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Transforming solid waste management

BACHOK: Malaysia requires a transformation in its national solid waste management policy as the current system requires improvement.

Universiti Malaysia Kelantan Faculty of Biochemistry and Technology (FBKT) lecturer Associate Professor Dr Wan Mohd Faizal Wan Ishak said this was reflected in the Auditor-General's Report Series 1, which found areas of non-compliance with Key Performance Indicators for landfill operations and leachate treatment plants.

In the report, solid waste disposal management at landfills and incineration plants under the supervision of the National Solid Waste Management Department and the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation was found to be less efficient and effective, posing a risk to the environment.

Faizal said the problems arose because solid waste which should have been processed by the four approved incinerator plants was sent elsewhere due to a delay in installation of three of those plants.

"We do not know the extent to which the technology is being studied, the suitability of local solid waste which has different characteristics compared with the country of origin of the incinerator, and related problems due to maintenance, high energy usage and secondary pollution.

"The use of sanitary landfilling is relatively outdated and conventional. The high amount of rainfall will cause the production of leachate, which will pollute the surrounding areas and enter the groundwater.

"The slow decay process produces a foul odour and this causes the surrounding area to be shunned by the population.

"This can indirectly cause the value of the land or housing there to fall sharply, because many are not willing to inhabit the surrounding area."

Faizal was of the opinion that various methods can be used for solid waste management, depending on the end goal.

"If we consider solid waste as a useful raw material, if processed well, it can give good returns. Among the final products we get are methane gas, compost and some other materials, depending on the composition of the waste.

"Using incinerator technology requires very high initial expenditure, and the high water composition in this solid waste requires high energy. Technology like this cannot be developed comprehensively in Malaysia, causing us to depend on foreign countries. The cost to operate this system is also high and the energy generated by this incinerator cannot sustain its operating energy."

Although incinerators have been successfully used in foreign countries, this does not necessarily mean that it can be implemented here due to the difference in the solid waste composition.

"The lack of data for the composition of solid waste will make it difficult for incinerator suppliers to produce specifications that are suitable for our country's use," Faizal said.

The production of methane gas from solid waste also requires a large infrastructure because the leachate material and foul smell will still be produced.

According to Faizal, the current waste segregation campaign has yet to show results and this process needs to be further streamlined to achieve its implementation goals.

"There is no point in isolating at the source if all the rubbish is eventually dumped in the same place, without making choices for its disposal," he said.

He suggested that a drastic change be made in the country's solid waste management methods, using biotechnology to process solid waste either on a large or small scale and which does not require a large expenditure.

He said solid waste management can be implemented in every housing estate or village by providing small scale infrastructure, while leachate can be avoided or drained back and processed together with the solid waste to prevent odour pollution.

"The resulting compost can be used for agriculture with minor addition of minerals such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium according to the suitability of the crop. It is a simple, fast and secure process which brings many benefits at a very low cost.

"This method, using biotechnology, can be developed by FBKT using local expertise that is suitable as a community project."

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