Side effects of wasteNepal needs to assess the long-term impacts of waste-to-energy initiatives
The Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) is all set to inaugurate the country’s first waste-to-energy plant in the next few weeks. According to the KMC, the plant will consume three tonnes of solid waste every day to produce 14 kilowatts of electricity. The size of the plant is modest given the scale of waste management problem in Kathmandu and other urban centres in the country. Every day, the Kathmandu Valley produces 450 tonnes of garbage, of which nearly 63 percent is said to be organic waste.
The waste-to-energy initiative, funded largely by the European Union, ultimately hopes to promote sustainable waste management in the Valley.
The plant will also have the capacity to process three metric tonnes of organic waste daily into 300kg of dry compost, 96kg LP gas and 13,500 litres of treated water. Initially, Chief and Executive Officer of KMC, Rudra Singh Tamang, was not entirely convinced of the project’s long-term viability. “We are deliberating on a topic which has not materialised yet. Several companies have come with such proposals, but they are all just sweet talk. I hope a day does not come when the bio-methanation plant itself has to be discarded as waste,” he said in January. He added that he would only be convinced after the plant actually starts delivering.
Earlier Tamang had even more misgivings about the project. “Foreign aid should come in cash not in kind. The tendency of foreign donors to bring outdated technology into the country with inflated cost results in failure of most of the projects,” he said, adding that the actual question should be whether the project is sustainable in the context of Nepal.
Tamang’s concerns are not without reason.
Denmark is often hailed as a success story of waste-to-energy conversion. It incinerates nearly 80 percent of the household waste—generating nearly five percent of the country’s energy requirement. But now it is trying to recycle more and incinerate less. There are many reasons, but two stand out: positive incentives for recycling and adoption of cleaner technology, and health impacts from emissions from burning waste.
Experts point out that emissions from incinerators include heavy metals, dioxins and furans. The burning of plastics, like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also emits highly toxic pollutants.
Some environmentalist argue that this toxic compound may cause cancer and other health hazards, including disruption to the reproductive, thyroid and respiratory systems.
If a champion like Denmark is shying away from the waste-to-energy approach, we should probably take note of the development and assess the long-term impacts and viability of such projects before jumping on the bandwagon.