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Old Saturday, December 21, 2013
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Default From waste to energy

From waste to energy

by Syed Moazzam Hai


As people we love trash. Our landscape is brimming with various forms of waste – organic, inorganic, solid, liquid, gaseous, etc. It is estimated that roughly more than 50,000 metric tons of municipal solid waste is produced daily in Pakistan. However, we do not have exact knowledge of the percentage and quantity of waste that is recycled/used and left otherwise.

This waste is generally composed of rubber, plastic, metals, paper, cardboard, rags, glass, bones, food waste, wood, stones, human and animal waste besides highly hazardous e-waste, hospital waste and used oil and chemical forms. In the absence of proper recycling and disposal management regimes, this waste is turning into an uncontrollable disaster.

We dispose this waste in so-called landfills already overfilled and overused, which is then routinely burnt in the open. The process of waste recycling is often reckless – for example, highly hazardous medical waste is ‘recycled’ to manufacture products like plastic bags for packing consumerables like milk. A huge amount of waste makes its way to water bodies. River Ravi, Rice Canal Larkana and Keenjhar Lake in Thatta, besides the sea of Karachi, are victims of this.

Coping with the devastating deluge of waste is a daunting challenge, particularly for Pakistan which could not even do away with polythene bags in the four decades since the 1980s. Not letting our waste go waste could be the right solution for us. For this, we can look towards Sweden for inspiration, which has actually run out of waste. The country produces electricity and heat using its waste and each year it’s compelled to import waste mostly from neighbouring Norway – the fifth largest exporter of oil in the world which also happens to lead the world in turning waste into energy.

The United Kingdom paid to send 45,000 tonnes of household waste from Bristol and Leeds to Norway between October 2012 and April 2013. There are now around 420 plants in Europe to provide heat and electricity to more than 20 million people. The concept of WtE (Waste to Energy) is picking up momentum elsewhere as well. According to ‘China Waste-to-Energy Plants Market Forecast & Opportunities, 2018’, the market for Waste-to-Energy plants in China is expected to grow to almost three folds in the next five years.

Some WtE projects are underway in Pakistan as well; the AEDB (Alternate Energy Development Board) approved two WtE projects of 12MW gross capacity each in September/October 2010. The LWMC (Lahore Waste Management Company) is seeking national and foreign companies to develop WtE projects with the capacity of 1,500 to 2,000 tons/day. The Climate Change Division under its ‘clean development mechanism’ is also working on various renewable energy projects including WtE plans. The KESC is working on a WtE bio-gas power project of up to 30MW capacity in the Landhi Cattle Colony.

Things are happening but slowly – perhaps way too slow to catch up with the fast moving world. There’s vast potential for WtE in the country. Besides household waste other waste forms such as hospital waste, municipal solid waste, industrial effluent, mixed waste and tires, mixed waste plus dried sewage sludge, etc can be used for energy production.

An autonomous WtE federal division is needed to aggressively develop a countrywide network of WtE plants. The process of WtE needs to be treated separately from other renewable energy forms since it addresses waste management and energy generation simultaneously. All customs, import duties and other taxes on the machinery and auxiliaries used in WtE should be abolished for national and foreign companies investing in WtE.

From waste collection to energy generation stages a large number of the unemployed men and women can be engaged in the WtE industry. Federal and provincial governments would have to work on programmes with the investors to educate and train the workforce. As for environmental safety the federal government will have to ensure that only the latest WtE technology is used. According to the German environment ministry, “because of stringent regulations, waste incineration plants are no longer significant in terms of emissions of dioxins, dust, and heavy metals”.

The production and disposal of waste concerns everyone in the country. A WtE generation revolution will thus touch the lives of all citizens in the country. Instead of the conventional government policymaking and bureaucratic approach we need fast-track vision and action to develop a WtE culture in the country.

Email: moazzamhai@yahoo.com
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