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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Hewood Combi WPC - the wonder alternative to natural timber, imminent to slip from Sri Lanka

By Quintus Perera - Asian Tribune

Colombo, 04 December, ( Garbage has become a devastating menace in Sri Lanka, enveloping not only the urban areas, but now almost the entire country, out of which plastic or polythene is one of the major components in the menace. While elsewhere in the world ‘garbage is turned into gold’ and has become a commercial product with great value, which produces energy and fertilizer. Sri Lanka's action to eradicate this menace is only limited to lip service for the last 20 years.Jagath Hewage - Chairman/Managing Director, Hewas Group of CompaniesJagath Hewage - Chairman/Managing Director, Hewas Group of Companies

In Sri Lanka, on stage and in other platforms, politicians would have hundred one solutions, but in practice nothing tangible is achieved. Though there has been much talking that lot of work has been done by such institutions like the National Engineering Research and Development Centre (NERD) and Industrial Technology Institute (ITI) and other politicians and officials, a total solution on garbage is found. The sad part of the story is while the government is sleeping on such serious and volatile issues, its agencies that are meant to put a stop to the menace and help those who venture to address these issues, these agencies are reluctant to assist those private sector institutions who are involved in attempting to solve the problem or at least a part of it.

Numbers of private sector companies have ventured on commercially viable projects in recycling garbage and plastic, but in their case the problem is not looked at nationally, but work in isolation.

Several private sector companies now work on recycling waste plastic. While they indicate that they could recycle all the waste plastic available in Sri Lanka, they are not in a position to launch a collecting process. The government is not intervening in helping the collection process.Feeding saw dust into the machineFeeding saw dust into the machine

Hewas Group of Companies consisting of several other companies is effectively recycle waste plastic and has now come up with a world renowned product with a combination of 30 percent of waste plastic and 70 percent waste such as saw dust and paddy husk.

The latest product is branded as Hewood Combi WPC (Wood Plastic-Composite) stronger than conventional wood of similar sizes, which could replace natural timber in various applications and the prices also would be similar or slightly different.

Jagath Hewage hails from up-country and completed his studies at St Anthony’s College, Katugastota. He was first involved in printing business and as a person who has widely read on plastic technology and a frequent visitor of international exhibitions on such products and technologies, floated the Hewas Group in 1985 and since then they have been indirect exporters, supplying plastic consumer items, specialized stationery and packaging material turned out of plastic for Sri Lanka’s tea and garment exporters.

In 2001 Hewas started manufacturing products for ceiling, paneling and skirting made of plastic resin under the brand name Hewood. These have the appearance of natural wood and are renowned for their cost effectiveness, being totally impervious to wood rot, dampness, warping, borers, termites or fungi that serve as an excellent substitute for natural wood.

This product has the beauty and elegance of natural timber, and the fulfillment of desire to produce something closer to natural timber. Hewage in 2006 created the most innovative product – WPC (Hewood Combi WPC) a world renowned product. This revolutionary product is entirely manufactured in Sri Lanka with a recently developed modern technology so far applied only in such countries like United States, Japan and Korea.

Hewas operates two factories, one in Kelaniya which uses plastic resin to manufacture such items as plastic envelopes packaging material and only manufacturer of plastic flexible drinking straws and most of them are exported.

Kelaniya factory uses around 2000 metric tons of virgin plastic and around 2 ½ percent comes as waste. With this factory waste plastic, plus they buy around 30 to 40 metric tons of waste polythene and use them for the manufacture of about 600 kilos of WPC per hour. The production would be for about 12 to 14 days a month as they do not get sufficient stocks of waste plastics to run the factory to full capacity..

Hewage said that earlier plastic manufacturing was under license, but subsequently the industry opened up. As more people came into the industry and the competition has been very heavy. Therefore they wanted to do some different with their waste plastic.

There is different basic polythene for different products. HDPE is used to manufacture shopping bags, PP is used for garment industry packing etc and LDPE also used for packing. WPC is the latest which was first started in the US and they are now used in Canada, Japan, Korea, and in European countries.

In the Asian Region – in South East Asia and ASEAN region in such countries like Malaysia, Singapore and even in India, WPC is not manufactured. Though orders for the product are flowing the profits are marginal from local sales and their main aim is exports. Samples were sent to US to get the UL Standard Certification so that exports are guaranteed and then the product could be marketed anywhere in the world. WPC Boards cut in to sizeWPC Boards cut in to size

Hewood Combi is innovative and Hewas are the only people manufacture them in Sri Lanka. The fibrous resilience of natural substances combined with virtual indestructibility of plastic ensures uniformity, durability, workability and beauty.

The product could be used for doors/windows/frames; partitioning; sign and trim boards, ceiling/paneling, battens for tiled roof, gates and fences, furniture, cupboards, cornices, beading, awnings, piers ad ocean boardwalks, sun and ship decks, architraves, valance boards, pelmets and for many other uses.

The product also comes with added advantages such as no planning, sanding or sealing required, no staining required, no harmful chemicals, no splintering, cracking or warping, easy assembly, finished quality, no maintenance, resistant to insect decay and moisture, wet or dry slip resistance, natural colors, grain, fell and texture, adaptability, no painting or polishing is necessary and environmentally friendly.

Though Hewas have introduced this world class product to Sri Lankan market that could easily replace natural timber, Hewage is in fact a dejected man as he is worried of high costs involved. He said that they are capable of supplying the timber requirements of the country and to preserve the forest reserves, it has essentially be identified as an important national project which could also curtail timber imports.

Hewage said “The cost of production is very high here. The electricity, water and on top of them the VAT. This is the time the government must come in to help sustain this nationally important venture. But nothing has come out, though there is ministry of industries, Export Development Board and the Environmental Protection Authority which makes a hue and cry on things like piling up of waste shopping bags, but instead of helping the industry to sustain they are prompt to impose taxes for recycling etc.”

He said that he is disgusted on the way the authorities handle local industries, specially those industries that have tremendous export potential. This is like something coming from heaven and thus the government must help sustain it. He said that today nobody cares for the country or its economic survival which naturally points the accusing finger to these officials and politicians and other interested parties.

He said that there is a great demand for the product elsewhere in the world and eventually if the product is feasible, it would be imperative to set up the plant to produce Hewas Combi in another country and then Hewage said that they could serve the entire Asian market and then expand to capture the world market. Large quantities of WPC could be produced because there is an abundance of raw material such as waste plastic, paddy husk and saw dust in Sri Lanka, if only the government is prepared to formulate a system to collect waste plastic spread all over the country.

He said that several countries have shown keen interest on the product and in fact concrete contacts have been made by companies in India and Singapore. In fact, the Singapore Company has requested Hewage to move the entire plant to Singapore, and he is giving serious consideration for the Singapore proposal.

He said that already studies were made on the cost component and found that electricity and water are cheaper in Singapore, than in Sri Lanka. As the manufacture is using ultra modern technology much manpower is not required to handle production. The other major advantage in Singapore is that once they establish their plant in Singapore is that there would be no hassle to export to US as there would not be tax when exporting to US.

He is already having an office in the United States with storage facilities which is now used for distribution of his other products. The other alternative to Singapore offer is to establish export channels through the US Office, while manufacturing is done in Sri Lanka. .

Another such private sector company attending to waste plastics is Viridis (Pvt) Ltd a BOI approved company which collects waste plastic crush them and export. They have set up a plant in Pannipitiya and around three years ago they started with around 8 tons per month and now they cover around 30 to 35 tons. They are covering around 25 percent of waste plastic in the country and would be able to use the entire plastic waste in the country including waste shopping bags, if all of them could be collected and supplied to them.

They also have indicated that if there is a system to collect all the waste plastics, they would be able to recycle them all.

There is another project dealt by Burns Environmental and Technologies with assistance from USAID in recycling half of Colombo’s garbage viz 300 tons per day with a US $ 6 million investment. The plant produced around 60 tons of fertilizer per day.

The Minister of Environment and Natural Resources, goes round the country, publicly rattling out about various theories to curtail or eradicate garbage menace, but in actual fact they are not doing anything tangible that would offer solutions to the problem. He used to speak about emission of toxic gases, green houses gases and global warming on the one hand, but on the other government is going hammer and tongs to construct the Coal Power Plant in Norochcholai despite the protests from the people living around there and also against the heavy protests from environmentalists.

It appears that all what he is interested is to introduce repressive laws to impose levies. The main culprit for the garbage menace is the local authorities who are charged with the responsibility of clearing and disposing garbage and also the Central Environmental Authority is empowered to take legal action on those local authorities, who fail in the garbage disposal. Instead of punishing the local authorities, there are laws to punish the public on garbage and water holes.

Most of the private sector companies who are involved in recycling garbage specially the recycling of plastic waste, have come up with excellent feasible projects and proposals, but their progress is drastically curtailed because instead of government helping them, all what the government does is, prevent the progress of those companies, by imposing various taxes.

The government must avert Hewood Combi WPC slipping out of the country and consolidate its viability as a Sri Lankan product offering full assistance to export to the maximum. Hewood Combi, according to Hewage would be the natural alternative for the depleting forest and natural timber reserves in the Country. The government must study the entire process of Hewood Combi, and if it could actually replace natural timber, the government must help them.

It is thus clear that given the opportunity the private sector in Sri Lanka could successfully handle the garbage menace. What is necessary is consolidation, cooperation and augment a collective effort. The State should assist them by way of subsidies and incentives and most essential is to establish collecting centers for waste plastics and other material all over the country to ensure a steady inflow to feed this plant.

- Asian Tribune -

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