Music from A New Day - the Laya Project
When you rank countries on the amount of plastic waste leakage into the ocean, Sri Lanka appears in the top 10. Maybe even the top 5. Maybe that is not surprising. 14 million people live near the coastline. Effective waste management is missing in many places. People get frustrated with the lack of alternatives to dispose of waste. This leads to dumping of waste in rivers and other waterways. The plastic trash them finds its way into the oceans with the next rainfall. Often the only option for many people is burning or burying the plastic. Given the health risks posed to the families involved, these seem to be very bad alternatives.
Apart from the direct health issues, plastic pollution also impacts the population economically. Tourism is a massive earner of foreign income in Sri Lanka. Visitors come for the pristine beaches. Pollution destroys the attraction for the paying tourist. I saw a google rating of one tourist beach with one star ratings with the comment “Beach completely ruined by plastic trash” Maybe next year that tourist will be visiting somewhere else.
The capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, lies on the east coast. Directly north of Colombo is the city of Negombo. A city of about 150 thousand people.
Negombo is known for its long sandy beaches and centuries old fishing industry It is attracts tourists because of its nearness to the international airport as well as its attractive location on the ocean. But it does have a waste problem. Negombo has a shallow lagoon which in old times provided safe harbour for seafaring ships. Nowadays it shelters mainly fishing boats and a whole lot of plastic trash. In 2017 a project called the Municipal Waste Recycling Program was started to look into opportunities to deal with marine plastic pollution. We talked to Damitha Samarakoon. Damitha worked in the program for 2 years starting in 2017. He told me that optics can deceive and was surprised by what you find by just reaching into the water.
The Municipal Waste Recycling Project identified a serious source of waste was the behaviour of the local fishermen. The lagoon is home to about 300 fishing boats.
Working with fishermen is perceived to be difficult. Most people would say that it is difficult to work with them. Damitha mindset was very much like that when he started dealing with the fishermen and talking to them about how they went about disposing of the plastic items they used when working.
At some stage he realized that formal education does not measure what people really are. When Damitha and his team interacted , they discovered that the fishermen were wholeheartedly into preserving the ocean that brings them their livelihood.
The sea is next to god for them. They wanted to do something to protect the seas so they became actively engaged once they understood the aims of the project.
Reflection: so you have these university educated guys working together with people who spend their lives out on the water, interacting with the tools of constructive dialog and finding that they both have the same goals and that something very good can come out of that.
Damitha and his team narrowed in one specific item that promised the biggest win: small water bottles. The fishermen are at sea for some weeks and take with them hundreds of 500 ml plastic water bottles. These have the convenience that you can easily take a sip of water without interrupting the work. The problem is that after emptying, the bottle had no worth and was typically disposed overboard.
The solution which actually proposed by the fishermen, was to ban the small bottles and allow only larger bottles.