Waste disposal: Bold decisions necessary

By TP Saran

The loud protests that have been mounted by inhabitants against the Veolia project in Riche Terre has again raised health and safety concerns comparable to those that came up in relation to the Mare Chicose landfill several years ago

The loud protests that have been mounted by inhabitants against the Veolia project to set up a waste processing plant in Riche Terre has brought to the fore the issue of waste management in Mauritius, once again raising health and safety concerns comparable to those that came up in relation to the Mare Chicose landfill several years ago.

At Mare Chicose, the main issue was the capacity of the landfill. At Riche Terre, there seems to be some controversy about whether there will be an incinerator or not, which in the view of the protesters will emit fumes that are potentially harmful. The statement of the Veolia CEO has not reassured the inhabitants.

However, according to information we have received, modern incinerators use a different method whereby there are filters that block any emissions into the atmosphere, and if at all an incinerator is installed, it will be of this modern type. It is for the authorities to have this verified by their technical teams and then to give the proper information that will calm the minds of the inhabitants, who are justified in expressing their fears. Unfortunately, there has been no official communiqué from the concerned Minister or Ministry in this regard. Instead, we have seen two Ministers being present by the side of the protesters, to show their support. But this does not resolve the problem of waste disposal which is the core issue here, in particular maritime waste. The problem is merely being postponed, whereas it is bold decisions that are required for what is a very serious national issue.

The responsible body for this issue is the Ministry of Social Security, National Solidarity, and Environment and Sustainable Development. According to information available on its website, the types of waste generated in Mauritius are as shown in the accompanying diagram:

What strikes one immediately is the proportion of food waste, 27%. It would be interesting to have a breakdown of this colossal amount of food waste, in particular from the point of view of how much of it could potentially be prevented and salvaged so as to be distributed to the needy, for example, to people in shelters for the homeless, which are battling to find funds to provide for that category.

This aside, the official website gives us some basics about the issue of solid waste in Mauritius. With a total population of around 1.3 million, about 1,488 tonnes of waste are generated daily. In 2018, the total volume of wastes disposed at the Mare Chicose Landfill was 543,196 tonnes which is the sole landfill on the island.​ We also learn that ‘In view of the saturation of the Mare Chicose Landfill and to prevent a major waste management crisis in Mauritius post 2019, the idea of raising the Mare Chicose Landfill to provide disposal capacity was put forward’. The vertical Expansion works are expected to start by April 2020 and thus increase the disposal capacity of the Landfill – but it would have been more useful to be given a timeline for completion of these works which by any reckoning are overdue, as the Mare Chicose problem has been ongoing for several years now.

​Further information available is about implementing a more sustainable solid waste management system, for which ‘the Solid Waste Management Division decided to develop a Strategy and Action Plan for a new Solid Waste Management and Resource Recovery System for Mauritius, with the financial assistance of the Agence Française de Développement.

The Consultancy Study was awarded to Ecorem/Luxconsult (Mtius) Ltd on 14th March 2017 and the Consultancy Study consists of two phases:

Phase 1: The preparation of the Strategy and Action Plan, including a baseline review, and an analysis of strategic options and recommendations.

Phase 2: A feasibility of the selected option(s) and preparation of terms of reference for subsequent studies.

Phase 1 of the Consultancy Study has already been approved by Government and it is expected that Phase 2 will start in May 2019’. An Executive Summary of the Strategy and Action Plan is also available on the website and gives a fairly detailed overview of what is intended to be done – but the big question is always: when?, because there is great urgency to seriously tackle the lingering problems in this domain.

Another aspect of great concern is the management of hazardous wastes, defined under the Environment Protection Act and listed under the Environment Protection (Standards for Hazardous Wastes) Regulations 2001as ‘wastes that have the potential to cause harm or damage to human health and the environment due to their hazardous properties. They include laboratory and industrial chemical wastes (acids, alkalis, heavy metals, spent organic solvents, organic sludges), paint wastes, used batteries, asbestos wastes, waste oils, obsolete pesticides, pharmaceutical wastes, gas cylinders and waste aerosols, electrical and electronic wastes (e-wastes), amongst others’.

Moreover, ‘As compared to solid wastes, where an average of 450,000 tonnes are generated annually and disposed of at the Mare Chicose landfill, it is estimated that an average of 17,000 tonnes of hazardous wastes are generated annually out of which around 10% comprising laboratory and industrial chemical wastes, paint wastes, obsolete pesticides, pharmaceutical wastes, gas cylinders and waste aerosols, cannot be disposed of locally. 

Mauritius being Party to both Basel and Bamako Conventions since 1992, global and regional treaties dealing with hazardous wastes, has to ensure that it takes all practicable steps so that hazardous wastes generated on the island are managed in a manner which will protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects which may result from such wastes.

With a view to ensuring compliance to our international obligations and also in its capacity as enforcing agency for hazardous wastes, an interim hazardous waste storage facility at La Chaumière has been set up and is operational since April 2017. Hazardous wastes that cannot be treated and disposed on the island are tested, collected, sorted, pre-treated (if possible), regrouped, re-packaged, labeled, stored and exported to licensed recovery/treatment/ disposal facilities’(bold added).

It may be noted that countries in Asia are refusing to be dumping grounds for wastes, with China, Malaysia and recently Philippines having taken steps in this direction. It would therefore be of interest to be informed about the whereabouts of the licensed recovery/treatment/ disposal facilities’ referred to in the previous paragraph.

We certainly hope that ‘Implementation of this Strategy and Action Plan will ascertain that Mauritius is no more dependent on landfilling while also ensuring that one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns)’ so that ‘By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse’ is achieved.

But this is subject to this Strategy and Action Plan being approved, to fulfill the objective of ‘implementation of good practices and the eventual shift towards a “Zero Waste” society’. Very ambitious indeed. There certainly is no time to… waste.

* Published in print edition on 5 July 2019

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