On July 2007, the Solid Waste and Public Cleansing Management Bill 2007 and the Solid Waste and Public Management Corporation Bill 2007 were passed by the Parliament.
Consequential amendments were also made to three other related Bills and were passed.
They were Local Government (Amendment) Bill; Street, Drainage and Building (Amendment) Bill; and the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Bill.
The Bills will result in the setting-up of a National Solid Waste Management Department as the regulatory body and the Solid Waste Management Corporation to take over the role of managing solid waste from the local authorities.
In the name of recycling, reducing and reusing, the Bill was passed. Without it, the waste concessionaires now sign yearly contracts with individual local authorities to collect and dispose of rubbish, face the difficulty of collecting payment for their services. With the passing of the Bills, the people will be made to pay for the garbage collection service.
The Bills were formulated after the plan to privatize the solid waste management run sour in the northern region, with Northern Waste Management backed out and Environment Idaman, tasked by the Housing and Local Government Ministry to handle solid waste in Penang, Perak, Perlis and Kedah, complaining unable to take over the job from many councils.
Landfill has traditionally been the predominant and principal method of waste disposal in Malaysia. A sanitary landfill site is a waste disposal facility where waste is deposited into the ground and covered. As part of the country’s waste management strategy, the federal government aspires to develop properly engineered sanitary landfills to replace traditional facilities.
Is landfill a viable option for solid waste management? The folly of past practice revealed that even the well managed sanitary landfills lacked subsurface barriers to prevent toxic substances – perhaps from discarded materials such as household cleaning agents, used automobile batteries, waste oils and solvents – from leaching into water supplies. Moisture seeping through the ground also caused metal drums and barrels to rust and leak, eventually releasing their toxic contents.
Rapid development and lack of space for new landfills make acquisition of large land areas a time consuming and difficult proposition, always end up with protest from the public. If the locations of landfills are located far from the municipal areas, it will incur high haulage cost. Further more landfill gas emission, resulted from degradation of biodegradable waste, posed another problem. How the landfill operator going to collect and combust the gas to destroy the toxic contents? All these required hefty investment, which local governments can ill-afford.
Although the Cabinet in 2005 endorsed the Nation Strategic Plan, which outlined an integrated and holistic approach of waste management, this is what the federal government and the concessionaires delivered to us.
According to the Star (21 March 2006), the concessionaires say sorting out our dumpsite woes will require closure of existing old dumps and replacing them with a few large engineered landfills and backing that up with a network of waste transfer stations. At the transfer stations, recyclables will be recovered and the waste, compacted for easier transportation to the landfill.
These ideas are contained in their master plans. Southern Waste Management (SWM), for instance, plans to build three engineered landfills in Johor and one each in Malacca and Negri Sembilan over the next 20 years.
Alam Flora’s strategy for the Klang Valley includes two landfills; an incinerator and nine waste transfer stations. For Pahang, it is planning landfills in Kuantan, Temerloh and Bentong, and an incinerator in Cameron Highlands.
The group had 62 landfills under its concessionaire areas in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Pahang in 1996 but now operates only 18. It did not take over the Kajang, Klang, Hulu Selangor, Ampang and Cameron Highland landfills as well as those in Kelantan and Terengganu.
Landfilling has been a convenient and relatively low cost method of getting rid of unwanted materials. But, convenience can no longer be justified as landfill space becomes scarce and hauling and disposal costs skyrocket.
Sanitary landfill should not be the one and only option in solid waste management. It is not an efficient way of waste recovery. The present waste recovery rate of 3% does not argue well for the federal government to concentrate its effort on building sanitary landfills while ignoring other sustainable options such as source reduction, recycling and composting in dealing with solid waste management.
For waste recovery and recycling to be successful, pre-sorting of the components of waste is a necessity and this requires active public participation. Under the ruling of BN government, public participation is discouraged, making participatory waste management impossible to be implement. In connection to this, corruption emerges as a serious problem at all level of local governments.
A new policy approach should be adopted to instill a sense of common responsibility towards waste, and to create overall strategies for waste management that do more than pay mere lip service to the concept of sustainability.
Options such as vermiculture, recycling, that had the minimum economic cost and environmental impact and were socially acceptable, should be encouraged on voluntary basis, through government’s incentive in the form of financial or other support.
Community-based waste management projects that emphasis on participatory approach is a viable alternative to cope with severely inadequate municipal waste services, it will also will increase the lifespan of our landfill by diverting and reducing what is put into it.
Under the initiative, the marginal group or families should be encouraged, trained, and financed to take up Vermiculture.
Vermiculture appears to be an innovative sustainable technology for waste treatment, which holds a promising future in the field of solid waste management. It is a technology that is easy to implement, has low risk with high return of investment. The core activity taken up in this initiative is based on sustainable use of biodiversity. In this activity the organic waste is converted into effective bio fertilizer or vermi compost. The only asset involved is earthworm, which get doubled as day passed by. The operator of vermiculture earns by selling them and the compost. This initiative is very easily replicable and is financially self-sustainable in the long term.
In fulfilling the promises of their election manifesto, the Pakatan Rakyat state governments should explore the transformative potential of such strategies to enhance service delivery and local democracy through empowering the most marginalized.