Support Zuraida’s waste to energy plans — Sharifah Danisah Syed Ibrahim

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MAY 12 — Nobody talks about garbage until they smell the stink. Malaysia has to act soon or face major problems in the future. When we all throw up because of the smell.

I wrote two years ago about the use of Waste to Energy (WTE) plants, when government was deciding whether to go with it or not. We cannot wait too long.

My feeling about the matter became worse when the news from Pasir Gudang chemical dumping and the latest news about the world oceans dying from plastic from 10 rivers, most of the from Asia.

Malaysia must act and not just react.

Lessons are down south.

Jakarta-owned developer PT Jakarta Propertindo (Jakpro) and Finnish energy company Fortum are rushing to complete their plant. They have to take 2,200 tonnes of the 7,000 tonnes the city produces daily. When operational in 2021 it can produce 35 megawatts per hour (Mwh) of electricity.

Will Kuala Lumpur wait till we are in a desperate situation before we choose to act?

Thank god, minister for local government, Zuraida Kamaruddin has been listening and keeping up with the developments. She has come out in support for WTE in Parliament and for other interviews. She mentioned Bukit Payung and Seelong (Johor), Jabi and Samling (Kedah) and Bukit Tagar (Selangor) as potential sites for the plants. It is curious she said Bukit Tagar because it is also where the landfill is. Are we going to see Bukit Tagar landfill turn into a WTE plant?

WTE is more immediate than other, for three reasons. One, it is cleaner with minimum harm to the environment and uses less space, which landfills cannot compare. Two, proven in over a generation across Europe therefore not experimental. And three, it gives energy.

There is an additional reason, one landfill proponents don’t want to admit, landfills are meant to be far away from population zones. They are the shame we try to hide. It costs more money to send them there, and the transportation emits pollution. Which also tempts some garbage companies to look for even closer and cheaper illegal solutions, like how we saw in Johor.

Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, United Kingdom and France rely heavily more on WTEs than landfills, and in many cases landfills are below 2%. It's countries like Greece, Malta, Slovakia and Bulgaria who rely heavily on landfills. (Eurostat figures for Municipal Waste Treatment in 2017) As Malaysians, whose example to follow, the more advanced and environmentally conscious nations, or struggling nations with low national interest in the environment?

Of course increasing composting to clear organic waste is best, but it requires a highly organised and disciplined population, along with strong legislation supported by heavy enforcement. While there are massive spikes in Belgium and Germany, overall Europe is producing on average more garbage per capita, over 700kg per person per annum.

The situation is far worse here in Malaysia. We produce more waste, and it is not going to go down in the medium term.

While education on reducing, separating waste and personal composting can be put into practice, it will take a lot of time to yield results.

In the medium run, there has to be cost-efficient and environment-friendly solutions and WTEs are it.  The government knows it, but the fear-mongering by several groups relying on ancient stories about first generation incinerators is making politicians worried. These groups fear incinerators but appear to be ignorant about WTEs, or choose to be so.

This is a situation where government wants to do the right thing, WTEs, but waiting for the right time to do it. The people must back the government on this. Have all the regulations and involvement of all environmental protocols, but get the WTEs going.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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