In the aftermath of the Meethotamulla rubbish collapse I wanted to write about the sheer inability of the Sri Lankan government to manage waste – I spent the weekend down south and found myself noticing, even more, the rubbish that is scattered along the beaches and on the roadside. But then I got to thinking – is it really the government’s responsibility to clean up after us?
Sri Lanka has a rapidly developing economy, thanks in part to tourism. And (almost) everyone benefits from this – from the humble tuk-tuk driver to the most accomplished building developers. Sri Lankans from every walk of life has been swept up in the boom and no one has stopped and thought about what happens to the environment. I read a great blog about how tourists ruin countries by Nomadic Matt. Sri Lankans (and expats in Sri Lanka) aren’t all that environmentally aware, so I thought I would put together a short list of simple things you can do to help reduce waste in Sri Lanka!
- Carry a refillable bottle – most tap water is drinkable in SriLanka if you boil it. I boil water each night and chill it overnight in the fridge, it saves you from buying plastic bottles every time you need a drink. If you invest in an insulated bottle you’ll have ice-cold water all day too! Just remember to check for BPAs and other nasties if you buy a plastic refillable bottle.
If you’re in a tough spot for water, it can come in really handy to buy water filtration tablets. I carry a couple of these everywhere just in case, I’ve only ever needed them a couple times while hiking but still better to be safe than sorry!
- Pack a reusable shopping bag – plastic bags are in abundance in Sri Lanka (especially Colombo), reduce the number of bags you send to landfill by using a collapsible shopping bag.
- Keep a spork in your bag! Most street food vendors don’t give you cutlery at all, but most takeaway stores chuck a plastic fork and knife into your package. You can reduce waste by carrying a spork around with you, it also helps when you can’t or don’t want to eat with your hands.
- Eat locally – you’re in another country so try something new, it’ll be a huge bonus for the environment since local produce doesn’t need to travel as far or be packaged up for air travel.
- Catch a tuk-tuk! The cute three-wheelers are super efficient on fuel, they typically get about 35km to the litre which is slightly more fuel efficient than a Toyota Prius.
- Rideshare around the island instead of hiring your own car. Not only does it save fuel but you get to meet other travellers too.
- Have a cool (or cold) shower – most locals don’t have hot water connections and with weather like this why would they? It’s not easy to cut down on shower time in such a sticky country but the power that goes into heating water is sort of unnecessary when a cool shower is way more refreshing anyway!
- Do your groceries at the market – there are plenty of “wet” markets around Colombo and not only is the food way fresher but it’s also a fairer outcome for the grower. The markets use a lot less packaging and you can ask them to use your reusable shopping bags to save plastic too.
Try to buy staples like rice and lentils wholesale rather than plastic wrapped options which are more expensive anyway. When you get home just chuck them in an airtight container and they won’t spoil.
- Turn off the air-con when you’re not home. This is definitely one more aimed at expats who might have a bit of extra cash to spare. Not only will this reduce your bills but also reduce the urban heat island created by hot air dispelled by air-conditioning units.
Coconuts are a-plenty in Sri Lanka – use them! Coconut oil is a healthy substitute in all sorts of cooking, just check out this non-exhaustive list! It’s also a beauty miracle product which can be used for makeup remover, moisturiser, teeth whitener and hair treatment just to name a few. It’s just as handy to use around the home to use as furniture and leather polish or to season cast iron pans. A simple google will turn up literally hundreds of uses for the stuff.