Notwithstanding the increasingly fragmented organizational relationships within Colombo’s urban governance system, the cooperative nature of stakeholder relationships lends a high level of coherence to the overall system. Since 1995, Colombo’s solid waste management system has been characterized by the increased role of the private sector, community‐based organizations and NGOs. Whilst the increasingly fragmented nature of this system exhibits some deeply ingrained problems, there are also a number of positives associated with the increased role of civil society actors and, in particular, the informal sector. Reforming regulatory frameworks so as to integrate some of the social norms that are integral to the lives of the majority of urban residents will contribute to regulatory frameworks being considerably more enforceable than is currently the case. Such reform requires that institutional and regulatory frameworks need to be flexible enough to adapt to the changing social, political and economic context. In the Colombo case, effective cooperation between public sector and civil society stakeholders illustrates that adaptive institutional arrangements grounded in pragmatism are feasible. The challenge that arises is to translate these institutional arrangements into adaptive regulatory frameworks — something that would require a significant mind shift on the part of planners and urban managers.