Sanitary landfills suit our needs

Posted on September 22, 2011. Filed under: Energy |

-The Sun-

WE REFER to “Burning trash for energy” (News without borders, Sept 15), and wish to clarify several issues.

The article is essentially on technology to manage municipal solid waste, focussing on incinerators. In examining the plausibility of using incinerators in Malaysia, the writer mentioned that the adoption of technology to treat solid waste is especially pertinent in Selangor where the availability of land is a pressing matter.

Compared to many places such as Tokyo, Vienna and other cities which are often cited as examples on the safe and successful use of incinerators, Selangor has plenty of land. Hence, the availability of land in Selangor (and Malaysia in general) does not warrant the use of incinerators, when more cost effective alternatives are available.

What is required is proper planning and infrastructure to optimise land use, such as developing regional sanitary landfills with supporting transfer stations to cater for larger catchments of waste.

Where technology is concerned, there is a common misconception that landfills are bereft of technology, and all landfills are the same. Nothing can be further from the truth. We must draw a distinction between a full-fledged, engineered sanitary landfill and regular dumpsite.

An engineered sanitary landfill allows final disposal of solid waste in a secure manner through development of modern facilities and environment protection systems. Hence, a regular dumpsite cannot be compared to an engineered sanitary landfill equipped with modern facilities.

Properly executed, sanitary landfills can present the most suitable, sustainable and socially acceptable method of waste disposal for the long-term. An engineered sanitary landfill is an efficient and cost-effective method of waste disposal, and is capable of having minimal impact on the environment.

The efficacious use of sanitary landfills as a method of choice for waste disposal is well known. It is used as a primary method of domestic waste disposal in Hongkong, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and even environmentally conscious European countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy.

With growing awareness and concern over environmental well-being, the advent of the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Act 2007 is a testimony of the government’s commitment towards developing proper means of regulating solid waste management, including building engineered facilities to replace improper methods of handling solid waste.

The Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill is one such project developed by the federal government to handle waste from Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. It is designed to handle in excess of 3,000 tonnes of waste a day, with a total capacity of about 120 million tonnes, providing a solid waste management solution for Kuala Lumpur and Selangor for more than 50 years.

As for incinerators, we must not be hasty to implement them without first establishing the basic infrastructure, and studying the impact that may arise from their introduction, in terms of safety and cost. It is imperative that adequate laws are in place to govern and protect against possible emission of harmful substances from the incinerator, as well as subsequent disposal of waste materials generated from the incineration process.

As incinerators are costly to build and to maintain, the authorities should also ensure taxpayers are not overly burdened.With regards to the incentives offered by the government for companies to adopt waste-to-power generation technology, namely the feed-in-tariffs, to offset the high cost of adopting technology such as incinerators, we must bear in mind that such incentives are not perpetual, and the feed-in-tariff under the new Renewable Energy Act is for about 20 years only, while solid waste management is a long-term issue. Even then, the public is paying for the cost indirectly via higher energy tariffs.

If incinerators are used, most municipal councils will find it impossible to pay the tipping fee as it’s too expensive for them without having to raise local taxes.The tipping fee would have been in excess of RM200 for a tonne of waste, a figure well beyond most municipal councils. In contrast, at a sanitary landfill, it only costs around RM50 to treat a tonne of household waste.

The government scrapped the proposed incineration project at Broga about five years ago due to its exorbitant cost and negative public perception. It would have cost the government RM1.5 billion to build the Broga incinerator, capable of handling only 1,200 tonnes of waste a day, and with a lifespan of about 15 years.

In comparison, with its ability to treat in excess of 3,000 tonnes of waste a day, Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill is more than capable of solving the burgeoning waste situation in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, with enough capacity to last well beyond 50 years.

Bukit Tagar, the largest sanitary landfill in Southeast Asia, incorporates state-of-the-art facilities such as the fully automated leachate treatment plant that treats 1,000 cu m of leachate a day, and “green” completed cells that allow high-level methane capture for power generation.

Equally important is that it was developed at less than 15% of the cost of the proposed Broga incinerator, while offering a much larger volume capacity, as well as being a safer, cheaper and socially acceptable solution for a much longer duration.

Another problem associated with incinerators is the risk of dioxin production. It is not confined to any one area as air currents can distribute the toxins around. Studies confirm that it is virtually impossible to eliminate dioxin, which affects the immune and neurological systems in our body.

Apart from dioxin, both air emissions and incinerator ash include heavy metals and chemicals, such as cadmium, mercury, sulphuric acid and hydrogen chloride, which require expensive technology to treat.

All these put a damper on the use of incinerators in emerging economies such as Malaysia.

On the other hand, methane gas emitted from sanitary landfills can be easily treated and converted into green energy as is being done at the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill via its comprehensive landfill gas management system which supplies green energy to the national grid.

Recognising the cost-effectiveness and efficacies of sanitary landfills, the government has embarked on plans to develop more sanitary landfills, including 11 new sanitary landfills under the 10th Malaysia Plan.

This is an endorsement that sanitary landfills are the most suitable method of solid waste disposal for the country in terms of cost-effectiveness, reliability, safety and social acceptance.

Green Technology
Kuala Lumpur

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