Mounting garbage part of Bangkok's flooding problem

Mounting garbage part of Bangkok's flooding problem
PHOTO: Reuters

Two weeks ago, Bangkokians experienced the horror of being stranded in traffic for hours, as a flash flood hit Bangkok and its outskirts after heavy rains.

Shockingly, it was found that "garbage" was the major cause of the capital becoming paralysed. More than 10 tonnes of waste like foam packaging and plastic items were everywhere in pipes and sieves. Even discarded items like couches, wardrobes and jars were found in canals, blocking the drainage system from conveying the rainwater out of the city.

Bangkok Governor MR Sukhumbhand Paribatra once again incurred the public's wrath, as he was abroad at that time. The governor had vowed in 2010 to solve the capital's flood problem in the next five years.

Responding to the criticism, he said he could not fix the problem in two days.

Building a plant to convert the city's waste into energy seems to be an answer to the question of how to get rid of Bangkok's mounting waste, which accounts for one-fifth of the waste accumulated daily nationwide. Moreover, the new rule on building the plant was recently relaxed - even a plant with over 10 megawatts capacity can be built without a report on environmental assessment impact.

Bangkok, home to 13 million people, generates about 13,000 tonnes of waste every day on average, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA).

Of the total, only 3,000 tonnes a day are reused and recycled while the remaining figure needs to be disposed of. Most of it is disposed of in an inappropriate way like illegal "open dumping" that can be harmful to the environment and also unhygienic.

To deal with as much as 70,000 tonnes of additional waste nationwide per day, the waste-to-energy plants can be a choice. Of all types, incinerators are considered as unfriendly to the environment.

However, the ruling government tends to favour waste-to-energy incinerators. Interior Minister Gen Anupong Paochinda revealed recently that the authorities have prepared 141 sites for waste disposal, of which 44 have potential for incinerators.

Regardless of the efficiency of electricity generation, the incineration process - in which unsorted wastes are allowed to burn - could be a good way. A 1MW plant requires some 200 tonnes of solid waste daily.

The incinerator looks simple, cutting out any complicated process in waste sorting. But who is going to estimate how much "dioxins" are left behind after the combustion? Also, who will be responsible for that if they are exempted from an EIA report?

It's doubtful whether the "Code of Practice" guidelines are enough to cover waste incinerators.

To ensure safety, the authorities should set aside a few areas for incinerators while supporting other processes that are less harmful such as refuse-derived fuel (RDF) plants, which required combustible waste to be sorted out from the mixed garbage. This process will need about 100 tonnes of unsorted wastes for 1MW of electricity, as Phichai Tinsuntisuk, chairman of the alternative energy group, Federation of Thai Industries, said. Rather than disposing the waste, the RDF plant can attain an efficiency rate of electricity generation at 36 per cent, higher than the incinerator's 14 per cent.

Fortunately, Bangkok's residents will no longer need to dump their bulky garbage in the canal, as the BMA will collect them every Sunday, an initiative launched to try and reduce the problem of garbage hindering the capital's water-draining capacity.

One of the best ways the government can deal with this problem is to seriously campaign among residents to sort their garbage.

The incinerators cannot be the "only" answer for the mounting garbage.

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