and there have even been allegations of human rights abuses of its workers in countries such as Columbia, and its products happen to be a big part of pollutants found on any beach, it is now making a conscious effort to enhance its ‘green’ image worldwide.
Besides, none of Sri Lanka’s own indigenous soft drinks products manufacturers has come forward to assist these beach clean up projects, whereas Coca Cola did at Mundalama.
While it remains to be seen for how long this beach will remain free of litter, this initiative by this very young eco-conscious enterprise is commendable, and the co-operation extended by the local authorities and MIPA (without which the clean up would not have been possible) needs to be praised.
Among those officials taking part were three Grama Niladharis – Ms M. S. D. Fernando (GN 594 Udappu), M. Kisothkanth (GN 594A Andimunai), V. Sivakanth (GN 594B Udappu), Ms M. I. Bathoola (Economic Development Officer), Subhash Kanthan (Economic Development Officer, Divisional Secretariat, Mundalama) and A. Thiruvaranganathan (Divisional Commissioner, Central Environment Authority).