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Songkhla: the country’s dirtiest province and poor Municipal Solid Waste Management

Songkhla: the country’s dirtiest province and poor Municipal Solid Waste Management

Songkhla province, located in the Southern Thailand is facing a solid waste management crisis which has been growing for many years. The amount of waste per day of Songkhla municipal area was 71.22 tons in 2009. The amount of waste keeps growing, it is predicted to rise to 150 tons/day (local people generate waste approximately 1.0 kg per person per day), while management options become increasingly limited.

The dumping site in Hat Yai Municipality is full. Insufficient capacity of the dumping site has resulted from the skyrocketing amount of solid waste discharged and a history of poor solid waste management issues.

In Songkhla, the present dumping site has been getting some 80 tons of waste daily since it was created in 1999. Of the daily waste deposited, some 20 tons come from Ban Phru and the rest from other municipalities (40 tons from Khor Hong, 6 tons from Ban Rai and 16 tons from Pha Tong). Up to 40 percent of the dumping site’s space is occupied by two sanitary landfill pits containing 350,000 tons of waste, while a third pit will be opening soon. (

Songkhla had the largest amount of undisposed waste at 2.4 million tons in 2013. It is called the country’s dirtiest province. The private sector invested in this project was also in line with the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s roadmap, which requires Songkhla to earmark five locations for waste disposal. In the first four locations, waste will be used to generate power – this means waste treatment facility as waste incinerator. These four locations are:

  1. Hat Yai Municipality, which already has a waste incineration plant in place (operated since 2015)
  2. Songkhla Municipality (expected in 2017)
  3. Ban Phru Municipality and
  4. Sadao Municipality.

The fifth location, Tambon Bo Tru Municipality, would use a landfill.

In my opinion, this is a big mistake for Songkhla who is currently facing a waste management crisis, technological solution such as waste incineration plant may sound easy to do and seem like an effective lifesaver and benefits towards the energy.

However, as the cases of failure are seen in many countries in Europe and Asia, waste incinerator is a pollutant sink- it releases harmful air pollutions, primarily dioxins, heavy metals and particulates, liable to cause health and environmental problems (Municipal Solid Waste Management report in Germany, 2006).

So, introducing waste incineration without any source separation and recycling program is a wrong path. If there is no recycling activity, no separation, no pretreatment, the waste dumped in landfills will rise and a crisis in solid waste management will be unavoidable for sure.

”The source separation is the best method for managing the problem of increasing amounts of solid waste in our communities and lives”.

Municipal solid waste management in Japan and Germany are examples which already proved that waste should be separated and recycled for a sustainable waste management. This means significant increases in the lifetime of a municipal dumping site and require a minimum aftercare. They faced this same situation of ‘waste mountains’ and a ‘waste management crisis’ in the past.

Japanese turned to a recycling policy that included a comprehensive source separation system to deal with their waste crisis of having no more dumping sites and waste treatment facilities.

In the late 1980s, Germany faced their waste mountain problems. There was little public appetite for any new waste management infrastructure, regardless of whether this meant incinerators, landfills or composting facilities. The public’s attitude was prompted by fears that waste treatment facilities, and above all incinerators cause health and environmental problems.

Germany closed conventional landfills and reduced the number of waste incineration plants. The emissions standards for waste incinerators were also tightened up since 1990, most notably for dioxins and furans (0.1 ng TEQ/m³) and for heavy metals. It was becoming clear that practice of dumping untreated waste in inadequately lined landfills was leading to soil, surface and groundwater contamination and to emissions of landfill gas, a contributor to global warming. Conventional landfills and waste incinerators could not be made environmentally safe in the long term.

Since 2005, Mechanical-biological treatment of residual waste (remaining waste after separation) has been practiced at all landfills in Germany by law. Residual waste have to be treated before going to landfills.

A decade ago in Hat Yai Municipality, the Community-Based Recycling in Thailand (the CBRINT) was introduced. The project was established as a 3-year joint research undertaking between the Japanese University and the Faculty of Environmental Management, Prince of Songkla University (FEM, PSU) in 2002-2005.

The project was the development of a solid waste management system based on the concept of source separation in a regular-sized community in Hat Yai Municipality. The team made good steps in this direction and many Thai people can separate waste at the source. The residents felt there were benefits from source separation:

  • Reducing the amount of waste discharged into waste bins
  • Having the surrounding areas of the waste bin cleaner than before
  • Helping to solve the local solid waste problem

The composting facility and the sorting plant were constructed in Hat Yai Municipality followed the project’s plan of the Japanese team to encourage future expansion of a source separation system to a wider area.

The project resulted in a satisfactory outcome – however the local decision makers did not want to accept or support a source separation and recycling system. The source separation seems to be not a good thing for the politician’s point of view. The reasons seemed to be :

  • the dumping site problem is not a serious issue for them,
  • the source separation can cause some inconvenience for the people in Thailand.

Decision makers are leaving future generations with a huge cleanup bill, health and climate change problems. They are wasting time and money. Source separation is a must, prior to any other plan. I want to believe that Songkhla will get cleaner again.

Thai people : ”Do you still believe that waste management problem is not your concerns?”

Written by: Dr. Pattarapond Pimolthai

« April 2021 »