AFES has been running the incinerator facility up in the highland plateau after its successful run in Pangkor Island
by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH
WITH almost 40 tonnes of waste produced in a day, managing waste materials in Cameron Highlands has not been an easy task, being one of the most visited vacation spots in Malaysia with more than one million tourist arrivals.
Its cold weather and green terraces also mean it is the perfect place to cultivate and harvest produce, which is already a steady business with kilos of vegetables exported to neighbouring countries.
However, the land scarcity up in the plateau inhibits the expansion of the landfill in Cameron Highlands, which is a setback to its growing businesses.
The growing vegetation businesses also do not help to keep the tableland in a clean state as 50% of the wastes produced up in the hills are from food and vegetation wastes.
To resolve the issue, the government installed an incinerator up in the hills about 10 years ago, along with three other tourist spots in the country, hoping to manage some of the spillages at the landfill.
Operators were then also having a tough time running the incinerator in the Blue Valley due to premature failures and failure to align the emission content with the standards by the Department of Environment (DoE).
However, Alam Flora Environmental Solutions Sdn Bhd (AFES), a fully owned subsidiary of Alam Flora Sdn Bhd, has risen to the challenge.
Alam Flora is a subsidiary of Malakoff Corp Bhd, an independent power producer in Malaysia comprising of six power plants that run on oil, coal and gas, and one solar plant to expand their role in the waste management and environmental services by leveraging on respective core competencies and experience.
AFES has been running the incinerator facility up in the highland plateau after it had proven successful in running another incinerator with a smaller capacity in Pangkor Island.
AFES won the contract to revamp two of the four incinerators built by the government — in Pangkor Island and Cameron Highlands — after the previous contracts were terminated.
In 2019, AFES won the Best Environmental Impact Award presented at the Europa Awards for Sustainability for its Pangkor Island incinerator project. The award was organised by the European Union and Malaysian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
After successfully revamping the existing mini incinerator on the island, AFES is bringing its expertise to redesign the plant in Cameron Highlands, untangling some of the existing issues.
With the capacity to burn up to 40 tonnes of waste per day, AFES’ incinerator in Cameron Highlands is incinerating twice as much volume as its plant in Pangkor Island.
After more than a year of commissioning, the incinerator in Cameron Highlands has processed up to 12,211 tonnes of waste until April this year.
Compared to landfill operations, an incinerator could minimise waste between 80% and 90% in a relatively shorter time, while eliminating harmful germs and pathogens.
The operation could be running all year round in any weather condition. It also generates lesser greenhouse gases compared to the landfill as methane — the primary component of the natural gas produced at a landfill — is 21 times more potent compared to the gases emitted by incinerators.
Affordability is also less of a concern as the heat generated from incinerators could be turned into energy and provide a more sustainable energy production option.
In-house Local Experts Operating the Machine
AFES engineer Athirah Azmi, who is assisting the plant manager in monitoring the operations in Cameron Highlands, said the in-house technical experts on incineration were deployed to work on the plant in order to ensure a smoothsailing process.
“AFES has invested both in technologies and expertise for the incinerators to address the design and technical gap and properly manage the plant.
“The in-house technical team has been given full authority in terms of decision-making, despite the plant being the first-of-its-kind investment,” she said.
Although incineration is a common method used in waste management, Malaysia is still dipping its toe into the technology, thus making sourcing for talent more difficult.
“We have a strong team with fundamental knowledge on incineration technology and practical incinerator plant operating experience to help us make sound technical decisions.
“We are also practising the ‘Kaizen’ principle in design development from the first line down to the fourth line of the incineration plant, from one unit operation to another until maturity is achieved,” Athirah said.
She added that AFES had designed an automation system that is aligned with the incinerator technology in Malaysia to ensure a better standardisation in technology availability.
“We have to select the right instrument to be used because of the high-temperature usage at the same time, making sure that the air emission does not cause pollution.
“Due to the high temperature, we also have to make sure that the incinerator does not cause any internal accident,” she said.
Besides the technological undersupply, Athirah said municipal solid waste in Malaysia has also become a hassle to burn as waste separation is not a common practice by Malaysians.
“Malaysians generally do not separate and sort their waste, so we have added another step to ensure that we pick out recyclable wastes that are being sent to this plant.
“Before we burn the waste, it will undergo pre-treatment process, as well as separated. We separate what can be combusted or not, such as bulky waste and recyclable waste. The more waste being recycled, the less we burn up.”
However, the number of recyclable items that are being collected from the waste becomes relatively smaller as the residents of Cameron Highlands have made it a habit to separate the recyclable items from their home before throwing out the waste.
Generally, members of the public do not like flame-based plants. They have raised concerns that the incinerator is causing pollution from the gas emissions.
For Cameron Highlands, in particular, consumers have been voicing out their concerns on the environmental aftermath of the incinerator. AFES said the gases emitted from its incinerators are in accordance with the limits set by the DoE.
The emissions released from AFES’ incinerators meet the guidelines set under the Environmental Quality (Clean Air) Regulation 2014, which categorises the smokes as scheduled waste.
Athirah said the air within the vicinity of AFES’ incinerators is being closely monitored by the DoE through Continuous Emission Monitoring System (CEMS) to ensure it complies with the limit set.
“Often the DoE experts would have to explain to the public that the smokes are not harmful and complied to the standards set by the Department,” she said.
AFES also always does engagement activities with nearby residents to tackle the misconceptions on the incinerators. It is also transparent about the processes to educate people on the benefits of having incinerators.
The message that AFES sends out to the public is that, there is currently no landfill for municipal waste, only for bully waste, therefore where will their waste go if the is no incinerator in Cameron Highlands?
“The public should know that carbon emissions for the trucks are reduced from having to go to the nearest landfill,” Athirah said.
Ability to Do More
As of today, the incinerator has been running successfully for more than a year. In the long run, further enhancement on power supply and upgrading to the plant system should be implemented.
“This is an achievement for AFES, and we look forward to working with the government in providing such solutions.
“This is so both lines can run concurrently and enable us to cater to the increasing waste in Cameron Highlands,” Athirah added.