Sri Lanka

WFL Sri Lanka began to take shape within the PhD fieldwork of Randika Jayasinghe, who is now our in-country Project Coordinator. For 3 years, she investigated and assessed the feasibility of adapting our Argentinian work model to her own country’s contexts. The total waste landscapes are, of course, entirely different from one another – in both the general civic consciousness about waste and its valuation (writ large), and in the makeup of the groups that are closest to waste sources. But when the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) put out a 2014 call for proposals for their Global Partnerships for Development scheme (GPFD), we applied and won 1 of 13 grants.

GPFD framed the grants as Australian public institution to (foreign) public institution capacity building projects and, in our case, it was under the auspices of the University of Western Australia, where Caroline taught, that we proposed partnering with 3 counterpart Sri Lankan Universities (Universities of Jaffna, Moratuwa and Sri Jayewardenepura) to incubate community-based waste recycling businesses. We had years of experience nurturing university-to-community synergies in Argentina, knew the science and technology we wanted to deploy, and were practised navigating the inevitable exigencies and uncertainties of working alongside a constituency we knew well: social and economic border dwellers.

It’s more than likely that what swung the grant our way was the inclusion of Jaffna University, specifically it’s nascent Faculty of Engineering, as a partner. Jaffna was the nexus of insurgency in a brutal 30-year civil war that killed over 100,000 people, and 8 years after the war ended, refugees still trickle home: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sri_Lankan_Civil_War.

Although the entire eastern perimeter of the country was claimed as part of Tamil Eelam (the proposed independent Tamil state), and suffered heavy fighting, it is the northwest of Sri Lanka, from Killinochchi to Jaffna, that has become the epicenter of local and international NGO activity to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of a population decimated by a war that holds the dubious record of the 20th century’s most suicide bombings. Though very different in origin, scope, and purpose, we learned very early on that Argentina, too, still reckons with the shadow of its 14-year (1969-1983) Guerra Sucia, where state terrorism was responsible for disappearing 30,000 people.

The new Engineering Faculty is located on the Killinochchi campus, and it’s where we established 1 of our 2 research-and-development facilities. The other facility, identically equipped, is at the University of Moratuwa In Colombo.

The project has 2 manufacturing trajectories: the 1st is a building product, and our focus is to replace asbestos roofs with composite materials from industrial waste HDPE plastic sheet (High Density Polyethylene) reinforced with banana or rice husk fibres; the 2nd is a line of domestic product laminates made from waste LDPE plastic sheet (Low Density Polyethylene) and a variety of waste fibrous materials. (Look at our Instagram and Facebook feeds for more details.) Ana Rapela, who was so instrumental in moving our project forward in Argentina as a designer and liaison with the cooperatives, joined our team (Randika, Hiroshan, Prasadi and Ashok) in Colombo to jump start the domestic product design and production processes.

As of this writing, we are working with 2 womens’ groups in the North manufacturing in the domestic line: Yaal Fibre and Paalam Products, the latter being an offshoot of the long established Paalam Project. (The first prototype roof, manufactured in our university facility, went up on a Dust/Paalam project toilet block at the end of August.) And in Colombo (Negombo, actually,) we’re working with 1 group, Katana Upcycle, that’s labouring away (in the very best sense of the word) producing a variety of domestic products.

We’ve just completed provisioning a new facility close to the University of Moratuwa that Dilmah Conservation is managing, using the company’s own plastic and fibrous waste to support their low-cost building and community development projects.