2012 Auditor General Report on Incinerator Projects in Malaysia Validates CAP’s Concern and Objection

The Auditor General’s 2012 report reveals weaknesses and unsatisfactory performance of incinerators constructed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) had submitted our objections when the government proposed the incinerator plants using the autogenous combustion technology (ACT) developed by XCN Technology Sdn Bhd.

In 2009, CAP had commented on the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) of the four proposed incinerator projects i.e. in Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Pangkor, Pulau Tioman and Cameron Highlands, highlighting our concerns.

First of all, from the DEIA report we found that the proposed technology was largely a laboratory experiment and unproven in large-scale, real-world situations.    There was lack of independent studies to demonstrate that the technology was safe.

Since there was no actual data of emissions performance, feasibility and cost-effectiveness for an incinerator of similar capacity as the proposed plants, how can anyone assure that the incinerators would perform and able to comply with emission standards?

CAP was concerned how an assessment of a technology can be made based on assumptions and without any actual indication whether the air pollution control system would work. We pointed out that a flawed assessment based on assumptions would bring about negative consequences to public health and environment. But then, our views were ignored.

Besides this, the ACT equipped rotary kiln was reported to have been proposed by the Cabinet Committee on Solid Waste and Environment Management.  The DEIA executive summary did not set out the rationale for the Cabinet Committee in arriving at the decision.  CAP believes that since the decision by the Cabinet Committee had been made, this incinerator option was promoted at the expense of other safer alternatives.

CAP also pointed out that neither high temperatures nor pollution control equipment can make incinerators safe.  Pollution control equipment does not eliminate pollution.  It mostly traps it and concentrates pollutants shifting most, but not all of the pollution from the exhaust gas to other environmental media.

The waste that was generated in these areas was mostly organic waste which should have been composted. There is no doubt that there are challenges to reaching high diversion rates especially in islands and highlands: setting up new collection methods, ensuring public participation, finding markets for collected materials, etc. Other countries and municipal councils have faced the same challenges and solved them.  Thus there is no reason why waste reduction efforts can not be done in Malaysia.

The government should take into consideration the problems associated with these failed incinerator projects.  CAP is of the view that the Auditor General should have denounced incineration so that the Malaysian government drops the idea of incineration completely. In view of our local condition, the alternative waste model posing minimal impact to the environment should be towards a zero waste approach, promoting sustainable discard management systems and clean production.

Letter to the Editor, 10 October 2013