CAP:’Don’t listen to waste incineration peddlers’

Posted on April 7, 2011. Filed under: Waste | We refer to the column on Comment by Dr Ahmad Ibrahim (NST, 6 April 2011), where waste incineration, in particular plasma incineration, is being touted as a solution to Malaysia’s waste-management issue and to produce clean, climate-friendly energy.

Ahmad rightly states that our citizens are concerned about the emission of dioxin and other health-threatening gases from incinerators.

We ought to be concerned, for even the most technologically advanced incinerators release thousands of pollutants that would contaminate our air, soil and water.

Many of these pollutants are carcinogenic and threaten public health even at very low levels.

We are not assured that using plasma arc technology will be made safe. Furthermore the question remains whether this technology can be justified.

As with other disposal methods, using plasma incineration will mean continuing to exploit more natural resources, rather than conserving resources and energy.

It is a myth that waste incineration is a source of renewable energy. The fact is that municipal waste is non-renewable, consisting of discarded materials such as paper, plastic and glass that are derived from finite natural resources such as forests that are being depleted at unsustainable rates.

Burning these materials in order to generate electricity creates a demand for “waste” and discourages much-needed efforts to conserve resources, reduce packaging and waste and encourage recycling and composting.

More than 90 percent of materials that would be disposed of in incinerators and landfills can be reused, recycled and composted.

Providing subsidies or incentives for incineration would encourage destruction of these materials, rather than investing in environmentally sound and energy conserving practices such as recycling and composting.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States, ‘waste to energy’ incinerators and landfills contribute far higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions and overall energy throughout their lifecycles than source reduction, reuse and recycling of the same materials.

Incineration also drives a climate changing cycle of new resources extracted out of the earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then wasted in incinerators and landfills.

Although incinerators require huge capital investment, they offer relatively few jobs when compared to recycling. Incinerators would create massive economic burdens as they are expensive.

Billions of taxpayer dollars have to be spent subsidising the construction and operations of incinerators.

Thus it is ironic to say that only through such innovations as incinerator technologies that Malaysia can eventually reach the high income targets that the country aspires.

Better alternatives to incinerating and landfilling materials exist. Most things can and should be safely and economically recycled or reused.

But most importantly we need to simply use less and redesign our products so that they are toxic-free and durable.

We urge the government to invest in ecological solutions to the country’s waste and energy issues and not be deceived by incinerator peddlers.

SM MOHAMED IDRIS is president of the Consumers’ Association of Penang.


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