WASTE management is no longer a trivial issue; as the population grows, so does the amount of waste generated, organic and inorganic alike, and getting rid of them is costly as it pollutes the environment.
All these are worrying.
Burning the waste in incinerators pollutes the air and the by-products still need to be dumped at landfills. And dumping at landfills causes more pollution, especially the odour and leachate.
There is also the production of methane, a greenhouse gas that causes global warming. Landfills also take up space and, with the increasing amount of waste, their usefulness is short-lived.
While the move to make households in Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur, Pahang, Malacca, Negri Sembilan, Perlis, Kedah and Johor to sort their waste into three categories from Sept 1 was lauded, there was mixed reaction when other states tried to implement it.
Terengganu took the initiative some years ago to introduce the same programme, but focusing more towards educating the public in sorting their waste.
With a population of slightly more than one million, inculcating habits that can assist the authorities to make the programme successful seem easy, but in reality, it is a challenge.
All seven districts in Terengganu are dependent on communal bins, garbage trucks and open landfills to dispose waste, and for many more years, the state has to look for new areas to be gazetted as landfills.
The Department of Environment needs to check these landfills frequently to ensure that pollutants, especially leachate, do not seep into the rivers or ground water sources.
A case in point is the landfill at Sungai Ikan, Tepoh, about 25km from Kuala Terengganu. It is the biggest landfill and has been operating for 10 years. It is located near Sungai Nerus, a tributary that flows into Sungai Terengganu.
In its early years of operation, crude dumping and burning caused concern among the people because of its close proximity to Sungai Nerus. Leachate contaminated the river, especially during the monsoon season.
The landfill is also located too close to the Kuala Terengganu-Kota Baru main road and apart from the nauseating odour, the dust may carry airborne diseases. This landfill used to be the hunting ground for scrap metal scavengers.
Following the big flood last year, efforts have been made to make the landfill ecofriendly by using a geo-textile to trap leachate and other contaminants. The design of the landfill and leachate treatment plant at Sungai Ikan was undertaken by Hexagon Synergy.
It includes the construction of a leachate collection system, a recycling centre and a tidal gate. But, the company has yet to solve the dust problem affecting motorists at the trunk road although it has built an access internal road.
Villagers living within the vicinity say there has been “a lot” of improvement since the landfill was redesigned and the leachate mitigation measures introduced, but there is a need to check the dusty road.
Some villagers want the Department of Environment to make frequent checks at the Sungai Ikan landfill not just to ensure that the leachate treatment plant functions properly, but also to monitor the water quality.
“We depend on the fish resources from the river to support our daily needs. Some of us still use wells for our water supply.
“Contamination can kill the fish in the river or slowly kill those who consume it. Drinking contaminated water can expose us to chronic diseases,” said a villager living not far from the landfill.
The writer is NST Terengganu bureau specialist writer