IN THE NICK OF THE TIME BUT YET..

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By 2017-09-24

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Ceylon Today Features

"What are we going to do with our garbage?" this is the million dollar question we've been trying to find answers for ages now. Many suggestions have come into the limelight; some have stuck while others have faded away. These range from the most conventional methods of dealing with garbage such as recycling or making compost to using garbage to generate even energy. Most of these ideas are timely, innovative and sustainable. They all have their own merits and also come with unique challenges when applied practically but above them all, they share one common drawback. None of these methods completely solves our garbage problem. Not all garbage can be recycled or composted.

Only biodegradable garbage can be used in generating energy leaving a good portion of garbage unaccounted for. Independent of whichever method used, some percentage of waste is always left behind. If only there was a miraculous way of using all types of waste without segregating them and solving the menace of the problem we have on our hands.

Method which utilizes all types of garbage
Since there is no single method to take care of all types of garbage so far, the best course of action would be to follow multiple methods of dealing with garbage. Anyway, a once and for all cure to take all types of garbage in to consideration seems far-fetched and too good to be true; or is it? Susantha Amarasinghe form Gongitota, Enderamulla who is a Mason by trade has come up with an idea that could well be the answer to all our prayers regarding the waste issue.

Amarasinghe's solution involves using garbage as a building material. He uses all types of garbage in making a 'brick' amongst other things. The best part is that his methods can make use of all kinds of garbage. All types of glass, let it be bottles, normal window panes, light bulbs, vehicle windscreens and even old TV tubes thrown away can be crushed and used in making bricks. All types of plastic and polythene can be shredded and used in making bricks. All types of food residue, tree trimmings, cut grass and hay? All of the above are materials in making waste bricks.

The types of garbage that could be used in Amarasinghe's brick making covers almost all of an average household's throw-aways with the exception of metal. Amarasinghe says that he has experimented with metal as well but with no satisfying results. Metals tend to rust, even within the mixture and it affects the rigidity of the block.

The garbage brick
An ordinary run-of-the-mill cement block contains cement, sand and differently graded construction aggregate. To make his own unique design of a brick, Amarasinghe has replaced every ingredient of a normal brick (except for the binding agent that is cement), with different types of shredded garbage. While light garbage such as food waste, polythene and tree trimmings act as sand, hard substances such as shredded glass does what aggregate does giving desired rigidity to Amarasinghe's innovative block.
One might think that the garbage block has to be significantly different from a normal cement block but in reality, it is almost impossible to tell the two apart. Amarasinghe's garbage block is identical to a normal cement block in almost every way. It looks like a normal block, smells nothing like garbage, is hard to the touch and heavy when held. A cross section might give away its identity but even for that, one has to inspect it very closely.

But wait, there's more
It is not just the garbage block that Amarasinghe has come up with but 11 different innovations altogether. One of the most unique of them includes a special block designed for colder areas such as Nuwara Eliya. "In this block, the glass content is higher than normal making it more heat-absorbent. A house built using these blocks could almost act as a greenhouse. The glass makes it easier to trap the heat inside. If done according to proper calculations, it is possible to build a house that doesn't require the installation of an additional heating system." says Amarasinghe.

Basically, whatever is made using a cement mixture, can also be made using Amarasinghe's garbage formula. Garden chairs and tables made out of cement? Why not make them out of garbage? Instead of conventional flower pots, Amarasinghe suggests a special pot made with the garbage mixture that acts as fertilizer to the plant as well. Making interlocking paving stones using garbage is a piece of cake for Amarasinghe. A stone containing larger pieces of glass with preferred colours can be made for paving and for building walls. High proportions of glass content allows the block to be cut and polished into a neat, sleek finish that doesn't require additional plastering or painting.

Not so glamorous products using garbage include a special block that can come handy in preventing soil erosion and landslides. Carpeting roads with a mixture of glass or plastic is a cheap alternative for what technique currently is in use.

Fruits of years of labour
Amarasinghe started experimenting using garbage as building material some ten years ago. Back then, he was enlisted in the Sri Lanka Army and had the opportunity to travel around the country with the troops. He carried out his experiments in every area he was stationed trying to find ideal combinations that best suited the surroundings. One by one, success came towards Amarasinghe's way. One of the main obstacles Amarasinghe had to address was the stench of the garbage. He has created his own chemical using fully natural ingredients that prevents a possible bad smell from remaining in the end product.

"The possibilities are endless. Once you get the basics right, you can alternate proportions of ingredients and make as many products that suit requirements" says Amarasinghe. For his labours in deriving a sustainable formula, Amarasinghe has received a collective Patent for all 11 of his creations.

Authorities lack interest
Unfortunately for Amarasinghe, and for the whole country for that matter, authorities have shown little interest in making use of his invention. "Lots of officials came, promised a lot and went but so far nothing ever came out of it. If only I have a place to carry this out on a large-scale, it will surely materialize into something of a national importance" says Amarasinghe. Finding garbage is not a problem, according to Amarasinghe. A round around the block, asking for garbage can result in a sizable lot. What Amarasinghe needs is a place and machinery. He was given a patch of land near Enderamulla Railway Station but unfortunately, the area floods even with the slightest rainfall. As the demand for building materials never run out, his idea of garbage bricks can be developed into a profitable venture but what it lacks is that initial push start. Amarasinghe had even requested access to the Meethotamulla dump way before it collapsed but sadly was not granted his wish.

Money continues to talk
The money making potential of Amarasinghe's invention has certainly not gone unnoticed. Right after he was featured on a national TV channel he had offers as large as the sum of Rs 80 million for the patent. The most recent offer came from India for a whopping Rs 100 million. Amarasinghe is married with three school-going sons. He could well use the money and many have told him to just sell the patent, one of them being a well-known university professor. Going against popular opinion, Amarasinghe continues to hold his ground. "I want to do something for the community. The Mahara electorate which I'm from is continuously struggling with garbage. If anyone is willing to fund and carry out my plans here in Sri Lanka, I might even sell the patent rights for some of my products. I don't want some other country to solely benefit from my inventions" explains Amarasinghe.

Rich in heart may well be so but Amarasinghe is not what we call a rich fellow where money is concerned. His willingness to hold on to the Patent might wear off with ever-increasing bids and surely no one can blame him if that were to happen. It is the authority's duty to pay due consideration to his innovations and make something out of it, something that can be beneficial for whole nation before it is too late.

(Pix by Dumindu Wanigasekara)

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