Waste not, want not: All across Asia, cities find new ways to deal with garbage

Shanghai Daily - - OPINION - Wan Lixin

EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL ex­perts and jour­nal­ists from Asia re­cently aired their views about best prac­tices in solid waste man­age­ment and shared their in­sights into the lo­cal­iza­tion of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment goals (SDGs) at a fo­rum in Fukuoka, Ja­pan.

The Novem­ber 27-28 fo­rum was or­ga­nized by the United Na­tions Hu­man Set­tle­ments Pro­gramme (UN-Habi­tat) Re­gional Of­fice for Asia and the Pa­cific and the Nishinip­pon Shim­bun news­pa­per, and con­sisted of an en­vi­ron­men­tal tech­nol­ogy ex­pert group meet­ing, and the 12th Asian City Jour­nal­ists Con­fer­ence.

Select par­tic­i­pants also vis­ited two solid waste treat­ment fa­cil­i­ties in Fukuoka whose im­pec­ca­bly kept san­i­ta­tion con­di­tions im­pressed vis­i­tors.

The first was the South­ern Fukuoka Re­gion Fa­cil­ity, known also as Clean EnePark Nanbu, in Ka­suga, Fukuoka, which cov­ers 92,000 square me­ters and is able to process the com­bustible waste cre­ated by the roughly 600,000 res­i­dents in the south­ern metropoli­tan Fukuoka re­gion.

Com­pleted in March 2016, the fa­cil­ity ex­pects to op­er­ate un­til March 2041.

There, trucks are au­to­mat­i­cally weighed, logged and man­aged to as­cer­tain the net weight of waste car­ried into the fa­cil­ity. The waste is then emp­tied into a large pit, at a plat­form where air cur­tains are in place to pre­vent odor from es­cap­ing to the out­side. Bulky com­bustible waste like fur­ni­ture and tatami mats are crushed by two ro­tat­ing blades, and a waste hop­per feeds the waste into a stoker in­cin­er­a­tor, where the in­te­rior tem­per­a­ture can reach 900 de­grees Cel­sius. The en­ergy pro­duced pow­ers a steam tur­bine, and the elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated can power on­site equip­ment and light­ing, or could be sold to the grid.

I no­ticed the fa­cil­ity brochures in­clude an ac­cess map and di­rec­tions on how to get to the site by train and car — all use­ful in­for­ma­tion as the fa­cil­ity also serves as an ed­u­ca­tional cen­ter, where res­i­dents and stu­dents alike can learn how waste is pro­cessed, mon­i­tor real-time ex­haust gas com­po­si­tion, or be warned of the con­se­quence when haz­ardous items get mixed up in waste. They can also learn that, even af­ter be­ing re­duced to ash, the waste con­tin­ues to be a men­ace — the ash might sit in the land­fill for years be­fore be­ing as­sessed for reuse.

As this is an open land­fill, to pre­vent rain­wa­ter from seep­ing into the soil, pipes and a seep­ing–wa­ter treat­ment fa­cil­ity are in place. Sim­i­larly, res­i­dents can walk up the steps to the top of the hill, where they can, while be­ing in­evitably awed by the size of the pit, en­joy a cy­clo­ramic view of the city.

This de­cep­tively sim­ple land­fill func­tions on the semi-aer­o­bic prin­ci­ple, whereby the heat gen­er­ated by mi­cro­bial degra­da­tion of waste raises the tem­per­a­ture in the land­fill, giv­ing rise to ther­mal con­vec­tion. This mech­a­nism, by elim­i­nat­ing the need for air-blow­ing equip­ment, makes land­fill main­te­nance and man­age­ment eas­ier.

Ac­cord­ing to Ya­sushi Mat­su­fuji, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Fukuoka Univer­sity, this semi-aer­o­bic con­cept, dis­cov­ered through an aer­o­bic land­fill ex­per­i­ment, is ac­tu­ally cen­tral to what he de­scribes as “Fukuoka Method” (FM) which has been distin­guished by its low cost, low pol­lu­tion, and low meth­ane emis­sions. Thus a land­fill ceases to be just a dump­ing area, but be­comes a place where waste gets treated. There have also been lo­cal ex­am­ples of land­fills be­ing turned into parks or schools.

Lo­cal green ef­forts

Mat­su­fuji said this method has been in­volved in tech­nol­ogy trans­fers to some de­vel­op­ing coun­tries in dozens of projects, among which is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort be­tween Fukuoka and the Ts­inghua Univer­sity since 2003, in which a land­fill in Mengzi, Yun­nan Prov­ince, has been ren­o­vated fol­low­ing the FM prin­ci­ple.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Mat­su­fuji likened a FMbased land­fill to a hu­man body, where ac­ti­vated cover soil is like the liver, lime is like the kid­ney, and leachate col­lec­tion pipes are like blood ves­sels.

Thanks to the in­ter­play of detox­i­fi­ca­tion, fil­ter­ing, re-cir­cu­la­tion, and pres­sure, such land­fills can suc­ceed in self-cleans­ing and pu­rifi­ca­tion. The pro­fes­sor added that the only ex­cep­tion seems to be the ab­sence of a “brain” in a land­fill, but pre­dicted that a brain might be added in the fu­ture.

Dur­ing the fo­rum, of­fi­cials from a select coun­tries in Asia also in­tro­duced solid waste man­age­ment prac­tice in their own coun­tries.

Mukhtar Ah­mad Shahir, san­i­ta­tion of­fi­cer at the San­i­ta­tion De­part­ment of Kabul, Afghanistan, briefed on the sit­u­a­tion in Kabul, which is be­ing rapidly ur­ban­ized (with a pop­u­la­tion of 6 mil­lion). At an el­e­va­tion of 1,790 me­ters, it is also one of the high­est cap­i­tals in the world. Ac­cord­ing to UN-Habi­tat, less than half of solid waste in Kabul is col­lected. Since 2017, the city has launched a Clean and Green Cities drive, which stresses solid waste col­lec­tion from house­holds, tree plant­ing, street sweep­ing and clean­ing up of road­side ditches.

Win­di­asti Kar­tika Ab­dur­rah­man, head of the Re­gional De­vel­op­ment Di­vi­sion, Re­gional Plan­ning Agency of the city of Ban­jar­masin, In­done­sia, gave an over­view of chal­lenges con­fronting her city in south Kal­i­man­tan — the In­done­sian part of Bor­neo.

She pointed to the ben­e­fit of com­mu­nity-based waste re­duc­tion, as sug­gested by chop­ping and com­post­ing houses. The 234 waste banks, op­er­ated by vol­un­teers and distributed through­out the city, also sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the waste. Prob­lems there in­clude in­suf­fi­cient fund­ing and low pub­lic aware­ness about the en­vi­ron­ment. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the use of plas­tic is still very high there.

Saw Win Maung, deputy head of the Pol­lu­tion Con­trol and Cleans­ing De­part­ment at Myan­mar’s Yan­gon City De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee, ex­plained the city’s fu­ture en­deav­ors, which in­clude sound waste col­lec­tion ser­vice, elim­i­nat­ing un­con­trolled dump­ing and burn­ing of waste in the cities and in­stalling en­vi­ron­men­tally sound dis­posal fa­cil­i­ties

Madan Sun­dar Shrestha, mayor of Mad­hya­pur Thimi Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Nepal, ex­plained the is­sues and chal­lenges in solid waste man­age­ment in the city, which in­clude rapid ur­ban­iza­tion, open dump­ing, the risk of un­der­ground and sur­face wa­ter pol­lu­tion, in­ad­e­quate equip­ment and in­fra­struc­ture, lack of waste sep­a­ra­tion fa­cil­ity, lim­ited cov­er­age of waste col­lec­tion ser­vice, and low aware­ness and par­tic­i­pa­tion among lo­cal res­i­dents.

Ex­perts from the Fukuoka En­vi­ron­men­tal Bu­reau shared the city’s vi­sion in push­ing for a sus­tain­able so­ci­ety. The city in­tro­duced paid garbage bags in 2005, and there ap­peared to be some fea­tures in the city’s waste treat­ment prac­tice in ad­di­tion to the Fukuoka Method. These in­clude an em­pha­sis on 3Rs (re­duce, reuse, and re­cy­cle), and night col­lec­tion (ben­e­fits in­clude higher ef­fi­ciency, as there is less traf­fic dur­ing the night, the avoid­ance of lit­ter­ing by crows, as well as the in­vis­i­bil­ity of garbage bags dur­ing the day). There is yet an­other ad­van­tage: The night op­er­a­tion is con­ducive to mak­ing safer neigh­bor­hood.

The em­pha­sis on 3Rs in the city is in­sight­ful. In “re­duce,” there is pro­mo­tion of “bring your own shop­ping bags” so as to re­duce the use of plas­tics. In 2017, 120,000 peo­ple vis­ited the city’s 3R sta­tions, which re­ceived used books, cloth­ing and other house­hold goods.

In “re­cy­cling,” the 36,000 tons of re­cy­clable waste col­lected in 2017 re­sulted in a re­duc­tion of to­tal waste by 11 per­cent.

In Fukuoka, garbage is sorted into com­bustible, in­com­bustible, bulky waste, and glass and plas­tic bot­tles. In some cities like Yoko­hama waste is di­vided into more than 10 types. In Mi­na­mata (known in the Mi­na­mata Dis­ease), Ku­mamoto Pre­fec­ture, waste is sorted into 20 cat­e­gories.

In spite of the con­sid­er­able mi­grant pop­u­la­tion in Fukuoka, the city is try­ing to raise its waste sort­ing cat­e­gories from the cur­rent four to nine in the fu­ture.

Power gen­er­ated by in­cin­er­a­tion there in 2017 was 272,000 MWh, or 62,500 house­holds’ an­nual con­sump­tion.

UN-Habi­tat em­ploy­ees and jour­nal­ists from Asia pose at the top of the land­fill at Green­hill Madoka, which com­mands a cy­clo­ramic view of Fukuoka, Ja­pan.

The land­fill at Green­hill Madoka— Pho­tos cour­tesy of UN-Habi­tat

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