Incineration: False solution proposed by the Malaysian government

We read with apprehension the solutions proposed by the Malaysian government to manage the increasing volume of solid waste in the country. The government has proposed building of three large-scale incinerators with the capacity of 1,000 tonnes of waste per day in Taman Beringin, Kuala Lumpur; Bukit Payung, Johor; and Sungai Udang, Malacca.

It was reported that Malaysians produced 33,000 tonnes of solid waste daily last year amounting to about 12 million tonnes per year and at least 95 to 97 per cent of all solid waste in Peninsular Malaysia ends up in landfills, while three to five per cent were processed in recycling factories. This is a very dismal recycling rate and sheer waste of valuable resources which could otherwise have been recovered for use.

The Malaysian government has been dilly-dallying in taking measures to reduce waste generation. Instead, it is opting for an expensive, unwise solution of incinerating resources. Sadly, Malaysia has already built a number of small incinerators in Langkawi, Tioman, Pangkor and Cameron Highlands although it is not a good strategy.

Our source in Cameron Highlands states that an incinerator in the highland which had been completed more than a year ago is not in operation, presumably because it is too expensive to operate as more fuel is needed to incinerate the mostly organic waste generated. High-moisture content materials such as organic waste are often too wet to burn on a self-sustaining basis, requiring the input of another fuel.  This escalates cost of operations and poses financial burden.

CAP had opposed numerous proposals to build incinerators in the country because of its potential harm to public health, environment, economy and climate.  Moreover, the wastes generated are highly amenable to source segregation, composting and recycling. Composting is often neglected within our municipal solid waste management programmes although it can be done in a very small scale and low tech, taking place in residents’ backyards or at neighbourhood level.

Opting for incineration would lock local communities into ever-increasing solid waste management costs.   Malaysians who do not oppose incineration would end up subsidizing an obsolete expensive technology while hampering new systems that can lower costs in the short and long term.

Incineration and other polluting end-of-pipe waste technologies are not logical solutions to our waste crisis.  We need to move towards “Zero Waste” which is a whole system approach that aims for a massive change in the way materials flow through society, resulting in no waste. We need to implement waste diversion through reducing consumption, resource recovery, composting, recycling and ensuring that products are made to be reused, repaired or recycled back into nature or the marketplace.

We urge the Malaysian government to invest in zero waste practices and eliminate all ideas of incineration.

Letter to the Editor, 28 August 2013