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WASTE MANAGEMENT: Optimise sanitary landfills

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IT is perplexing to read the announcement by Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Chor Chee Heung that the government would call for international tenders to build an incinerator to cater for Kuala Lumpur waste.

It was only in 2007 that the government scrapped the proposed incinerator project in Broga, and incurred a loss of more than RM200 million in compensation paid to the developer.

The authorities justified the cancellation of the project and compensation paid on the grounds that the incinerator was too expensive to be built and operated.

It was then said that the incinerator was very expensive and the government had several alternatives, including using the sanitary landfill system in Bukit Tagar, to resolve waste disposal problems.

It is incomprehensible why the government is even considering building an incinerator for Kuala Lumpur waste when there is the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill, which was built as a landfill catering for Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

Chor cited the growing waste volume in Kuala Lumpur as the reason for requiring the incinerator.

However, the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill can easily handle more than 3,000 tonnes of waste daily.

It also has the capacity to cater to the burgeoning waste volume in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor for more than 50 years.

Bukit Tagar's capacity is way beyond the 800 to 1,000 tonnes capacity of the incinerator quoted by Chor, and its lifespan of more than 50 years exceeds the average 15- year lifespan of a typical incinerator.

More importantly, the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill was developed at less than 15 per cent of the cost of the proposed Broga incinerator, which would have cost the government RM1.5 billion. It also offers a much larger volume capacity, as well as being a safer, cheaper and socially acceptable solution for a much longer duration.

We must not be hasty in implementing the incinerator project without first establishing the basic infrastructure and studying the impact that may arise from introducing the incinerator, in terms of safety and cost.

It is imperative that laws are in place to govern and protect against possible emission of harmful substances from the incinerator, as well as disposal of waste materials generated from the incineration.

As the incinerator is a costly undertaking to build and to maintain, the authorities should also ensure that taxpayers are not burdened in their assessments.

If incinerators are used, most municipal councils will find it impossible to pay the tipping fee as it's simply too expensive for them without having to raise local taxes.

The tipping fee would be in excess of RM200 for a tonne of waste, a figure well beyond most municipal councils.

In contrast, in a sanitary landfill, it costs only around RM50 to treat a tonne of household waste.

Apart from this, the waste characteristic in Malaysia is also not suitable for incineration, where high moisture content inhibits waste combustion, and pre-treatment is required to ensure the waste is suitable for incineration, thereby adding to the operation cost.

In this regard, sanitary landfills will always be miles ahead of incineration as a cost-effective technology for dealing with domestic solid waste.

The efficacious use of sanitary landfills as a method of choice for waste disposal is well known throughout the world.

It is used as a primary method of domestic waste disposal in Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and in environmentally conscious European countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy.

The authorities should learn from the failed incinerator operations in several parts of the country before contemplating undertaking another such project.

Instead, we should place our resources in improving supporting infrastructure such as transfer stations to optimise the use of sanitary landfill facilities.

S.S.W., Kuala Lumpur


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