Gamma Covanta in Mauritius (updated)


The debate has been going on for a while. Should we or should we not have the Gamma Covanta waste incinerator in Mauritius? I don’t know much about incinerators and the technology they use and so I’m definitely not in a position to comment on whether they are safe or not. So my analysis of the situation will be based on other points:

1. No free lunch

We’ve got a lot of waste and don’t know what to do: let’s burn it and we’ll get energy! Doesn’t that just too good to be true: turning a major problem (too much waste) into a source of revenue. There’s just got to be a catch somewhere. I might be mistaken but I’ve not heard anyone saying that we should classify the waste and selectively burn only some of them. This is just too too easy and definitely look fishy.

2. Why do they want to set it up so badly?

Gamma Covanta seems to be extremely keen on setting up this plant. There have been adverts everywhere on the island and recently there are even adverts on the radio saying that the incinerator is our only solution to deal with waste in Mauritius. Gamma and Covanta are not philanthropic organizations – they are businesses and the aim of a business is to make money – and if they are putting so much effort to convince everyone, there’s got to be a lot of money behind it.

Well this is just my personal opinion and there’s no scientific basis behind what I’m saying but common sense tells me that it just can’t be that good, that easy and generate some and have no side effects.

Panaceas like that just don’t exist.

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Update (23 July 2009) starts here: The myth of dioxins

I’ve assisted the talk at the university today (Thursday 23 July 2009) given by Prof Jean Francois Narbonne. It was a good talk followed by a very nice debate. In the light of this, I know a bit more about incinerators and the Mauritian context and I was wrong along several lines:

  • the incinerators, if used properly operating at 850 degrees, with filters are basically safe: the level of dioxin the emit is well below the level recommended by the European union
  • I was mistaken, the incinerator will separate the different kind of waste and selectively burn some
  • incinerators are not a super way of becoming rich; dumping the waste like we currently do is.

Is it really the solution?

However, it’s not that great and I’m not too sure it’s the best for Mauritius. To operate the incinerator, we will need a lot of waste; if I got it right, an incinerator needs at least 150 tonnes of waste to be effective – will we have enough to burn? Moreover, we are not going to burn metal, glass and plastic (these can be recycled) and that leaves us with burning paper and organic waste (I suppose that will produce lots of Carbon dioxide). Out of these two, in Mauritius, we mainly have organic waste but it’s got lot of water and the amount of energy required to dehumidify these might be more than what the incinerator produces. In addition to that, if we burn all the organic waste and paper, there’ll be nothing left for composting as these need a minimal amount of waste as well to be cost effective notwithstanding the fact that even paper can be recycled. Finally, even incinerators produce waste which must be stored in class 1 landfills (landfills that are constructed with impervious material that will prevent fluids from leaking into the ground and polluting underground water for example).

What are the other options?

Landfills like we have in Mare Chicose seems to be worse than incinerators. In addition to being an eyesore, it’s very polluting.

Recycling paper, plastic, metal, glass, … basically everything that would seem ideal but do we have enough of these to make these recycling plants sustainable. I think we already have a plastic recycling plant (one of my friends take plastic bottles somewhere in Plaine Lauzan I think) and some people are so keen on recycling metal that they even steal them but I think these are exported. I don’t know if it’s cost-effective to export all that can be recycled though; again I know very little about waste disposal and all the mechanics involved there.

Given that we have mainly organic waste, composting could be a solution there. Professor Narbonne warned against producing compost of poor quality but since we mainly have organic waste, I suppose that wouldn’t happen here. But still not a complete solution: what happens to non-organic and non-recyclable waste?

Plasma arc waste disposal: this is what is used in Japan but it seems to require high technology.

Others exist but I don’t know enough and this post is getting too long anyway !


1. Wrong debate!

Down the line, it would seem that dioxin is not the main concern for the incinerator. Why the hell are so many people talking about that? Two possibilities:

  • The ecologists are totally clueless about what is happening!
  • Gamma is trying to focus the debate on that so that it appears as the major hurdle. Since, it seems, that it can be easily proved that the dioxin levels are very low with incinerators, there’s no reason to stop the project and Gamma wins easily.

2. We need a solution … soon

Landfills for everything is not an option and an alternative needs to be found soon. Like I said before, panaceas do not exist and I believe the ideal (or less evil) solution will be an array of techniques and I’m not too sure incinerators are the best choice (again, not because of dioxins) – even Professor Narbonne prefers other alternatives to incinerators. We need a Mauritian solution to the problem as the Mauritius context is very specific.

Who’d believe that waste would be such an interesting topic! 🙂


17 responses to “Gamma Covanta in Mauritius (updated)

  1. Actually there are no catch, however, advantages.
    1. unlimited supply of waste, free !!
    2. selling of electricity at a fixed price.

    Thus, we should not be surpised to learn that the C.E.B buy electricity from independent electricity producers at a fixed price which is higher than the price C.E.B produces electricity using oil since oil has gone down.
    However, c.e.b do not have resources to put in more cash to get current soon. So, here comes gamma-covanta and they propose to sell this electricity to c.e.b at a fixed higher price.
    Since, price of oil is known to go up most of the times. It would be judicious for the c.e.b to buy electricity from now from independent producers if they propose to sell than when oil prices increase because then the electricity sold from I.P.P ( independent power producers ) will also increase.
    The catch if you want is the high price c.e.b would pay for electricity made from waste which is free.
    However, it is not really a catch, since we all know that c.e.b is already buying electricity forcibly at loss.

  2. @Ashfaq

    If it is as good as that, most of the countries round the world would have adopted it by now!

    So I’m still thinking that there should be a catch somewhere as all countries would like to turn their waste into energy. Maybe it’s the pollution coz I don’t think everything can be burnt safely. Hopefully if it is the pollution, they can fine-tune their technology in some years time.

    • yea?? They would have ??
      I am not sooo sure.. Because for saying your comment means you have not understood yet what we are talking about.
      The incinerators release a lot of smoke and there has been ecological problems with past incinerators.
      However, the incinerator we are talking about today is a newer generation one. And this one can even be installed in the city centre of port louis and it will not be a problem.
      Actually, this incinerator has been installed inside a town in france, and their is absolutely no problems except the coming and going of the rubbish vans. That is why in mauritius too, to avoid critical traffic problems, it’s been put into a quite remote place.

      Also, 2nd answer to your question. Is the price of the incinerator, Mauritius is one of the TOP 5 african countries, which is why are sooo good and can afford this kind of stuff.. and around the world, it is the same as for nuclear, exchange of technologies, france don’t transmit technology to everyone, their should be diplomacy and all ..

  3. You are right, for them to use so many adverts means that ena bel profit laden.

    Sinon, many experts are saying that we are wasting green waste if we burn them. It’s better to turn em into compost. (Read that either in L’Express or WeekEnd)

  4. If its really for the good of the country, i vote for it.. even if they are making big money.. i dont care.

    I got an email from UOM administration that there will be a Conference on the subject matter

    ou are kindly invited to attend a Conference on:

    “IncinĂ©rateur et SantĂ©: Mythe et RĂ©alitĂ©”… Read More


    Professor Jean François Narbonne
    Toxicologist, University of Bordeaux (CV attached)

    DATE: 23 July 2009
    TIME: 14.00 hrs
    VENUE: R. Burrenchobay Lecture Theatre

    ORGANISED BY: UoM in collaboration with Gamma Energy Ltd

    The Conference will be followed by an Open Discussion.

    Although it says open discussion, I believe it will be very biased, since Gamma Energy ltd is organising it.

    • The lectures of UoM are quite good.. you can trust Dr. kalil elahee on that matter, he is a pro-eco.. and as far as the Open discussion is concerned.

      I was there 3 years ago .. in the first debate and Open discussion. It was a well animated one and the researches asked loads of questions and none of which remained unturned .. and having got answers to all those questions i find no objection to this project.

      Furthermore, the only inconvenience, et c’est a peine voiler .. the people just do not want to have an incinerator in their neighbourhood which they want to keep like a high class or middle high class neighbourhood. Well, those persons should just be honest and tell their real reasons for not wanting incinerator. However, this sole reason would invalidate their cause. which they fighting on soi disant ecological grounds .. pfff..

  5. Hi,

    I think its just another method of making money. The organical parts of the waste could be processed in a better way and do not deliver a lot of energy, if any, when getting burned. Plastic, oil etc. should be recycled instead. So whats then left ? Not a lot.
    Apart from this let me remind you that they need good filters to ensure that no Dioxin is blown out of chimneys and I havn’t yet heard something about this aspect in the discussion.

  6. @joe and all – mite be you should attend this to have a clearer point of view ..

    You are kindly invited to attend a Conference on:
    “IncinĂ©rateur et SantĂ©: Mythe et RĂ©alitĂ©”
    Professor Jean François Narbonne
    Toxicologist, University of Bordeaux (CV attached)
    DATE: 23 July 2009
    TIME: 14.00 hrs
    VENUE: R. Burrenchobay Lecture Theatre

    As far as the incinerateur is concerned. This is not a four a chaux like we have in mauritius, it is a modern incinerator wiz state of the art technologies to burn done materials and gain energy from it .. and that’s all.
    I understand that some do not what rubbish vans going around all day and nite .. but that’s the way it is ..
    The people of mare chicose can’t stay forever with a dumpyard in their garden .. can they ??

  7. I was born in Europe and I have seen them build incinerators. They all ran into efficency problems cause thay had not enough waste, after the government ordered the separation of garbage and recycling companies used alot of garbage instead.

    I hope the mauritian government does not give Gamma a guarantee for the amount of waste … This would for sure prevent for years the introduction of existing and future better technologies.


    Have a look here:

  8. Covanta has an incinerator in our area for the past 20 years. Local League Of Women Voters here in Oregon, USA have studied the incinerator. They do not support it. Here is why…
    1) the ash is 20% by volume of the original waste burned, you have to store that ash forever at your cost, not the company’s.
    2) the ash has all the toxins in it. While it is true that not much goes up the smoke stacks, it is in the ash. Lead, cadmium, dioxin and other toxins are left in the ash.
    3) the ash has not viable use because it is contaminated
    4) recycling creates local jobs…about 10 jobs for every 1 job in the incineration company
    5) incineration produces CO2 that contributes to greenhouse gases and global warming
    6) it is expensive to build and keep the incinerator going…they need updating about every 20 years and thus you never get over paying for them.

    A better solution is recycling and prevention of waste in the first place. Composting can generate revenue for the local government and is safe.

    Covanta is a worldwide company that distorts the truth of what it is really like to have them in your backyard. Do not believe what they say…my community did and now we regret it and we can’t get rid of them.

  9. All is talk. A proper solid waste management is an important issue and we need immediate actions and solutions for the landfilling problems. There hasnt been any proposed feasible solution which includes recycling. We cant keep saying that recycling is a better solution, when there is no strategy how we will do it. While on the other hand, Covanta Gamma came up with a rapid solution, incineration!!

    • In our area we recycle over 58% of our waste and still send too much to the Covanta incinerator. We are working on composting food waste to add up to 10% more to the recycling rate. In nearby counties where they do not have an incinerator they compost the food waste to get energy by burning the captured methane. There are alternatives to incineration that produce clean energy at a lower cost and do not produce the unusable ash from burning. The ash is the biggest problem with incineration. While the contaminants do not go up the smoke stack anymore, it does go into the ash. A community has to take full responsibility for the landfilling of the ash forever because Covanta will not take responsibility for it. We pay higher hauling rates with the incinerator not only because of the costruction costs, but also because we have to maintain the ash pits. They pits leak overtime and we have to pay for the removal of the leachate too. The liner on one of the ashpits was supposed to last 40 years, but it failed after 17. The ratepayers will have to fork over about $7 million to fix the problem. This is will fix the problem for maybe another couple of decades, but in the end this new liner will fail too. The US Environmental Protection Agency admits that ALL landfill liners eventually fail. The real solution is in not produce the waste in the first place if you do not have a way to recycle it.

      One thing about burning materials is that once it is burned it is turned in to something that you can never use again. If you landfill materials because there is no market for it now, you can at least come back in the future and retrieve it when the technology improves.

  10. Hi

    I am coming over to Mauritius at the end of Jan 2010 and am interested in finding out more about your recycling problems there. In particular with regard to recycling garden refuse and sewage sludge – operations I succesfully run here in South Africa. have you some suggestions of people I can contact in this regard?

  11. This issue about waste treatment in Mauritius must be addressed rationally. I would therefore like to add a few comments.

    If there is a need to provide an environmentally safe and affordable solution to the management and treatment of Municipal Solid Waste in Mauritius then how about starting from scratch again.

    The evidence of the Government in Mauritius suggests that even though there is a large quantity of Municipal Solid Waste collected in Mauritius up to half of this could be separated and recycled. That being the case the remainder would almost certainly consist of biodegradable materials. What are the options for managing and treating this residue?

    In all the evidence given about the potential solutions to treating this residue – which is in fact biodegradable and loosely called biomass (or ligno-cellulose) the suggestions as to the most affordable solution has missed the one which is so obvious. That solution is to convert this biomass to the fuel for transport namely ethanol. Such a proposal would be sufficiently robust in its own right to be capable of standing alone with treatment costs that would be competitive against land fill costs. In other words it would not need subsiding as the incineration proposal will. Furthermore with the revenue saved from using the renewable fuel Ethanol the Country would be able to reduce its dependence on importing oil by a significant amount year in and year out.

    There are proposals being discussed for Mauritius by a Company we have heard of which if it was built would not require any investment at all from the Government of Mauritius for its financial case is so strong that it would pay for itself within 5 years through the sale of Ethanol fuel at World market rates.

    What surprises me is that the Country has not picked up on this information more is the pity. The information is out there and if someone in the Government of Mauritius was to give a reply and a contact number with an email number which can be verified we will respond.

  12. So now we hear that the Lies submitted by the potential provider of an incineration facility for Mauritius have been exposed.

    Firstly the bid presented to the Mauritius Government was Un-Solicited and the basic question must be asked “Who invited the company to make the bid? What kick-backs are being given to the persons making the request?

    1] The quantity of waste will be expected to decrease with time and therefore although the current waste is 1219 tonnes per day (445,240 tonnes per year) that even if the suggested 300,000 tonnes per year minimum take was opted for by the Government as being ”the put or pay” base load requested then with the $43 per tonne treatment fee the guaranteed revenue will be $12,900,000 per year even if (as it is more than likely) the quantity of waste produced dropped to 200,000 tonnes per year! Who in their right minds in any Government would allow this to happen? This is a one sided issue that only favours the service contractor.

    2] The net calorific value of the waste (which we all knew about going back to 1996) is so low that the quantity of electrical energy likely to be produced from the incineration proposal is now likely to be limited to 7MW on a continuous basis from the 300,000 tonnes of MSW incinerated per year (a figure verified by all the experts in the industry including the World Bank) compared to the proposers 20MW. This means that the proposer will be claiming for electricity from the Mauritius Government at (say) $00.15 per kWh equal to $26,300,000 a year irrespective of the actual quantity ever likely to be produced from the facility. This is a one sided issue that also only favours the service contractor.

    3] With the resultant production of a toxic ash residue now expected to be 30% of the total waste destined for treatment (again confirmed by experts across the world) the Government of Mauritius will be forced to build and store this material for an indefinite period. The average costs for storing this highly toxic residue is generally reckoned to be $200 per tonne – or $18,000,000 per year – and therefore the question has to be raised who is providing this facility and who is bearing the costs? It ought to be the company but it sounds as though in this instance it will be the Government.
    This does not sound right

    So now we know that the company will be charging $39,200,000 per year for the operations of this proposed facility year in year out even if the total quantity of waste reduced to zero tonnes per year. And further more they are obviating the additional costs of $18,000,000 per year for passing the buck on storage of the toxic residues to the Government.

    Effectively this means that the people of Mauritius will be charged $57,200,000 per year minimum for the service of an incineration proposal which they do not want, and which as Carol said here could be done more cost-effectively by turning the waste in to a biofuel ethanol.

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