Ajantha

Ashoka Fellow
Sri Lanka,
Fellow Since 2005
National Program on Recycling of Solid Waste

Citation

This profile was prepared when Ajantha Perera was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
Dr. Ajantha Perera is building an economic model for the profitable recycling and composting of solid waste throughout Sri Lanka, using a combination of strategies that link national and local authorities with people working in the rubbish disposal industry and the general public.
Local government authorities, who are responsible for collecting and disposing rubbish in Sri Lanka, are integral to Ajantha’s plans. Through sound economic models she illustrates that solid waste management should consist of composting and recycling primary source material. With her guidance, a growing number of local governments are running profitable composting and recycling programs. However, to fully gain the support of government authorities for recycling and waste-reduction programs, local industry involvement is crucial. Ajantha is demonstrating to local companies how they can engage in systematic recycling for long-term profits, thereby ensuring their cooperation.
Ajantha is also aware that the success of the recycling industry is dependent upon raising the role and dignity of the people closely involved with its day-to-day functioning: the garbage workers who scour mountains of waste and ride the rubbish trucks. Through close links with these persons, she is professionalizing their work, improving working conditions and giving them a voice in the overall direction and shape of the industry.
Heightening the status of garbage workers, bringing local industries on board and convincing bureaucrats to change policy in favor of recycling ultimately all effect the ordinary consumer, the source of waste. Much of Ajantha’s work is aimed at changing public behavior, such as the imposition of fines for littering, television spots on recycling and rubbish, and reintroduction of non-polythene bags into shops and school canteens. Ajantha realizes that a change in public attitude to waste disposal will not come through lecturing or moralizing. Instead, she employs realistic approaches that combine sanctions with incentives and offer workable alternatives to simply dumping rubbish. While recognizing that the success of her work will occur gradually, Ajantha is convinced that her country is becoming cleaner as popular awareness spreads, recycling industries become established, and more government officials become involved in tackling the problem.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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