Creating a circular economy for urban waste

Will Wright
February 21, 2022

The Australian Government-funded project called From Urban Waste to Sustainable ValueChains: Linking Sanitation and Agriculture Through Innovative Partnerships is supporting Sri Lanka’s move towards organic farming.  

This research initiative is supported by the Australian HighCommission to Sri Lanka and Maldives through a Knowledge and Linkages for anInclusive Economy (KLIE) grant. TheKLIE grant mechanism facilitates partnerships and relationships between Sri Lankan and Australian government agencies, Sri Lanka-based national and international research institutions, civil society and professional networks.

Organic fertiliser pellets made from municipal organic waste and septage. Credit:Josiane Nikiema/the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) 

The project supports the Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’sCOVID-19 Development Response, by assisting Sri Lanka’s economic recovery from COVID-19, with an emphasis on economic policy, economic empowerment and the development of supply chains.  

The project team – with researchers from the Institute forSustainable Futures at the University of Technology in Australia (UTS-ISF), theInternational Water Management Institute (IWMI), Janathakshan (GTE) Ltd and the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka (SUSL) – has been investigating opportunities for a circular economy to develop organic fertilisers in SriLanka.  

One challenge to a circular economy is creating a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser that can be a viable alternative to a chemical fertiliser. However, the team’s research shows that there are promising opportunities to create a safe and nutrient-rich organic soil enhancer by co-composting municipal solid waste and septage.

The team’s study found there is high demand from farmers in peri-urban areas for fertilisers made from municipal waste, including safely treated septage. However, retailers need to be better informed about the benefits of organic fertilisers so they can encourage farmers to use non-chemical fertilisers.

As Sri Lanka moves towards organic farming, tackling productivity and food security challenges will not be easy, due to the limited availability of organic material to make fertiliser. There is an opportunity to use the large amounts of organic waste at urban centres to support the production of fertiliser to cater for the growing demand.

The team’s political economy analysis identified areas of coordination, regulation and standards that can improve the linkages between municipal waste and agriculture. A circular economy of organic wastes can benefit food producers and urban citizens in Sri Lanka by getting better use and value out of solid waste and septage. Ultimately, this can minimise the environmental burden of solid waste and septage, improve services for citizens, and strengthen food security and economic opportunities for farmers and the nation. 

Since the launch of KLIE in 2018, this grant mechanism has supported nine partnerships with a total of more than A$2.5 million