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Saddled with waste from new plant

The plant at Pentakomo serves the entire Limassol district which previously disposed of its municipal waste at a landfill in Vati

Unable so far to find takers for the by-products generated at the municipal waste treatment plant at Pentakomo, the government has resorted to a temporary fix, allowing the by-products to be buried in a basin near the facility.

The irony is that the whole purpose of building a mechanical biological treatment plant, like the one in Pentakomo, was to end the practice of burying solid waste.

Pentakomo’s plant – operated by a partnership of Medcon and db Technologies – serves the entire Limassol district, which previously disposed of its municipal waste at a landfill in Vati.

The facility is currently generating a waste treatment by-product that is a mix of Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF) with Refuse-Derived Fuel (RDF).

SRF is essentially mud that has been dried, while RDF – also in solid form – consists mostly of processed plastic bags and fabrics.

The mixture is currently being stored/buried in a nearby basin since the facility began operating in November last year.

Under the contract between the private company/operator and the government, it is the government that is responsible for making arrangements to dispose of the SRF. This means the government could also be saddled with any costs arising from any such arrangements.

Building an incinerator for the by-products was discarded in 2012 when the option was deemed too costly.

Back in November of 2017, the Water Development Department (WDD), as the contracting authority for the Pentakomo facility, requested from the Department of the Environment permission to bury the by-products temporarily.

The Department of the Environment is currently examining the request, sources at the WDD told the Sunday Mail.

The WDD has requested a one-year ‘grace period’ for burying the by-products.

The sources said the basin has the capacity to accommodate five to six years’ worth of SRF/RDF.

But, they stressed, “we are looking only at an interim arrangement. For the state, the ultimate goal has always been to convert the waste by-products into energy.”

As a back-up plan, the WDD is meantime in talks with Vassiliko Cement Works for using the by-products as a fuel.

The government would have to pay Vassiliko to take in the SRF/RDF sludge.

But the Sunday Mail understands that Vassiliko is more interested in RDF, which has a higher calorific value than SRF. The latter is mostly used as fertilizer.

Vassiliko has requested additional sample analyses of the by-product to determine whether the RDF/SRF mix suits their needs.

The same sources at the WDD said that it might be possible for the Pentakomo plant to modify their equipment to separate the RDF from the SRF, should this be necessary.

Due to the sensitivity of the negotiations with Vassiliko, the sources declined to comment on reports that the company has rejected the €3 per tonne suggested by the government.

George Savva, deputy general manager and CFO of Vassiliko Cement Works, confirmed in an email response that the company’s subsidiary Enerco-Energy Recovery Limited was among 14 other companies who responded to the WDD’s request of proposals issued on September 26, 2017.

A senior manager from the WDD was subsequently appointed to act as project supervisor and a point of contact between Vassiliko and the Pentakomo treatment plant.

“A preliminary timetable with milestones was defined…The first sampling and tests carried out so far have indicated that there is still much work to be done at Pentakomo before the product can be suitable according to our specific needs and requirements.”

Savva said his company are “interested in using a suitable treated and packaged waste from Pentakomo. However, I should point out that there are costs both in investments required as well as in daily operations for preparing and feeding the end product in our plant. There is thus a gate fee for taking in the product (SRF or any other).

“Gate fees vary from product to product and depend on a number of parameters such as moisture content, calorific value, and other parameters which can affect the process stability of our kiln operation.”

Another option would be to export the by-products, but shipping costs are prohibitive.

“Sweden, for example, is keen on taking in waste from other countries. The Swedes currently bury only 1 per cent of their waste. But shipping our waste there would be too expensive,” the WDD sources said.

Moreover, there is currently a market glut for SRF: there are about 100 SRF producers in Europe, and SRF consumption is high in a number of European countries including England, the Netherlands and Germany.

According to a European Parliament press release this week, Cyprus ranks very low in terms in recycling municipal waste.

The EU is setting a new goal of increasing recyclables to 55 per cent of municipal waste by the year 2025, from 44 per cent currently.

Cyprus now recycles less than 20 per cent of its waste.

Under proposed EU legislation, the percentage of municipal waste ending up in landfills should be no more than 10 per cent by 2035. Cyprus, by comparison, currently disposes more than three-quarters of its municipal waste in landfills.

The Pentakomo facility was co-funded by the EU, but Cyprus ignored the EU’s advice regarding the tenders’ procedure and its misgivings about awarding the contract to a firm with no experience of waste treatment; the authorities had expected to award a contract for €120 million but the Cypriot construction firms put in a bid at €70 million.

The Mail contacted the European Commission asking what steps, if any, they are considering in light of the government’s failure to date to address the proper disposal of the by-products.

The European Commission did not respond in time.

Complicating matters still is the apparent refusal by the Limassol municipalities to take delivery of the Pentakomo plant.

Currently, the facility is still ‘assigned’ to the state, under a monitoring period by the WDD that ends in November. Once that expires, the municipalities will have to deal with Pentakomo directly.

During a discussion in parliament this past week, the mayor of Yermasoyia  Kyriacos Xydias warned that the municipalities would not take delivery of the plant if the final cost is substantially higher than the €19m initially stipulated in the contract awarded to the operator.

Xydias spoke of rumours that the Pentakomo facility could end up charging municipalities as high as €40 to €45 per tonne, depending on what arrangement is reached concerning the disposal of the SRF/RDF.

By comparison, the Mail is told, the Koshi facility – which converts waste to compost – charges €36 per tonne. The Koshi plant serves the Larnaca and Famagusta districts.

The tale of how of how matters came to this – the state not securing the method of disposal of the by-products prior to the opening of Pentakomo – is a long and convoluted one.

In October last year the attorney-general ordered a probe into the whole affair, which spans more than a decade and three administrations.

During a meeting held last week at the presidential palace, attorney-general Costas Clerides gave a briefing on the progress of the investigation.

In an email response to the Mail, Clerides said that at the meeting he told officials the investigative panel had “entered into deep waters and they needed more time”.

“They applied for an extension of time and I approved a three-month extension which expires sometime in June.”

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