KL incinerator project a waste of taxpayers’ money

The Sun Daily
March 9th, 2012

IT'S perplexing to read the announcement by Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Chor Chee Heung that the government will be calling for international tenders to build an incinerator to cater for Kuala Lumpur's waste.

In 2007, the government scrapped the proposed incinerator project in Broga, and incurred a loss of over RM200 million in compensation paid to the project developer. At that time, both the deputy prime minister and housing and local government minister justified the cancellation and massive compensation paid on the grounds that the incinerator was simply too expensive to build and operate.

At the material time, the deputy prime minister was quoted as saying the incinerator was very expensive, and the government had several alternatives, including using the sanitary landfill system in Bukit Tagar, to resolve waste disposal problems in the country.

It's incomprehensible why the government is even considering building an incinerator for KL waste when there is an existing facility such as the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill which is specifically built as a regional landfill catering for Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.

The minister cited the growing waste volume in Kuala Lumpur as the reason for requiring the incinerator. However, the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill can easily handle in excess of 3,000 tons of waste daily, and has enough capacity to cater to the burgeoning waste volume in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor for over 50 years. Bukit Tagar's capacity is way beyond the 800 to 1,000 tons capacity of the incinerator quoted by the minister, and its lifespan of over 50 years far exceeds the average 15-year lifespan of a typical incinerator.

More importantly, the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill was developed at less than 15% of the cost of the proposed Broga incinerator (which would have cost the government RM1.5 billion), while offering a much larger volume capacity, as well as being a safer, cheaper and socially acceptable solution for a much longer duration.

We must not be hasty to implement the incinerator without first establishing the basic infrastructure, and studying the impact that may arise from introducing the incinerator, 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.

As the incinerator is costly to build and maintain, the authorities should also ensure taxpayers are not overly burdened in their assessments. 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 be in excess of RM200 for a ton of waste, a figure well beyond most municipal councils. In contrast, at a sanitary landfill, it only costs around RM50 to treat a ton of household waste.

Apart from this, the waste characteristic in Malaysia is also not suitable for incineration where high moisture content severely inhibits waste combustion, and pre-treatment is required to ensure the waste is suitable for incineration, thereby adding to the operation cost.

In this regard, sanitary landfills will always be miles ahead of incineration as a cost-effective technology for dealing with our domestic solid waste.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 Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the US, and even environmentally conscious European countries such as the UK and Italy.

The authorities should take a leaf from the failed incinerator operations in several parts of the country before contemplating another such project. For the time being, with facilities like the Bukit Tagar sanitary landfill in place to provide long-term solid waste management solution for Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, an incinerator is a luxury and risk we can do without.

Instead, we should place our resources in improving supporting infrastructure such as transfer stations to further optimise the use of sanitary landfill facilities.


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