Port Moresby's Baruni Dump: a place time forgot

02/03/2012 14:25

The Baruni Dump outside Port Moresby. Picture courtesy of Ian Booth/Photographby blog


By Nalau Bingeding 


MOST people who grew up in Port Moresby know where Baruni Dump is and can reminisce their experiences travelling past the dump in the past. The stench of rotting garbage emanating from the dump is still fresh in their noses, even if they had not gone past the dump in recent years. For those of us who have taken up residency in Port Moresby in recent years, Baruni Dump does not resonate in our ears because we have not travelled through the back-road yet.

I moved to Port Moresby in 2008 and lived a few kilometers away from the Baruni Dump. However, it never appealed to me to travel through the back-road to see what Baruni Dump is like. But on the 22nd of February, 2012 I took a bus ride through the back-road, and what I saw is a time-bomb; ready to explode in the face of developments that is rapidly taking place in the city and the surrounding areas.

Population and waste increase

Extrapolation of the 2000 National Census data shows that Port Moresby currently has a population of some 355, 000 people. But with the PNG LNG Project development coming on stream, it is anticipated that the population of Port Moresby could rapidly expand, to be within the vicinity of 0.5 million people in 2014. Consequently, Port Moresby’s solid waste is anticipated to increase in response to the population increase.

To date, no reliable data exists on domestic, commercial and industrial solid waste in Papua New Guinea (PNG).  But a study by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) in 1985 at Baruni Dump, showed that solid waste from domestic, commercial and industry varied between 0.21 to 0.39 kilogram  per day, per person, of which 53 per cent was biodegradable, or can be broken down by bacteria and other biological means. Another study by the department in 1993 showed that domestic waste in Port Moresby consisted of 66.8 per cent biodegradable material (including wood), while 30.7 per cent was recyclable materials such as metals, plastics and glasses, and only 2.5 per cent was non-recyclables like textiles and ceramics.

The extrapolated census data from 2000 and the DEC Solid waste data for 1985 can be used to estimate the solid waste outputs for the years 2012 and 2014. The estimated solid waste for Port Moresby in 2012 is about 27,000 to 50,000 tonnes.  For the year 2014, the projected solid waste for Port Moresby is 49,000 to 71,000 tonnes.  It is also estimated that in 2014, Port Moresby’s solid waste will have increased by 40 to 80 per cent.

The landfill at Baruni Dump is now fully used and does not have any more carrying capacity for burying solid waste. Heaves of garbage (big enough to be called hills) can be seen from the roadside, and bulldozers are regularly used to push them over and compact them. But this effort is of little help as the garbage is becoming unmanageable by the day. There are unconfirmed reports that the customary landowners of Baruni Dump would not provide any more land to the National Capital District Commission for the landfill. If there is any truth in this report, then the city’s solid waste management faces a bleak future unless something drastic is done.

Social Issues

The Baruni Dump does not have fencing, thus people freely enter the dump and scavenge to find something that may be useful, either for sale or personal use. People have even build make-shifts in the dump to take shelter while scavenging.

However, scavenging in the dump poses health risks. The smell that emanates from the rotting garbage is mostly methane and carbon dioxide gases, but some traces of toxic gases are released as well. Although these toxic gases may not have any immediate adverse effects on scavengers and by-passers of the Baruni Dump, prolonged exposure to the stench can develop into breathing problems and even cancer in the latter years of a person’s life. People scavenging among the rubble do not have any safety gear to protect themselves from dangerous chemicals and bacteria, which can sometimes lead to immediate burns and bacterial infections, respectively. Body contact with dangerous chemical residue over prolonged periods can develop into some form of cancer in later years, but the degree of poverty is such that it masks any concerns the scavengers may have for their own health.

Landfills such as Baruni Dump were the only places for solid waste disposal in the colonial days, and such landfills were established on the periphery of most towns and cities in PNG. These landfills were strategically placed so that they had minimal social and environmental impacts on residents of these municipalities.

However, with increasing populations in municipalities in recent years, squatter settlements and housing developments have now encroached on these landfills. Squatter settlements and housing development for the LNG project have already encroached on the Baruni Dump, and it won’t be long before Baruni Dump will be blamed for being an eye-sore to the public or causing breathing problems for people living within its’ vicinity. But the reality is that Baruni Dump did not encroach on people, it was the people that have encroached on Baruni Dump.

Environmental Issues

Leachate (liquid or fluid) from rotting garbage contains water and many other substances. However, it is the toxic substances in this leachate that are of concern to the environment and people. Heavy metals such as mercury from the leachate can be leached underground and carried off by ground water into waterways or the ocean, thus posing health risks to animals and people. Toxic substances from the leachate can also be washed off by heavy rains into creeks and dry watercourses, posing direct health risks to people and animals using these waterways.

For Baruni Dump, the leachate is obvious to any by-passer. Leachate from the rotting garbage has spilled onto the road, and the road near the entrance into the dump is constantly inundated by the leachate.

The leachate may be partly responsible for deteriorating the stretch of road along the entrance to the dump, with large potholes that are obvious to by-passers. It is not known whether people living within the vicinity of Baruni Dump are affected by the leachate or not, but it is obvious that the leachate is washed off into drains and creeks during heavy rains.

The DEC Solid Waste Data for 1985 and Greenhouse gas conversion factors from some developing countries in Southeast Asia can be used to obtain Greenhouse gas estimates for Port Moresby. However, I will only give an estimate for methane gas here, as methane gas generation and utilization from waste is part of the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol. Credits generated can be traded on carbon markets in Europe and elsewhere.

Assuming that 1 tonne of garbage can generate 0.156 tonne of methane gas – It’s estimated that in 2014 Port Moresby’s solid waste will produce approximately 8,000 to 11,000 tonnes of methane. When converting this figure to carbon dioxide equivalent (standard measure for greenhouse gas emissions), it is about 184,000 to 250,000 tonnes.  

Due to global warming and the resultant climate change, the international community is calling for efforts to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions. PNG is a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and therefore PNG has an obligation to reduce its Greenhouse gas emissions.

The minimum requirement for trading of Greenhouse gas emissions on the carbon markets is that one should generate 1 metric tonne of carbon dioxide.  But looking at the carbon dioxide estimates for Port Moresby in 2012 and 2014, the amounts produced far exceed the minimum required amount for carbon trading. In fact the Baruni, and other dump in Port Moresby, the Six-Mile Dump, are exacerbating climate change through the release of methane gases directly into the atmosphere. This is not conducive to the international effort to reduce Greenhouse gas emissions in order to combat global warming and the resultant climate change.

I lived most of my life in Lae, another city having its own share of issues, and have observed how solid waste is managed at its Second-Seven Dump. Solid waste is mostly compacted by a bulldozer and then buried. But at times, the waste is burned using flammable liquid. The residue is then buried, or at times the garbage is set on fire using used car tyres before the residues are buried. Yet, I am not sure if these practices are also being applied at the Baruni Dump.

Since Baruni Dump is now faced with the dilemma of solid waste management, burning of solid waste before burying the residue may be an option (if not already a practice). Although the practice of burning garbage before burying the residues is feasible, the practice of burning solid waste is not a recommended practice.  Burning of garbage releases Greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere and is not conducive to the mitigation of climate change. The fumes that are given off pose a greater health risk for people within the vicinity of the dump including the travelling public.

  • Nalau Bingeding is a Research Fellow in the Economics and Land Research Program at the National Research Institute.