GEORGE TOWN: Land-starved Penang is facing its filthiest dilemma to date – managing a burgeoning landfill that is stinking up the northern channel and threatening sensitive marine life there.
And if nothing is done fast, Penangites can lay claim to having two high-rise icons – the 65-storey Komtar and Pulau Burung’s tower of garbage.

In September last year, four lorries carrying garbage from the barge jetty to the Pulau Burung landfill on the mainland broke down, causing a pile-up of waste at the transfer site in Batu Maung on the island.

In May, fishermen living near the Pulau Burong sanitary landfill staged a demonstration against what they felt was pollution outside the landfill. They claimed that nearby residents were exposed to the stench and had experienced itchiness. The fishermen also said their income was dwindling.
In that same month, a leak in a leachate pond in the Pulau Burung landfill was believed to have contaminated the sea off Kampung Changkat. Phase I of the Pulau Burung sanitary landfill has reached its full capacity.

Since 2008, some 700 tonnes of rubbish have been dumped at Phase II daily. During festive seasons, the amount of garbage doubles. Pulau Burung was the state’s main landfill. Comprising Phase I, II and III, the landfill’s lifespan was almost up. The first two phases add up to about 162ha of landfill. State Local Government Committee chairman Chow Kon Yeow admitted that Phase II would reach its capacity by 2012.

Smelly affair: Workers managing the garbage at the Pulau Burong Landfill Phase II in Penang.

“Phase III has been earmarked for a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) which utilises Mechanical Biological Treatment (MBT) technology to deal with residual municipal waste.
“It’s going to cost RM18mil but it will be worthwhile in the long run. We cannot keep looking for places to turn into landfills,” he said.

A RM10mil leachate treatment plant would also be built in the hopes of cleaning up the environment. Chow said the state was also looking to tap methane gas from Phase I to explore supplementary revenue from the generation and sale of bio-energy and participation in carbon trading under the Kyoto Protocol.

If the renewable energy project in Phase I was successful, it would be applied to Phase II. Theoretically, the Pulau Burung landfill can be used for many years to come once the MBT was in place because its current capacity would be increased four-fold. An MBT system is a waste processing facility that combines a sorting facility with a form of biological treatment such as composting or anaerobic digestion.

“No matter what, we will still need a landfill but the MBT will greatly reduce the waste.
“When Phase III reaches its capacity, we can go back to Phase I which by then would have been rehabilitated,” Chow said.

Apart from Pulau Burung, there was an older landfill in Jelutong and a transfer station in Batu Maung – both on the island. The initial plan was to rehabilitate the Jelutong landfill into a park but that was proving too costly. The Jelutong landfill now serves as a dumping ground for construction materials. Chow said a garbage transfer station would be built there soon to replace the one in Batu Maung.

“The Penang Development Corporation will take back the Batu Maung garbage transfer station for development next year,” he added.