Friday, October 16, 2009


A revolutionary approach to integrated waste management

When I first encountered the Waste to Wealth concept in 2006 I was really excited because it seemed to me that this paradigm shift in the way we viewed garbage would have a much needed positive impact on the environment. However, apart from the slogan becoming a buzz phrase at seminars and conferences on solid waste management, there's been very little real progress in adopting this ideology. Today 95 percent of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) still ends up being dumped on one of the 289 landfills that scar the landscape, pollute the waterways and befoul the air. I call these heaving messes Jabbas after the fictitious character Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars. This is because, apart from looking a bit like a smelly garbage dump, the name Jabba has become synonymous with greed and corruption, and these are both qualities that I believe aptly describe waste management in this country.  What other explanation could there be for not adopting the Waste to Wealth model?

Jabba the Hutt - the greasy, odious, insect-ridden character from Star Wars 

 synonymous with greed and corruption

Unfortunately this is not fictitious.

As far as I know the only local council that is treating garbage as a resource is Kajang.  For the last 3 years, they have been sending 700 tons of household refuse a day to Recycle Energy Sdn. Semenyih, where 80 percent is reclaimed as recycled items or as fuel. 

How it works

Instead of going to the landfill, the garbage trucks deliver their loads to the resource recovery plant where the garbage is cleaned, dried and sorted using biological, mechanical and manual processes. As well as reclaiming the usual, organics, plastics, paper, glass and metal objects, that have an immediate resale value, they also harvest high calorific value waste and convert it to refuse derived fuel (RDF) This fuel is used to generate all the electricity they need to run the plant and the daily surplus is sent to the national grid. 

I've visited the Semenyih plant a few times over the last 3 years to see if they were really doing what they said they were going to.  The last time I was there was at the beginning of September, the same day that the Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister, Datuk Peter Chin paid a visit. He was visibly impressed with what he saw and so was I.

Datuk Peter Chin, minister for Energy, Green Technology and Water on a recent visit to Recycle Energy Sdn. Bhd.

First of all, there's none of the stench that usually accompanies raw garbage - not even the slightest whiff and there weren't any flies either. The main reason Malaysian garbage is particularly smelly is because It's very wet.  According to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, 47 percent of household waste is organic matter. Things like intestines, fish scales, prawn shells, and the like, as well as vegetable peelings and left over food. No wonder our garbage smells so bad!  Once it arrives at the plant all this wet organic stuff is immediately separated from the rest of the garbage and sent for composting.  The leachate extracted from this wet garbage is treated to class A water on site.

Then all the materials that can be immediately recycled such as metals, paper, plastics and glass, are pulled out until all that's left is the high calorific waste like plastic bags, cellophane wrappers and hygienic wipes, which constitute the RDF, and toxic stuff like batteries and empty pesticide containers which are sent to a sanitary landfill. Incidentally you might be interested to know that out of the total number of landfills in the whole country only three are sanitary. 






METAL - 4%



OTHERS - 14%

SOURCE: Malaysian Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT)

Where does the wealth come from?

A resource recovery plant is much more cost effective to run than a landfill because in addition to the tipping fee they receive from the municipal council, the technology used provides a continuous income stream from the sale of RDF-generated electricity (currently 21 sen per kilowatt) as well as creating revenue from the recovered items that can be recycled (see table below). This additional revenue ensures the sustainability of this model of waste management and allows the operator to keep the tipping fee at an affordable level. Being self-sufficient in power and water also keeps operational costs down.  Furthermore because this is a privately-funded model of waste management between MMC Berhad and Core Competencies Sdn. offers a potential RM2 billion saving to the government in terms of capital expenditure. 


PE :      RM 1.10 - 1.85/kg

PP :      RM 1.25/kg

PS :      RM 0.90/kg

HDPE resin :         RM 1.70/kg

Iron Scrap :      RM 0.70/kg

Aluminium can :     RM 3.10/kg

Based on present market prices

For more information on plastic recycling click here

I'm convinced that this model of waste management is financially viable 

and that if this approach was adopted nationwide it would immediately reduce the need for landfills by 80 percent and save money for all the stakeholders, namely: the government, the local councils and the householders.  So why don't we adopt this ideology?   

Over to you Jabba...