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 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.”
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.