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Embedding a promise to tackle waste in the New Year

| by Victor Cherubim

( April 12, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) According to our time honoured traditions, we know that everything in balance is good. Our respect for life of all forms is embedded in our culture and so is our concern to protect our environment as custodians. We need not be told about waste of our resources, but perhaps reminded that tackling waste is to follow what is tenable and sustainable.

Waste management is not just science fiction, it has already arrived in many parts of the world. With 7 billion people on our planet and a further 2 billion by 2050, the earth’s resources, could well be put at risk. This means sustainable, equitable growth is more not less the acceptable model of growth of nations and peoples, with Sri Lanka no exception.

Growth and sustainability have not been in conflict. In fact history has taught us that they are compatible. In our own experience over centuries sustainability has driven growth and we are proud of our balanced way of life.

By focussing on sustainable living needs, we cost leverage efficiency. By reducing waste, we create efficiencies and reduce cost, which in turn has a knock on effect on the economy. By taking a long term view, we also reduce risk, we open up great opportunities for innovation.

Ways to beat cost of living in Sri Lanka

1. Energy: Let us take energy efficiency. We are informed that homes and buildings account for three fourths of all energy used. If we were to give a calculated guess, one thirds of all energy consumption is wasted. Lights, even street lights, allowing for intermittent power cuts, come on and stay on when there is natural light in all weather.

Take air conditioning (AC), air is cooled even when the weather outside is not “unbearable” but mildly comfortable. It is because switching on the AC is part of our office routine, whatever the weather. What about our fans which have “to be on all day, all night long.” Fans move air in the wrong direction, we hardly realise this and for the ease of comfort have it on. In the West, we go one further, we have heating and cooling systems simultaneously on.

I am not suggesting we sweat it out or go back to Stone Age. Perhaps, we could import innovative controls to monitor our energy efficiency tools. We could also use our environment, by planting shadier trees.

2. Water: Let us take fresh water. One illustration of what has actually been happening to our fresh water ground springs and wells. Ground water wells are being over pumped both for cultivation and home use. Water is not replaced, so when that water is depleted and pumping ends, since there is no more water flow. As long as water is pumped out at or below the recharge rate, the well will continue to supply the same amount of water year after year.

Water is going to be a scarce commodity more than oil in the future. With climate change, who knows what will happen. I am not suggesting that we should use water frugally, without water we cannot have many of our accepted amenities, not mentioning sanitation. There is a cost for water consumption. Let us have water meters installed to monitor our use. We also have to make use of obtaining water from a variety of locations, if the rains that we normally expect don’t meet our necessities. Conservation and desalination are other ways. Quality, continuity and water pressure has to be given more consideration, in the future.

3. Health Care: Health care is another area of promise, which has recently come up for scrutiny. According to a recent report in The Times, “half a billion pounds of tax payers money in UK is wasted on a “flu drug” that is no better than “paracetamol” after the swine flu pandemic, “Tamiflu,” according to researchers, does not prevent complications or stop people passing on the flu virus and could not prevent a pandemic. This opinion, medical or not, states, it was “not value for money.”

According to the Deputy Director, Western Provinces Waste Management Authority, Nalin Mannaperuma, “the problem regarding improper handling of medical waste has become a big issue. In the Western Province alone there are about 120 hospitals. The total number of health care waste generated from hospitals amounted to 61 tons per day, and in the Western Province alone it is 25 tons, only from Government hospitals.”

That was two years ago, today thanks to the Ministry of Health action to minimise waste, is being introduced. But the general public and hospital staff have to be “enlightened” on a regular basis, according to a recent report.

4. Other areas of waste: Understanding the flow of traffic vehicles, utilities and people is essential to maximising the productivity of each. Air quality in our big cities and pollution by belching buses has been tackled along with beautification.

A word of warning

It is very easy to point out the areas of waste. It is very easy to tackle each of these areas piecemeal. What is required in my opinion, if Sri Lanka is to continue to grow at 7.3% this year and in the future, as the economy is sustained by new capacity from infrastructure investments and rebuilding of the economy after the thirty year war, is a Master Plan to tackle waste, part and parcel of a Ministry of Waste, which will have overall control of monitoring waste management.

As data turn into things and things turn into data, we have to be mindful that by monitoring everything, we do not shift the balance in the other direction, where we control everything, and we do not leave anything for the innovation of individuals.

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