Start fresh with the waste to energy initiatives — Santha Manickam

MAY 20 — The recent discussions on waste management in Malaysia have been positive. But more information needs to be circulated especially by the new Pakatan Harapan government on what will be the next move.

The Housing and Local Government Ministry has said that it will change — in stages — the waste management system in the country, with most support for waste to energy (WTE) plants. 

This is the future, although we have to avoid the mistakes we’ve had before with incinerators, for example in Cameron Highlands and Langkawi. 

They were old-fashioned incinerators and not modern WTEs which are clean and efficient, with safe emissions. They are in most major developed cities around the world.

However, there is confusion about where these WTEs are to be built. I read press reports, which I hope are incorrect, that present landfill sites will become the new WTE sites. This is a worrying development.

To begin with, retired landfills are usually turned into parks or golf courses, like Mount Trashmore Park in the US. They can’t deal with heavy structures because the waste underneath can create sinkholes. 

This is why housing projects are a big no-no for former landfills. This forces the question, why even try to consider landfills for these future WTEs?

More importantly, the landfills produce methane gas which is inflammable. How can a modern incinerator which is primarily dealing with fire be situated in a flammable environment? 

The WTE plants should be placed in areas which have suitability for the technology. Landfills are not the perfect places for WTE, and it is tempting fate to do so.

The final reason is important from a cost perspective. WTEs are safe in populated areas, and being close to the source helps reduce the cost of transporting the waste. 

Our present landfills are in locations away from population as they are eyesores, and drive property prices down. To place WTEs far away increases costs.

With a government already heavily in debt, the spiralling cost of waste management will be passed to ratepayers. 

This is guaranteed to happen as in all developed nations, residents pay for council fees which go in the majority to waste management. 

In Australia the average ratepayer across the town councils pays more than RM3,800 a year. And in Britain, the average is over RM6,300. Would Malaysians appreciate paying more to transport garbage?

Ironically, transporting waste to distant landfills, or now WTEs, will emit pollution from the transportation. 

There are 42,627 tonnes of waste produced daily, which means transporting 15.5 million tonnes annually in trucks. Which is why by 2020, the European Union would fine countries up to RM5 million a day if they send more than 35 per cent of their waste to landfills.

So to the ministry, good work on steadily moving on this issue. The new WTEs will be great for our waste management if they are placed in the right spots. 

I would welcome any forums organised by the ministry to share information and receive public feedback on the waste management issue. To avoid problems in the future.

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

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