Posted inArticle / Urban

Measuring the efficacy of RDF in tackling Jakarta’s waste issues

Waste continues to pile up in the capital while authorities debate between incinerator or refuse-derived fuel technology to tackle the problem.

The Jakarta administration has halted its incinerator project to focus on refuse-derived fuel (RDF) facilities but this decision has further fueled polemics surrounding waste management that many believe requires extreme actions.

The incinerator project was planned since 2018 when Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan broke ground for the construction of an intermediate treatment facility (ITF) that converts waste into energy.

Due to costs and a Rp5 trillion investment, the Jakarta administration halted its construction.

Efforts to address waste is now focused on the construction of RDF or a waste processing facility with drying techniques. This is at a cost of Rp1 trillion, to process 2,000 tons of waste daily.

However, RDF is not adequate to tackle the waste woes in the capital, which according to data from the National Waste Management Information System (SIPSN) in 2022, generates 3,112,381.40 tons of waste or 8,527.07 tons per day.

Ali Ahmudi Achyak, Executive Director of the Center for Energy Security Studies, said that drying waste in RDF facility takes a relatively long time. In contrast, Jakarta’s waste generation increases every day

In addition, not all types of waste can be processed with drying technology. He gave an example: only 10% of corn cob moisture can be dried through RDF. The remaining 90% remains unprocessed waste.

Achyak says that the RDF plan should not stop incinerator construction. He believes the two waste processing facilities, if implemented together, can complement each other’s shortcomings.

“The technology can also be combined. In the event where waste is not entirely processed by the incinerator, we can apply RDF technology there,” explained Achyak.

Meanwhile, Bhima Yudhistira, Executive Director of the Center of Economic and Law Studies (Celios) said that the use of RDF-processed biopellets will extend the life of coal power plants which is contrary to the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) commitment.

He believes that Jakarta’s waste management policy should be in line with Indonesia’s efforts to reduce emissions. “Now there is a commitment about JETP, early retirement of coal power plants. If it is later used for pellets that feed coal power plants, that will be criticized as a false solution,” he said.

On the other hand, incinerators destroy various types of waste, except metals, building debris, and electronics. Considering Jakarta’s organic waste composition of 53.75%, this technology is considered potential for use.

Sigmaphi Indonesia Sustainability researcher Gusti Raganata says with the ability to process 2,200 tons of waste daily, four incinerator facilities will be needed to process 8,800 tons of waste every day.

“Large cities such as Jakarta need incinerators that process waste into energy. Burning waste up to 97 percent, with minimal residues,” Raganata said.

He believes the Jakarta administration should continue to prioritize incinerators as waste processing facilities.

Jakarta acting governor Budi Hartonno said he would not continue the ITF project, due to the high cost and investment required. This is what prompted his administration to shift towards RDF.

“Yes, the investment can exceed Rp5 trillion, and the DKI administration is not unwilling to do so. The concepts are sound, but the DKI cannot pay the fee,” he was quoted as saying by Detik.

In 2024, the Jakarta administration plans to build two RDF facilities in Rorotan (North Jakarta) and Pegadungan (West Jakarta).

A quick solution

Incinerator technology has also been criticized. Several studies have shown that it exacerbates air pollution by releasing toxins and pollutants. The administration, however, believes the facility is the fastest way to reduce Jakarta’s mounting waste.

Achyak confirms that all combustion processes produce various pollutants, including dioxins and furans, especially low to medium-temperature combustion from 200°C to 600°C.

In incinerators, the combustion process occurs directly, while in RDF it is indirect — through burning pellets in cement factories or power plants.

“So everything produces dioxins and furans, but the levels vary according to the quality of the technology,” Achyak said.

However, as far as waste management in big cities like Jakarta is concerned, Achyak believes incinerators are more effective at absorbing and destroying waste. Considering the current speed at which waste piles up, a treatment technology that processes waste quickly is considered the best option.

“Considering the volume of waste in Jakarta, there should be technology that destroys it quickly. If one waits too long, how long can the Bantar Gebang (landfill) last?” he said.

To reduce air pollution, incinerators could also consider a number of criteria such as the classification and sorting of waste. This includes separating solid waste and toxic ones before burning them.

Achyak also believes that incinerator facilities should have a burning rate above 600°C to leave minimal residue. It should also be designed as a closed reactor so that its exhaust gas could be contained and treated before being released into the air.

He added that it is also critical for the government to conduct annual monitoring of pollutants from incinerators, as the growth in waste amounts is very likely to be followed by the frequency of burning which will also increase. Not to mention, pollutants from incinerators will potentially mix with pollutants from other sources.

About the writer

Themmy Doaly

Themmy Doaly has been working as Mongabay-Indonesia contributor for North Sulawesi region since 2013. While in the last nine years he has also been writing for a number of news sites in Indonesia, including...

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