Le Mauricien 10/11 AN EPIC TALE

The Incinerator yet again ! (Part I)

Some months ago, the project Maurice Ile Durable (MID) devised by the Mauritian authorities, in a bid to make the island's power and energy generation and consumption to be based more on environmental-friendly resources such as wind and solar, was officially launched in pompous fashion.

The ideology of this project was to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels to a percentage of at least 35% and the rest would be from "renewable sources", that is, from the likes of solar, wind, hydro and biomass and the key concept to be retained was sustainability.

It must be underlined that 20% of Mauritius's power consumption is derived from renewable resource, in occurrence, about 4% from hydro electric and about 16% from bagasse. Bagasse is a by-product of our sugar industry and serves as an efficient fuel for power generation.

The MID venture, extremely trendy in these times of economic and fuel crisis is a very bold and commendable initiative with our Prime Minister's special adviser for energy as architect.

Coming back to its launching campaign, the series of conferences held at the University of Mauritius to initiate the general public to the concepts of sustainability were themselves quite imaginative and resourceful with innovative ideas, for instance the electric car. However, the primary conference, with an eminent professor as host had a touch of marketing rather than being instructive in favour of the incinerator project at la Chaumière with a plethora of arguments for the latter and attempting to put it in line with the sustainable effort. We had tagged the event as "political merchandising" in consequence of this and ended the commentary with a derisive remark ; "experts contradicting experts" referring to the controversial situation, since the special advisor had venomously rejected the incinerating idea in direct opposition to the professor animating the MID conference which was sanctioned by the Ministry of the environment and that of energy as well.

However, we did not expect that our remark would become so true in effect in the later months after the MID launch.

Opinions were divided into two blocks : the promoter of the project, Covanta-Gamma ; partnership of the foreign tycoon in waste incineration with a local entrepreneur, against the radical opponents to the idea of incineration ; the "Anti-Incinérateurs".

These two parties entered in a tug-of-war similar to mythological wars like the Trojan War ; with the "Anti-Incinérateurs" group in the role of the Greeks laying the siege around the Trojan impenetrable citadel which represents the incinerator proponents.

And similar to the epic tale, both camps have their mighty heroes waging the battles for them. In our modern time, these heroes are in the form of professors distinguished internationally in their respective domains, with as armour and arms, their scientific experience and theories and their battlefield being a conference hall, where they lay out their extensive knowledge and expertise each time trying to demolish the concept his opposing "colleague" demonstrated before.

The "show offs" of the international professors have come in quick succession in the middle of the year and intensified the focus on the Incinerator project. Multitude of facts, case studies, measures, scientific data flourished during these conferences, these "teachers" themselves deriving admiration from the audience for their extensive knowledge. In particular, one major fact was widely acknowledged. The incinerator's "Achilles heel" has been proved to be the emissions (gaseous) and ash that will result from the mass burning of the solid waste. These highly toxic "wastes" will be a serious threat to the environment and public health. Dioxins and Furans have been the leading figures of the prosecution show in a sense, since more arguments have been used with these two toxins in the prime roles of lethal pollutants. This is an irrefutable fact but however, it is also undeniable that measures do exist to reduce the risk factor of these emissions and ash and that these measures are extremely sophisticated and very expensive.

Canvassing efforts

So it would be far fetched to declare the incinerator unfeasible. Rather, it would be more appropriate to say that it would necessitate a massive investment in terms of pollution prevention technology and safety measures so as to satisfy all the norms and regulations which upon the proposed budget of the incinerator plant, does not reflect significant investment in these preventive technologies.

However, for the sake of the canvassing efforts of the opponents, let us assume for a moment that the Gamma-Covanta project is not feasible. Then, do we have any other options ?

More Landfills ? It seems that we're forgetting that Mauritius is an island and as such is limited in terms of land resources. Even if more landfills are created, it will not be a long term solution for waste will keep flourishing, causing the landfills to overflow at an increasing rate. Moreover, Landfills are as worse as incinerators. Along with being an eyesore, they are major sources of emissions of methane in the atmosphere. Maybe the fact that landfill emits dioxin as well should be highlighted for it is interesting to note that, while in incinerators these emissions can be controlled, how one would control the emission from landfills ? Choosing landfill would be going for the easy path and deliberately encourage citizens to keep producing more waste instead of developing better consumption habits for they would see this option as a quick solution without caring for long term consequences.

Recycling and Composting ? Both of them are not new methods. Years have gone since recycling was deemed as an effective waste reduction practice though the words have never been put into practice with real endeavor. As for composting, Mauritius has had eminent researchers showing the viability of the process ; turning the domestic waste into a fertilizing product. Even on the international platform this was acclaimed. Yet these alternatives are not being used efficiently in the local context, for no one seems to take the initiative to put into practice these solutions on a larger scale. Recycling and composting are commonly practiced on a private basis and these few amounts of wastes being recycled or composted are not causing a great decrease in the amount of waste being land-filled. If the picture had been enlarged to a national effort, we wouldn't have reached the stage where the need of an incinerator is being considered. Incinerator detractors argue that they will definitely take these methods on a larger scale, but will they be operational right now ? Definitely not. We will have to wait for another span of time for evaluations to be made and larger scale technologies to be installed and become operational and in the meantime, the waste will keep increasing and increasing. Perhaps the time factor is not being stressed enough. We have limited time ; the landfill is in the critical zone for we are providing more waste than can be handled.

This leads us to the same original situation whereby there are no immediate alternatives to solid waste management, except the proposal of the Incinerator.


Chemical Engineering Society

University of Mauritius

(to be continued)





La Bible des rebuts

La gestion durable des déchets a longtemps fait figure de casse- tête pour les administrations régionales. Un livret du ProGeCo de la Commission de l’océan Indien (COI) pourrait aider àchanger tout cela.


NOMBREUX sont ceux et celles qui s’interrogent sur le retard accusé par les administrations régionales en matiére de gestion des déchets solides. Alors que Mission Verte, une ONG aux moyens limités, a déjà réussi à installer des dépôts de tri sélectif un peu partout dans le pays, rares sont les municipalités et conseils de district à avoir offert aux Mauriciens le choix de trier leurs déchets. A quoi devons nous cette lacune ? Absence de volonté ? C’est possible.

Manque de fonds ? Peutêtre.

Insuffisance technique ? Certainement pas.

En tous cas, pas depuis qu’ils ont reçu des copies du livret Gestion durable des déchets dans les régions cibles de ProGeCo ( Programme régional de gestion durable des zones côtiéres des pays de l’océan Indien).

Ce manuel est le fruit d’une étude menée sur la gestion des déchets solides au niveau des administrations régionales de Maurice, des Comores, des Seychelles, de Madagascar, du Kenya et de la Tanzanie. De fait, il tient compte de toutes les spécificités locales de ces pays afin de les aider à surmonter les obstacles auxquels ils font face.

Et le résultat est étonnamment efficace.

Le manuel a été lancé en avril lors d’un atelier de vulgarisation auquel vaient été conviés des représentants des collectivités locales, ministéres, universités, ONG et entreprises engagées dans la gestion de déchets.

Selon Henri Agathe du ProGeCo, l’auteur du livret, Jean- Luc Sallustro, avait profité de l’occasion pour « encourager les gens à réfléchir aux systémes actuels et à aller vers le compostage à échelle industrielle et la production de biogaz » . S’il affirme que le feedback à été « trés positif » , il rappelle aussi que le pays a un urgent besoin d’une stratégie nationale de gestion de déchets. « Ce serait une grande erreur d’aller vers l’incinération » , metil en garde, d’autant que plus de 60% de nos déchets sont organiques et peuvent donc être compostés.

Mais ce n’est pas tout. « De toutes les actions qui peuvent être entreprises pour réduire les déchets à la source et diminuer les déchets ultimes, on oublie souvent l’importance des consignes. Pourtant le simple fait de s’organiser pour qu’un contenant en verre, un fût métallique ou plastique fasse que ces matériaux ne rentrent pas dans le cycle des déchets, tant qu’ils ne sont pas en fin de vie, contribue à la diminution du besoin de gestion de déchets » , explique le manuel.

Outil indispensable

Divisé en 14 fiches techniques, le livret améne le lecteur sur un long et intéressant voyage en présence des produits de rebut. Il arrive ainsi à projeter l’image que les déchets sont une ressource à être valorisée plutôt que de simples détritus à être acheminés vers un dépotoir. Jean- Luc Sallustro, a pensé à tout : les principes pour une gestion durable des déchets, traitement des déchets ultimes, exploration des différentes filiéres de recyclage, stations de compostage, recyclage des déchets plastiques et bien plus encore.

Mais au- delà de l’envergure de ce manuel, c’est surtout son approche qui accroche. Chaque fiche vient avec des hors- textes, mots clés, champs particuliers et illustrations qui permettent une compréhension aisée des techniques de gestion des déchets, notamment le compostage et le recyclage.

Cette approche pédagogique est d’autant plus louable qu’elle n’enléve en rien la richesse et la complexité de la problématique de gestion des déchets. Il ne rechigne pas non plus à évoquer en détail les questions logistiques et techniques relatives à une bonne gestion des détritus. Même s’il cible avant tout les collectivités locales dans les pays concernés, ce livret est en fait un outil indispensable pour tous ceux qui s’intéressent de prés ou de loin à la question de gestion durable des déchets. Il rappelle aussi que « sans l’initiative du législateur et des collectivités locales, ou d’une autorité légitime au niveau collectif, les principes de prudence écologique, de pollueur payeur et de responsabilité étendue ne pourraient s’appuyer sur la mobilisation des consciences environnementales et maintenir une gestion durable des déchets » . Sans une véritable volonté individuelle de mettre le gaspillage et l’apathie au rebut, les conditions optimales pour une gestion durable des déchets ne seront peut être jamais réunies.