Tested Several Times, SBE Waste Found Not Harmful

JAKARTA – The government decision to exclude the palm oil waste of spent bleaching earth (SBE) from the category of hazardous and toxic waste (B3) was criticized by environmental activists who claimed that it will victimize the public and the environment.

The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) Foods, Water and Essential Ecosystem Campaign Manager  Wahyu Perdana said recently that by removing the palm oil waste from the B3 list, then companies will be free from any lawsuits in case of causing pollution. But the palm oil companies have stated that the waste in the form of earth that contains below 3.0 percent of oil is not toxic and can be utilized for building material.

The government has also ensured that  supervision on the palm oil waste will be maintained and any cases of pollutions will be processed legally.

The ministry of environment and forestry’s (KLHK) Trash, Wastes, and Hazardous and Toxic Wastes (B3) Management Director General Rosa Vivien Ratnawati said that the palm oil waste delisted from the B3 category is spent bleaching earth (SBE).

She said that the oil content of the SBE has been reduced from 20 percent to less than 3.0 percent. That means that based on scientific and technical tests it is no longer hazardous and toxic.

“It is also easier to be used as it does not contain oil and heavy metal,” Rosa Vivien told Quin Pasaribu of BBC News Indonesia, through WhatsApp on Sunday, 14 March 2021.

“Despite no longer in B3 category and already fulfilling the environmental safety standard, the ministry of environment and forestry will keep controlling its management process based on agreed standards,” she said.

If there is any violation, then it will be processed legally.

Producers’ Comments

In line with the KLHK, the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) Deputy Chairman Togar Sitanggang said that the  SBE is the refining result of cooking oil processing. It is in the form of earth with low content of oil.

Without processing, its oil content is around 20% that can experience self-burning in certain weather condition. Such condition makes the SBE categorized as the hazardous and toxic (B3) wastes based on the government regulation (PP) No.101/2014.

But he noted that in other countries, including Malaysia, the SBE waste is no longer categorized as B3 waste. “SBE is not just used in Indonesia, but across the globe, and all of crude oil and cooking processing plants apply such refining,” Togar Sitanggang told BBC.

“In Malaysia and European countries, the SBE is not included in the B3 wastes. But in Indonesia it is included in the B3 list and it requires treatment before being discharged.”

Based on the newly issued PP, the SBE waste delisted from B3 category is the one with oil content of less than 3.0 percent.

Togar stated that the waste is no longer hazardous based on the research conducted by Gapki in cooperation with Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

“We’ve been conducting researches several times regarding its toxic content. All have proven that the SBE is no longer hazardous and toxic. Its oil content has been reduced to less than 3.0 percent to avoid possibility of self-burning,” he said.

According to him, after the special treatment the SBE waste can be used as building material to produce bricks.

The decision to exclude the SBE waste from B3 list is contained in the PP No.22/2021 on environmental protection and treatment management. It is an implementing regulation of the omnibus law  No.11/2020 on job creation (UU Cipta Karya).

But Walhi Foods, Water and Essential Ecosystem Campaign Manager Wahyu Perdana accused the government of conducting a green-washing of an environmental crime. He claimed that a research conducted by Walhi shows that SBE waste affects the soil acidity that disrupts surrounding vegetation.

Wahyu Perdana said that by excluding the SBE from the B3 category, people affected by its impacted pollution can no longer file a lawsuit against the potential polluters. He said that the risk of environmental pollution from the waste is still high enough. “In the case of the waste meets standard, but its volume and treatment are disregarded and causes environmental pollution, then the public could no longer file lawsuits. So, in case of pollution, the public are placed in difficult situation as they could not complain over the case. Previously, when it is still included in the B3 list the public can file a lawsuit,” said Wahyu.

He urged the government to cancel the application of the omnibus law as, according to him, it tends to sacrifice the public rights and the environment, and benefiting more companies rather than creating job opportunities. “Is the production cost reduced? Yes, surely. Does it sacrifice the public rights? Yes, of course.”

He said that one case of the bad impact of SBE waste was seen in Sendang Mulyo village of Sluke district in  Rembang regency of Central Java province.

Boma Subkhan, a representative of Rembang Environmental Forum, said that the distance between the location of the waste disposal and the residential area is around three kilometers. The locals complained that the waste has caused foul odor. It smells strong. If you’re struck with the foul odor now, you’ll feel dizziness that can last for about two days,” Boma told BBC News Indonesia.

Not only that, as tens hectares of the local crops die. Boma estimated that every local farmer suffers a loss of between Rp15 – 40 millions. “Their red onions, chili plants died. Also their clove trees of over 10 years died,” he said.

He said that the waste was discharged by a barge in February 2020. It was placed in four post mining sites in Rembang regency. He said that at that time people who discharged the waste claimed that the waste was not hazardous. The waste total volume is around 30,000 tons with a height of 2-3 meters.

“Now, the local people have wanted to see the waste removed soon from the location,” Boma said. (*)

Source: BBC.com