A heap of landfill woes

Posted on November 1, 2010. Filed under: Waste |

-The Star- KUALA LUMPUR: The long-standing landfill problem has affected almost everyone in the country.

Besides causing social and environmental problems, landfills are also economically detrimental.

Local councils are spending between 30% and 80% of their assessment collection for waste treatment. And, these councils do nothing more than make the garbage pile up into a seemingly endless problem.

The bad management of most landfills has resulted in several “time bombs”. One “exploded” in Sept-ember when leachate from a landfill in Semenyih contaminated Sungai Kembong and Sungai Beranang, the intake points of the Sungai Semenyih water treatment plant.

The plant was forced to close down due to high levels of ammonia, causing a 14-hour water supply disruption, which resulted in about a million consumers in Petaling, Hulu Langat, Sepang, Kuala Langat and Putrajaya being affected by it.

Such problems, according to Association of Environmental Con­sultants and Contractors of Malaysia chairman Datuk Dr Abu Bakar Jaafar, were bound to happen.

“Virtually all landfills in Malaysia were established by designation instead of by design, except for the new sanitary landfills,” he said.

According to the Housing and Local Government Ministry, there are 176 operating landfill sites, another 114 end-of-life sites and only eight sanitary landfills in the country.

This means that only eight landfills were constructed according to specifications while the rest are polluting the environment and ruining public health in varying degrees.

And, then there are the illegal ones.

“When local authorities need to discard waste, they just find some place and dump everything there without any planning, engineering and even site selection to see if it is safe. When people start complaining about stench, pests and scavengers, they just bring lorries full of soil to cover them,” he said.

Dr Abu Bakar is the former director-general of the Department of Environment, where he had worked for about 20 years.

“I was kept busy by landfill fires that often broke out in the middle of the night. Some scavengers burned mattresses to retrieve metal parts, leading to landfills on fire,” he said.

Even the closure of landfills was done shoddily. “Often, closures did not meet standards and before you know it, low-cost flats and housing projects were built on these sites.”

“I would not be surprised if one day a house blows up all of a sudden as there is gas in these badly closed landfills.” he said.

Dr Abu Bakar said he was disappointed that the situation had not improved much after all these years. A waste management report submitted by Malaysia to the United Nations back in 1971 bore close resemblance to the current situation.

He said the Environmental Quality Act addressed mainly pollution caused by factories, while only the Local Government Act, and Street, Drainage and Building Act addressed wastes produced at home.

“Even so, the laws are ineffective and outdated,” he said.

Dr Abu Bakar proposed a comprehensive structure for the treatment of solid waste, covering three categories namely dry, perishable and toxic waste from home, and eventually be recycled or be used to regenerate energy.

“An effective structure for waste management requires the commitment of at least 11 ministries,” he said.

“If that can be in place, we won’t need landfills.”

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