The garbage crisis in Colombo is genuinely scary and the product of decades of our negligence. It seems like a problem that's beyond repair, but there are a few tiny things to do to stop being a total garbage person. Most of our tips are food-related because that's what we at YAMU do best!
Bring Your Own Bag! You can buy a tough reusable cloth supermarket bag at all supermarkets now (for about Rs. 60-70), or just bring your own bag along. Vegetables are a bit more tricky – instead of getting each vegetable individually wrapped in plastic, just take a scrap of paper with you and ask them to stick the price stickers on to that. Keep some old newspapers with you if you're worried about your fruits getting bruised.
2. Support The Good Guys
Vote with your rupee – if you know of brands with sustainable practices, opt for them. Use sites like the Good Market as a guideline. If you have proof of brands doing crappy things like mass dumping, using way too much plastic as part of their policy, or refusing to recycle etc, avoid them but also let them know (politely). Most brands these days are highly perceptive to their image and social media, so drop them a Facebook post or email explaining why you hope they'll change their policies.
3. That (Sustainable) Time Of The Month
If you're a menstruating human, live with one, or even know one, you already know that periods suck. But they also kind of suck for the environment, as the most popular form of sanitary wear in Sri Lanka is the disposable sanitary napkin, which uses a whole heap of polymers etc that are virtually non bio-degradable, and has the plastic content of about 4 plastic bags. Instead, you can try opting for reusable cotton napkins, menstrual cups (both available at the Good Market shop), or if you have the disposable income eco-friendly tampons (not tampons with plastic applicators) or pricey period underwear like Thinx.
4. Do Takeaway Right
All you need to do is carry around a lunchbox or two (if you anyway take a lunch box to work or school, just wash it out and keep in your bag). When you dine out and have leftovers or get takeaway, just hand them your box and ask them to put the food in that so you can avoid wastage of food or usage of styrofoam and plastic. This can work for coffee and juice too – if it's part of your daily routine, just pack in a little thermos. Some restaurants like Kumbuk Kitchen will even give you a discount if you bring your own box!
If you're getting delivery, it's a bit more tricky. You can choose to opt for restaurants like Arabian Knights, Calorie Counter, Giovanni's, or Momo's by Ruvi that avoid plastic packaging, or at the very least ask the restaurant to avoid sending plastic utensils if you're at home or office.
5. Say No To Straws!
Unless you're trying to drink hands-free, straws are kind of pointless. If they're unwrapped, their insides are inevitably coated with dirt, dust, and if you're unlucky insects and eggs (I've witnessed this twice). Also, they're disposable, non-degradable bits of plastic that just get washed out to sea where they cause total havoc on marine life. If you really need a straw, some restaurants now have reusable metal ones. I picked one up at Hideaway Arugambay's Sunday Market and I carry it around with me if I'm feeling particularly thirsty (not even a joke). You can pick yours up from the Camel's Back directly for wholesale orders.
6. Opt For Pre-Loved Things
Furniture, shoes, books, all often last a lifetime if you take care of them. Fortunately, Sri Lanka has a big (and rotating) expat population, so a lot of people end up leaving their stuff behind. Don't buy new, buy lovely pre-used stuff at lower prices instead! Or even get them for free at Free Your Stuff. Here are some spots we suggest for
7. Carry Your Own Bothal
This is one tip the tuk tuk drivers of Colombo have known for years. Why waste money on shiny plastic bottles of water when you can just carry around a funky empty whisky bottle like a goddamn hipster or drink out of a Smirnoff litre bottle at work and scare your co-workers? If you're not as daring, you can opt for a normal glass bottle, a thermos, or a sports bottle. You can refill them with water at work, at a restaurant, or at free spots around the city.
8. Sort Out Your Garbage (And Your Life)
This is less of a tip and more of a compulsory point. Make the garbage collector's lives easier (and yours, because they won't collect unsorted garbage now). You need to separate them into
- Degradable Garbage
- Recyclable Garbage
- Non-Recyclable Garbage
9. Got A Garden? Compost!
Ok, this is definitely on the more difficult end of the tips we've suggested here because you'll have to go out and buy a little composting bin from Arpico. You'll also have to ensure rats and stuff don't get at your bin because you'll be throwing away organic material, from tea leaves to bread crumbs (some people avoid meat residue). But if you've got a garden, you know the benefits of good manure! Your compost can then go towards feeding your garden, where you can grow vegetables for consumption and continue the positive cycle. Here's a very easy guide to creating your compost line, what to compost, and different methods.
10. Just Throw Less
Think before you throw. Instead of throwing your stuff, you can:
- If the goods are still usable, donate to charities, orphanages, foundations. Check our DEMU section, or head to Free Your Stuff.
- Upcycle by giving your stuff to brands like House of Lonali or Sari Connection. Or just get crafty at home by turning wine bottles into vases, old clothes into rags or blankets, the options (and the suggestions on the internet) are endless!
- Fix your broken stuff instead of throwing away and replacing them. It may take some time but you'll save money and the environment!