Time to clean up

Posted on December 14, 2010. Filed under: Waste |

-The Star-

THE core problem with municipal solid waste management in Malaysia is waste quantity and composition. We are generating almost 30,000 tonnes a day and it is increasing at 3% annually.

Many specialists have proposed incineration as the quick solution. Will it really solve our problem? You can implement the best practices in the world but, without committed source separation, no technology can function effectively or will be economically sustainable. The only hope to solve the problem is the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act which was passed in August 2007 but has not been implemented for several reasons. The implementation of this Act has to be expedited to see tangible changes in waste management here. At the end of the day, the approach has to be an integrated waste management system involving several technological options.

We need a clear policy on our plans for the next 50 years. Are we going to introduce modern technologies without educating the public on source separation? How can we change the attitude of the public towards waste minimisation? In most cases, introducing the “carrot and stick” method has worked well. But we do not have any specific regulations for recycling, unlike in Japan where specific regulations stipulate the procedures and incentives of reduction of waste.

Banning plastics might solve some problems since 15% to 24% of municipal solid waste is plastics. It is causing havoc in our landfills in terms of space, landfill gas and leachate.

Alternately, use of bio-plastics might help but are we willing to pay the extra cost? The government should give a clear signal to the public instead of giving in to lobby groups. Waste disposal should use degradable plastic bags to avoid the serious impacts caused by plastics in landfills.

There are more than 170 dumps (actually no one knows the exact number of illegal dumps and it keeps changing every time a survey is done) which are at various stages of closure. The environmental pollution caused is immeasurable, in terms of global warming due to passive release of landfill gas, particularly methane. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in global warming potential and hence it has to be tackled effectively. One option is to oxidise the methane to carbon dioxide using “biocover”. Also, in many instances, leachate simply flows into nearby water bodies, causing serious pollution problems.

Hopefully, we will get a clear signal on the waste management policy with specific, achievable targets and technology for the future. Waste management is a multi-billion ringgit sector and everyone wants a piece of the cake, even if they know nothing about waste management.

Dr P. Agamuthu

Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur

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