Solid Waste Management in Mauritius

 

 

 

 

Introduction

The increased affluence of the mauritian society over the last decades has meant that greater quantities of waste are generated per year. Unfortunately for decades the main method of waste disposal in the country was open air dumps. In 1997, the first and only landfill became operational at Mare Chicose which is now being filled to capacity. With little recycling and little composting of waste carried out presently, it is clear that waste facilities have not kept up and are now becoming inadequate to cope with the load. The proper management and disposal of solid waste is definitively one of the most important environmental issues facing the Republic, whether on the island of Mauritius or Rodrigues.

 

 

Waste Generation, Collection and Disposal

The Era of Open Air Dumps

Till the early eighties, waste collection was undertaken solely by local authorities consisting of 5 municipalities for urban areas and 4 district councils for rural regions. In 1991, local authorities had 145 vehicles with manpower of 2500 people to handle waste in Mauritius. They collected 524 tonnes of waste daily. Though the State of the Environment Report 1991 does mention that this figure could be grossly underestimated. Waste was dumped in open air dumping sites and often set on fire. The authorised dumps were found at: Poudre D'Or, Mt St Pierre, Riche Fond, Solferino, Beaux Songes, Roche Bois, La Brasserie, St Martin and La Martinière. There was very little recycling of waste. In 1988, the collection and transfer of waste was gradually contracted out to private companies and by 2001 Government and local authorities were spending Rs 365 million for these services. By 2002, waste management was estimated to cost Rs 600 millions per year. This figure reached Rs 1,000 million per year in 2003.

Throughout the eighties and nineties there were an unspecified number of unauthorised dumps throughout the island. Though illegal, the authorities turned a blind eye because of the lack of appropriate structures to deal with all the wastes generated on the island.

Government acknowledged that that such waste disposal methods could not continue for long. The dumps were overflowing with heterogeneous waste causing emissions of air pollutants and odours whilst seepage contaminated water tables and aquatic resources like rivers and lagoons. As far back as 1988, British consultants advised that the best solution for the country was a landfill, together with recycling and composting.

The dumping site at Poudre D'Or, in the north east of the island, is a very good example of the obvious environmental hazards of open dumps. It was about 5 acres in size and received 80 tonnes of waste daily. Situated close to the Poudre d'Or village, the St Antoine Sugar Estate and on the shoreline, the dumping site permanently smouldered resulting in numerous complaints by the local inhabitants from the nearby village because of smoke and odours. The sugar estate also complained because of loose waste such as plastic bags that were being carried away by the wind and deposited in the sugar cane fields close by. The adjoining lagoon was being polluted with all types of solid waste such as old tyres, broken glass bottles, plastic containers whilst being contaminated with leachates. This open air dump was eventually closed in 1998 when the Mare Chicose land fill became operational.

The Poudre D'Or dumping site – North East Coast - 1997

The Roche Bois dump also situated close to the shore received domestic, commercial and industrial waste from the Port Louis area. In 1991, about 100 tonnes of solid waste were discharged daily at the site and then burnt in an uncontrolled fashion. The adjoining lagoon was subsequently polluted with all types of solid waste whilst being also a receptacle for sewage and industrial waste discharge. The state of the Environment report 1991 (P 91) mentioned that the Roche Bois lagoon up to Baie du Tombeau was in a degraded state. Unfortunately, the Terre Rouge Estuary, an important sanctuary for migratory birds, was close by and thus received a fair share of liquid and solid waste pollutants.

Amid complaints, the Beaux-Songes dump is closed in November 1994 and waste redirected to St Martin. In May 1995, the Roche Bois open air dump is closed, At that time it was estimated that St Martin received about 400 tonnes of wastes daily. In July 1995, St Martin is transformed into a waste compacting and transfer station, whilst the Mt St Pierre is transformed into a disposal site.

In 1996, Government came up with the National Solid Waste Management (NSW) Plan, the first time the overflowing problem of waste was to be tackled nationally. This plan was based on the work of consultants from Scott Wilson and Kirkpatrick in 1994. By then the country was generating 800 tonnes of wastes per day or 290,000 tonnes per year, approximately. About 600 tonnes were municipal wastes and 200 tonnes industrial or commercial wastes. The consultants noted that at that time less than 1% of wastes generated were recycled. They advised on the gradual closures of open air dumps, waste compacting and landfills. They also advised to apply a “returnable deposit scheme” on plastic bottles and to legislate to reduce the use of plastic packaging. Compost plants, recycling, waste separation at source and public awareness campaigns were also strongly recommended.

In accordance with the NSW plan, the Roche Bois, St Martin and La Brasserie dumps were transformed into transfer stations where waste is compacted and then sent by special trucks to the Mt St Pierre dump. There waste is covered with layers of clay. Subsequently, the Solferino dump was also transformed into a transfer station.

In 1997, British consultants advised that the country will have to consider urgently waste incineration as a long term waste management solution in addition to make waste collection and disposal a paid service. They also advised for a centralised waste composting project at St Martin with a daily capacity of 60 tonnes.

Throughout 1999, Government was faced with many complaints by people living and working close to open air dumps, such as those of Solferino. This open air dump was close to agricultural lands and to residential buildings. Amid much protest from local inhabitants, the Solferino dump was closed in June 1999.

In January 2002, it was the turn of the inhabitants of Richefond in the east of the island to protest against the open dump situated close to their village. They closed off the access roads demanding that this open air dump be closed. Very quickly the authorities decided the temporary closure of this dump.

Landfills Projects

Faced with increasing volumes of wastes, Government had little option but to go for landfill sites as a means to eliminate solid waste on the medium term. In 1990, up to 18 sites were identified which could potentially be used for a landfill. In 1992, two sites were selected, Mare d’Australia in the north and Mare Chicose in the south. At Mare d’Australia 74 hectares were identified for the landfill. Amid much opposition from local inhabitants the project was downsized to 28 hectares only and by 1993 Government decided to give priority to Mare Chicose in the south instead. In August 1996, the Mare d’Australia project was quietly abandoned in favour of the smaller project in the south.

The Mare Chicose Landfill Project: An Environmental Catastrophe?

Situated in the south, close to the Mare Chicose village, the landfill covers an area of 20 hectares. Compacted waste from all over the island is sent there where it is further compacted by bulldozers prior to be covered with a layer of clay. Leachates are collected by an underground network of pipes and pumped to an onsite treatment plant. The project was hailed in Mauritius as being the best waste management option available. It was said that this technology was affordable, manageable, with limited environmental impacts.

The Mare Chicose landfill became operational in November 1997 with a capacity of 3 million cubic metres. According to government figures, 300 tonnes of waste per day would fill the site within 18 years and at twice the rate of 600 tonnes per day, the site will be filled in a mere 9 years. In 2005, the Mare Chicose land fill was extended and now will be filled with waste in about 3 to 5 years. As there are no further plans to open up new land fills and space being a major constraint on such a small island, it is clear that Mauritius is once again facing acute problems of solid waste disposal. 

According to the Central Statistics Office, the following tonnages of waste were collected and land-filled:

Year

Waste land-filled (tonnes)

1999

180,788

2000

265,817

2001

306,691

2002

340,000

2003

371,094

2004

381,114

2005

382,330

2006

407,039

2007

394,118

2008

399,488

Source: Central Statistics Office: http://statsmauritius.gov.mu

In spite of being hailed as an example of sound environmental engineering and management, very quickly the landfill was a cause of significant nuisance and pollution. In may 1999, the first reports of odour problems were reported by the press.

As early as October 2000 there were reports of water pollution, bad smells with increases of rodents and stray dogs in the vicinity of the landfill. The rivulet “Ruisseau Tranquille” was being polluted from leachates. Residents of the Mare Chicose village began protesting about odours, vehicular traffic and rodents. Throughout 2001, local inhabitants complained repeatedly against the landfill, and repeatedly Government came up with measures to mitigate nuisances. In January 2002, the suggestion was aired that the 500 persons of the Mare Chicose village be relocated elsewhere. During the same year, the first reports of skin and respiratory problems by the inhabitants appeared in the press. The private company managing the landfill issued a press communiqué whereby they declared that the landfill is not polluting the area and that all nuisances are due to the transit of wastes to the landfill only. In 2002, the landfill was receiving 1000 tonnes of wastes per day, carried by 150 lorries. By February 2002, the inhabitants of Mare Chicose agreed that relocation to Rose Belle, a few miles from their village was the best solution.

In September 2003, a tender was launched for the extension of Mare Chicose, the value of which reached Rs 1 billion (US $ 30 Million approx.). In the meanwhile local inhabitants continued to complain about smells and dust contaminations causing skin and respiratory ailments. It is only fair to mention that Government did undertake a number of measures to mitigate environmental problems. A road to the landfill bypassing the village was built and each day’s waste dumped into the landfill was immediately covered with a layer of soil or covered with plastic sheets in case of heavy rains. Nevertheless, odour problems still persisted at times.

By early 2005, the villagers were still complaining of odours, polluted streams, and noise pollution from lorries to the landfill and skin disorders. From press reports, it appeared that odour problems were caused by untreated leachates because the onsite treatment plant did not work as planned. By October 2005 it was announced that an extension to the landfill was becoming inevitable so that it would continue to receive wastes for a few more years. In January 2006, Government announces that Mare Chicose would be the only land fill in Mauritius and that it would receive waste from the whole island for the next 20 to 30 years. The inhabitants of the village would be compensated and relocated elsewhere; this exercise costing Rs 150 million or US $ 5 million (approximately). All throughout 2006 till November 2010, the complaints have gone up and down with no solution in view.

Hazardous Waste Management

In line with the National Solid Waste Management Plan, in April 2001, Government proclaimed new regulations for hazardous wastes under the Environment Protection Act 1991. Presently hazardous wastes must be disposed of at Mare Chicose landfill. They are land filled in separate cells designed to accommodate hazardous wastes only. In 2001, according to Government figures, the country generated 20,456 tonnes of toxic wastes.

Waste Incineration and Mauritius

By 1997, consultants were advising waste incineration as a long term solution for our waste management problems. The National Environment Action Plan II (NEAP II) also advocated waste incineration for the country. They suggested that the country would generate around 500,000 tonnes of waste yearly by 2010 and that 1 or 2 incinerators would be required. In 2000, Government declared in Parliament that it would opt for incineration at this stage and that it would cost between Rs 4 to 5 Billion (US $ 150 million approx). In spite of a change in Government due to the July 2000 elections, in 2001 the new regime once again opted for incineration. At the same time, it announced that it would go forward with a compost plant for the production of 10,000 tonnes of compost per year. 

In 2001, on several occasions the local press mentioned that a European Consortium was interested in building and operating an incinerator in view of generating power for the grid. By January 2002, the situation at Mare Chicose landfill had deteriorated to such an extent that Government confirmed that an incinerator would be fully operational by 2004/2005 and this would ease the situation at Mare Chicose, furthermore, the World Bank, via a “Carbon Fund” would fund part of the project. Throughout 2002, an incinerator project was mentioned on and off in the local press. In March 2003, Government announced that it had abandoned the incinerator project. Economic and ecological reasons were stated.

Yet around February 2006, Government announces that it is considering a waste incinerator project which will also generate around 35 MW of electrical power. The incinerator project is a joint venture between a local company Gamma Energy and an American company Covanta Energy. It proposes to incinerate 300,000 tonnes of wastes and generate 35 MW of electrical power. Immediately, a number of local citizens’ organisation begin to organise themselves to oppose this project. It is worth noting that in March 2005 foreign consultants advised that “incineration was not feasible in Mauritius” due to the poor calorific contents of local wastes that contain up to 50% of green wastes and to the cost of such an operation. As from 2007, citizens in Albion, close to the proposed site for the incinerator, take the lead to oppose this project. The Action Civic D’Albion Plage organised talks and presentations whilst letters and articles are published in the press by concerned citizens and environmental organisations. Indeed, the incinerator project aroused much passion and public interest. Nevertheless in November 2007 Government issues the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment licence to the promoters. Immediately, a number of citizens (Mr. Gilbert Cadet, Kemraz Ortoo, Alain Aliphon, and Jean Michel Casse) submit an appeal to the Environment Appeal Tribunal to contest the Government’s decision.

On the 24th of May 2009, a march is organised to oppose the incinerator project. Up to 2000 people take part. It is unprecedented for Mauritius to have so many people take part in a public march to protest a project on environmental grounds only. Click here for a report on this march. As of November 2010, the appeal is still at the Tribunal and a ruling should be given in 2011.

Our organisation (IELS) has taken position against this project and the reasons for doing so are detailed in this article:

LETTRE OUVERTE AUX MAURICIENS Incinération, Recyclage et Compostage de déchets

 

 

http://incinerationmauritius.com/chapter1.html

a very detailed site with information on the proposed incinerator project in Mauritius and its impacts on the environment and health whilst being a very expensive mode of waste disposal

The Composting of Organic Wastes

In 1988, consultants had proposed composting as one measure that could help to alleviate the volume of waste going to landfills. In 1998, the National Environmental Action Plan advised the same measure.

Different reports prepared by consultants from the nineties onwards nearly always promoted the composting of organic wastes as a powerful method to reduce the waste flow. Over the years, Government regularly announced the imminent opening of compost plants, indeed by December 2003 two such plants were to be operational with a combined capacity of 30,000 tonnes of compost.

In February 2006, Government announced that a local company together with an Indian company wanted to set up a large scale waste composting facility in La Chaumière, in the west of the island. In July 2008, Government decided that 300 tonnes of wastes would be allocated daily to the composting facility and 900 tonnes to the Gamma Energy incinerator project.  In 2009, it was announced that the La Chaumiere composting should be operational in 2010. By November 2010 the facility was still not operational. No prospective dates for its opening have been made public.

All throughout the late eighties till now, it is apparent that for Government the only way to deal with wastes is to favour large projects that require advanced technologies and are market based. Humble methods such as home composting coupled with home gardening are largely ignored and considered to be of marginal importance. Yet 50% of our wastes are compostable and can easily be transformed into compost at the home level which can subsequently be used in home gardens. The production of fruits and vegetables from home gardens fertilised, at least in part with home produced compost, could have a significant impact on our food security.

Furthermore, the use of home compost for home gardens have the potential to alleviate poverty via the production of quality fruits and vegetables for the kitchen, thereby saving money, or sold or exchanged to people in the neighbourhood thereby creating an income for poor families.

The local production and use of compost also has the advantage of recycling nutrients into the soil thereby contributing to increasing soil fertility. The many interactions between compost, home gardening, soil fertility, nutrition, nutrient recycling and poverty alleviation seem to be lost on authorities.

At the IELS we have long recognised those interactions and we believe that the road to sustainability requires that, where ever possible, families be given all means necessary to embark on small scale home composting and gardening. In that respect we have published in French a short leaflet on home composting. It can be downloaded here.

 

Rodrigues

There is one open air dump at Roche Bon Dieu. No figures are available on the quantity of solid waste generated on Rodrigues island. But as the average waste generated by a mauritian is about 0.6 Kg per day and assuming that the average person on Rodrigues generates only half as much waste, the population being of the order of 33,000, a simple calculation would show that around 10 tonnes of waste should be generated each day. Over a year that would amount to over 3000 tonnes, far from being insignificant. It would be interesting to find out what happens to this waste and where it ends up.

At present, Rodrigues supports little industry and there are few tourists visiting the island. Considering that it is government policy to encourage some form of light industrialisation and tourism, both set of activities generating significant waste, it is definitively of utmost importance to consider how the waste generated by these activities will be disposed of.

It would be a pity if the issue of waste management in Rodrigues is left last, as a side issue, to be solved at a later date. Then, the same mistakes done in Mauritius would needlessly be repeated there. That would be most unfortunate. 4500 vehicles in Rodrigues, used oil uncollected and discharged into the environment,

 

 

The 3R’s in Mauritius (Reducing, Re-Using and Recycling)

The 3R’s have a long way to go in Mauritius and we have as yet made only a few steps in the right direction. In the meanwhile, western consumption habits take root with increased affluence. In 2009, a new organisation emerged called Mission Verte whose purpose is to promote waste separation and recycling. With funding from the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) they installed a number of containers throughout the country so that people could separate their wastes into paper, cartons and glass.

Although people took up to bring their wastes, there were considerable problems as sometimes wastes were thrown into the wrong compartments or simply dumped next to the container. Currently, Mission Verte is having transportation cost issues and a number of companies that accepted the waste for recycling no longer do so. The future of this programme is now uncertain.

Paper

Only a small fraction of the waste generated is recycled in Mauritius. Nearly all of it goes to the Mare Chicose land fill. There are a few companies involved in recycling. For instance of the 3000 tonnes of various grade of paper imported annually only a fraction of waste paper is recycled locally or exported abroad for recycling each year

Plastics

Only one company is currently engaged in the recycling of plastic waste. Presumably they can process only a mere fraction of the total. Over the past decade, there has been an explosion in the use of plastic bottles for soft drinks and bottled water. It has been estimated by soft drink manufacturers themselves that in 1998 close to 32 million PET bottles and approximately 14 million of PVC bottles were put into circulation each single year. By 2011 those numbers must have doubled.

These plastic bottles came into use when manufacturers of soft drinks decided to gradually phase out the older system of glass bottle consignment whereby the empty glass bottles were collected by the manufacturers at the point of sale to be returned to the factory to be cleaned and refilled. Presently, the overwhelming majority of soft drinks sold are in plastic bottles. Most, if not all, of these bottles eventually either find their way in the Mare Chicose landfill or scattered all over the island.

To remedy the situation in 2001, the Mauritius Soft Drink Bottlers Association launched a recycling programme for PET bottles. PET bottles are collected against a small fee by a company set up for this purpose that then proceeds to export the PET bottles abroad for recycling. Ten years later this programme is still on-going. However, only a small faction is collected and recycled.

Metals

A couple of companies re-export scrap metal and vehicle carcasses. There is one company that recycles scrap iron for the manufacture of construction bars. In 1996, a local brewer introduced aluminium cans of beer and it is expected that some 200,000 such cans will be sold each year. Only a small proportion of those discarded aluminium cans are collected, packed and exported abroad for recycling. Most of these cans will simply go straight into dumps, landfills or end up as eye sores all over the place.

Electronic wastes

Discarded computers are not recycled and they end up at Mare Chicose land fill at best. There exist one or two companies that will recycle old hard disks but not much more. There is little done for the recycling of batteries. 

 

Conclusion

Be it on Mauritius Island or Rodrigues, it is doubtful whether the issue of waste management will be solved by yet more landfills or incinerators of solid waste. The methods of waste disposal are inadequate and cannot be pursued for very long. Shifts in the patterns of consumption of the population will inevitably be required. Industries and commerce will have to contribute by adopting less wasteful industrial processes, less packaging and be involved in recycling programmes.

 

References

(1)   Figures or reports quoted in this article are sourced from multiple press articles unless specified otherwise.

(2)   National Environmental Strategies for the Republic of Mauritius: National Environmental Action Plan for the next Decade, Environmental Resources Management, London, July 1999

(3)   State of the Environment Report – 1991 – Government of Mauritius

(4)   Central Statistics Office http://statsmauritius.gov.mu

 

 

Date on the web: 22nd of January 1998

Last update: 15th October 2011