Up in smoke

Weighed down by the bur­den of mount­ing trash in our midst, the Govern­ment is look­ing to in­cin­er­a­tors as a quick-fix so­lu­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Sto­ries by TAN CHENG LI star2­green@thes­tar.com.my

THE con­tro­ver­sial waste in­cin­er­a­tor project in Broga, Se­lan­gor, may be off but the Govern­ment has not given up plans to build huge burn­ers that will quickly and con­ve­niently re­duce all our filth to ash. In­cin­er­a­tors, to­gether with land­fills, re­main as one of the op­tions to dis­pose of the 1kg of trash which each of us gen­er­ates daily.

Cur­rently, con­struc­tion of five small in­cin­er­a­tors in re­mote, far-flung sites are near­ing com­ple­tion. The one in Pu­lau Pangkor is now un­der­go­ing test­ing. The plants in Langkawi and Cameron High­lands will go through the same pro­ce­dure by year-end and those in Tioman and Labuan, next year. If all goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the in­cin­er­a­tors should start raz­ing trash next year.

Depart­ment of Na­tional Solid Waste Man­age­ment di­rec­tor-gen­eral Datuk Dr Nadzri Ya­haya says in­cin­er­a­tors were deemed the best so­lu­tion for these sites as they face land scarcity.

This is not our first at­tempt at waste in­cin­er­a­tion. Small in­cin­er­a­tors had been built in Langkawi, Pangkor, Labuan, Tioman and Tereng­ganu in the late 1990s. All had failed due to faulty de­sign, poor main­te­nance, im­proper op­er­a­tion and high diesel us­age. So it is un­der­stand­able why peo­ple are wary of any new in­cin­er­a­tor plans.

Nadzri al­lays such fears, say­ing: “The new in­cin­er­a­tors are tai­lor-made to suit lo­cal waste char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as high mois­ture con­tent of 60% to 70%. In the past, waste in­cin­er­a­tors failed as they were of Euro­pean make and not suit­able for our waste. The new in­cin­er­a­tors will also have the cost-ef­fec­tive el­e­ment in­serted, in­clud­ing low op­er­a­tion cost.”

As for con­cerns over foul gaseous emis­sions, par­tic­u­larly of diox­ins, Nadzri says new in­cin­er­a­tion technology and de­sign will ad­dress the prob­lem.

“Dioxin is re­leased if the burn­ing tem­per­a­ture is low. If the burn­ing ca­pac­ity of the in­cin­er­a­tor goes above 800°C, all dioxin will be burned off and de­stroyed.”

He says dur­ing test­ing and com­mis­sion­ing of the five in­cin­er­a­tors, there will be checks to en­sure that dioxin emis­sions meet the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­ment’s stan­dard. “Plants that fail to com­ply will not be com­mis­sioned. An­other safe­guard is the plants’ emer­gency re­sponse plans (ERP) – should the tem­per­a­ture drop to be­low ac­cepted lev­els, the plant will be shut down to pre­vent any toxic re­leases.”

Trash burn­ers

De­signed by XCN Technology, the five in­cin­er­a­tors are of the ro­tary kiln type with a dif­fer­ent ca­pac­ity each: Langkawi (100 tonnes a day), Labuan (50 tonnes), Cameron High­lands (40 tonnes), Pangkor (20 tonnes) and Tioman (10 tonnes). The costs range from RM20.3mil to RM68.4mil. Only the Langkawi plant will be a waste-to-en­ergy fa­cil­ity, ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing 1MW of elec­tric­ity.

The in­cin­er­a­tors use au­to­ge­nous com­bus­tion technology (ACT), which in­volves the us­age of a ro­tary kiln and an air-in­jec­tion sys­tem to en­sure con­tin­u­ous com­bus­tion. Re­cy­clables will be re­moved from the waste prior to in­cin­er­a­tion. Emis­sions re­sult­ing from the com­bus­tion process will be treated by a com­bi­na­tion of pol­lu­tion con­trol sys­tems to re­move dust par­tic­u­lates, acid gases, ni­tro­gen ox­ides, heavy met­als and dioxin.

Solid waste leachate and waste­water from the plant and truck wash­ings will be di­rected to a waste­water treat­ment plant prior to dis­charge. An end-of-pipe con­tin­u­ous emis­sions mon­i­tor­ing sys­tem will be in­stalled to monitor com­pli­ance to DOE re­quire­ments. The re­sult­ing ash from the in­cin­er­a­tion will be dis­posed of at a land­fill.

Ex­cept for met­als and con­struc­tion ma­te­rial, all kinds of waste will feed the in­cin­er­a­tors. Diesel is needed only when start­ing up. Once the plant is run­ning, heat gen­er­ated from the com­bus­tion will fuel the plant.

The in­cin­er­a­tors sit on ex­ist­ing dump­sites. These old land­fills will be up­graded to meet min­i­mum en­vi­ron­men­tal safety re­quire­ments in or­der to re­ceive fly ash, the residue from the in­cin­er­a­tion.

Who will op­er­ate the five in­cin­er­a­tors has not been de­cided. “Ei­ther we go for open ten­der or we give to the de­vel­oper or technology provider first for a year or two and then open ten­der for it,” says Nadzri.

The Con­sumers As­so­ci­a­tion of Pe­nang (CAP), how­ever, doubts the technology be­hind the in­cin­er­a­tors; the EIAs re­ported that it has only been tested in a pi­lot plant.

“The pro­posed technology is un­proven in large-

scale, real-world sit­u­a­tion,” says CAP pres­i­dent S.M. Mohamed Idris. “Since there is no ex­ist­ing ac­tual data of emis­sions per­for­mance, fea­si­bil­ity and cost-ef­fec­tive­ness for a plant of sim­i­lar ca­pac­ity, how can it be as­sured that the plant would per­form and be able to com­ply with emis­sion stan­dards?”

Idris says al­though in­cin­er­a­tor fumes pass through fil­ter sys­tems, sig­nif­i­cant lev­els of ni­tro­gen ox­ides and fine par­ti­cles are still re­leased. He says the car­cino­genic dioxin is re­leased in trace quan­ti­ties which the in­dus­try nor­mally states as “in­signif­i­cant” amounts but be­cause dioxin is toxic and per­sis­tent, even minute traces can be dan­ger­ous.

“These amounts build up in the en­vi­ron­ment, hu­man tis­sue and fat, and con­se­quently be­come a larger amount within the body and en­vi­ron­ment. So for pol­lu­tants such as diox­ins, any amount of emis­sion is un­ac­cept­able,” says Idris.

Mean­while, an­other con­tro­versy hangs over the in­cin­er­a­tor project. It was re­ported in May 2009 that a chief as­sis­tant di­rec­tor from the Hous­ing and Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­istry had pleaded not guilty to ac­cept­ing RM100,000 from XCN Technology in con­nec­tion with the in­cin­er­a­tors in Pangkor and Langkawi.

Nadzri de­clines to com­ment on this is­sue, cit­ing on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He says all projects to be awarded to con­sul­tants or contractors go through a strict regime. They are eval­u­ated by a com­mit­tee – not just the di­rec­tor-gen­eral – be­fore rec­om­men­da­tions are made to the ten­der board for a de­ci­sion. Even for re­stricted ten­ders, ap­proval is sought from the Trea­sury.

An­other Broga and mini-Bro­gas

Mean­while, an in­cin­er­a­tor for the Klang Val­ley re­mains in the pic­ture.

“Aside from the five small in­cin­er­a­tors, we’re look­ing at big­ger in­cin­er­a­tors for ur­ban ar­eas such as Kuala Lumpur, where waste amounts to 2,000 tonnes a day. But it will not be as big as the 1,500-tonne plant for Broga. We’re think­ing around 1,000 tonnes. But it must be able to gen­er­ate en­ergy so we can har­ness power for a small in­dus­trial area or as fuel to run the plant,” says Nadzri.

He brushes aside talk that in­cin­er­a­tors are a quick-fix to the waste prob­lem. “In­cin­er­a­tors are one of the many op­tions. Zero waste and waste min­imi­sa­tion is on­go­ing, and part and par­cel of the 3R pro­grammes and ac­tiv­i­ties. The sort­ing at source that we are go­ing to in­tro­duce un­der the Solid Waste Man­age­ment and Pub­lic Cleans­ing Act 2007 is a min­imi­sa­tion ap­proach. We are also look­ing at pos­si­bil­i­ties of di­vert­ing food waste from hawker cen­tres and eater­ies to some plants that can turn them into com­post and har­ness the gas. We need to ex­plore the many pos­si­bil­i­ties. A com­bi­na­tion of strate­gies needs to be in place.”

He also dis­agrees with views that we are squan­der­ing use­ful ma­te­ri­als such as plas­tics when we in­cin­er­ate them. “We will only build in­cin­er­a­tors that also func­tion as IPPs (in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers). These will burn waste and gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity at the same time. We don’t want to just burn and waste re­sources. Over­seas, all in­cin­er­a­tors gen­er­ate en­ergy.”

Mean­while, sev­eral lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have taken mat­ters into their own hands, and are plan­ning their own in­cin­er­a­tors. The Am­pang Jaya Mu­nic­i­pal Coun­cil in Se­lan­gor, for in­stance, has in­cluded an in­cin­er­a­tor near Ta­man Saga and Ta­man Bukit Ter­atai in its lo­cal plan. But scores of small in­cin­er­a­tors pep­per­ing the land­scape is not what the Fed­eral Govern­ment has in mind to solve our waste woes.

Nadzri is un­aware of the Am­pang Jaya plan and says the cap­i­tal and op­er­at­ing ex­pen­di­tures need scru­tiny. Smaller in­cin­er­a­tors are less eco­nom­i­cal to run – which is why the five new plants are govern­ment-backed and not pri­vate-sec­tor-in­vested.

“At present, I don’t think Am­pang Jaya has the fi­nan­cial re­sources to build and op­er­ate an in­cin­er­a­tor. For a 500tonne-a-day ca­pac­ity in­cin­er­a­tor, we are look­ing at maybe RM500mil to build and a tip­ping fees of more than RM100 per tonne,” says Nadzri.

He says presently, all tech­nolo­gies on solid waste must first be eval­u­ated by a spe­cial com­mit­tee un­der the Hous­ing and Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­istry be­fore im­ple­men­ta­tion. Also, any pro­posed solid waste man­age­ment fa­cil­ity would re­quire ap­proval and li­cens­ing from his depart­ment.

But many re­mained piqued that other means to cur­tail waste have not been thor­oughly ex­plored be­fore we go down the same path.

“We should be go­ing for zero waste,” as­serts Leela Panikkar, di­rec­tor of con­ser­va­tion group Treat Ev­ery En­vi­ron­ment Spe­cial (TrEES). “If we con­tinue to rely on in­cin­er­a­tors and land­fills to deal with our waste, we will not im­ple­ment other waste re­duc­tion strate­gies. We’ll just keep on build­ing in­cin­er­a­tors. For in­stance, why are man­u­fac­tur­ers not look­ing at re­duc­ing plas­tic pack­ag­ing in or­der to re­duce plas­tic waste?”

Her views, though shared by many, are not the Govern­ment’s. So, like it or not, in­cin­er­a­tors will soon be a fea­ture of the Malaysian land­scape, just like how they are in Ja­pan and the Scan­di­na­vian coun­tries, which rely mostly on the technology to han­dle their wastes.

Dump­ster divers: Chil­dren scav­eng­ing for use­ful ma­te­ri­als such as plas­tics and met­als at the land­fill in Bukit Berun­tung, Se­lan­gor. Our throw­away so­ci­ety is cre­at­ing a se­ri­ous waste prob­lem. – Norafifi Eh­san / The Star

Up in arms: Cameron High­lands folk protest­ing the garbage in­cin­er­a­tor in Kam­pung

Raja, in June.

Work­ers sort­ing out plas­tic bags for re­cy­cling at a fac­tory in Se­lan­gor. Many say we should min­imise waste first – such as through re­cy­cling – be­fore mov­ing to­wards in­cin­er­a­tion.

‘A com­bi­na­tion of strate­gies need to be in place,’ says Datuk Dr Nadzri Ya­haya.

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