Eco groups warn vs plastic waste burning

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PHILIPPINE-based environmental groups have warned that proposed investment strategies for the disposal of waste plastics through gasification will only be costly, ineffective and contribute further to environmental degradation.

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The groups, which describe the proposals as “disguised solutions” to marine plastic pollution, issued their warning in reaction to two recent reports suggesting a technology called gasification.

According to the reports “The Next Wave” by Ocean Conservancy (OC), and “A Sea of Opportunity” by
Encourage Capital (EC), gasification is a solution for eliminating the most common plastics waste leaking into oceans, such as low-value plastics like sachets and plastic bags.

The reports used waste management models relying on Philippine waste data that highlighted the use of gasification, a process wherein waste is subjected to high heat in a starved-oxygen environment.

The European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency have classified gasification as a form of incineration, a waste disposal means which has been banned in the Philippines since 1999.

According to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative (GAIA), the technology has been in use for more than 30 years but has failed commercially.

GAIA’s technology analysis report, Waste Gasification and Pyrolysis: High Risk, Low Yield Processes for Waste Management, said gasification has failed to operate on a commercial scale to treat municipal solid waste.

It said that all gasification projects have failed in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, United States and Canada due to plants’ inability to meet projected energy generation, revenue generation and emission targets aside from strong community resistance.

Froilan Grate, GAIA-Philippines Executive Director, said gasification is one of the most expensive options to treat waste, citing United Kingdom’s multiple companies that have gone bankrupt while attempting to construct gasification facilities.

Grate explained that plastic waste burning, especially through dirty and expensive technologies such as pyrolysis or gasification, or the so-called “waste-to-energy” (WtE) technologies, is a false response to the environmental crisis caused by plastics polluting oceans and seas.

“This only perpetuates the plastic and chemical industries’ business-as-usual approach and diverts us from the real problem, that there is too much plastic production and consumption,” Grate said.

“Waste burning undermines communities’ efforts to intensify waste reduction and recycling programs. Since WtEs are extremely expensive to build and maintain, using them will force cities to produce more municipal waste. Instead of reducing global plastic production, WtE will encourage more production of low-value plastic products,” he added.

High cost

GAIA’s Analysis of Plastic Pollution Investment Strategies that analyzes the waste models highlighted in the EC and OC reports found that it will cost more than P100 billion to deploy gasification technology in the Philippines at the scale suggested.

It said that using calculations in the report, it would cost P1 billion to build a 150-ton per day (tpd) facility.

In contrast, GAIA said the City of San Fernando in Pampanga spends only P12 million every year to sustain its waste management program that diverts more than 80 percent of waste from landfills and supports the livelihood of at least 100 waste workers.

GAIA also estimates that it will cost the Philippines over P56 billion annually in energy rates and subsidies for the widespread use of gasification.

Grate said that instead of supporting dysfunctional and expensive technologies like gasification, investments should be geared towards supporting effective and innovative zero waste solutions that increase livelihood opportunities for wastepickers and phase out cheap, non-recyclable plastics.

“Let us push for redesign of products to make them truly recyclable, and effectively cut off pollution before it begins,” he said.

‘Not even needed’

Abigail Aguilar of Greenpeace Southeast Asia said the burden of paying the high costs of the technology will automatically be passed on to consumers who are already over-burdened with high energy rates.

“The Philippines already has one of the highest power rates in Asia. It is unacceptable to make energy even costlier for Filipinos by using these technologies that are not even needed,” Aguilar said.

She explained that the Philippines has an abundant supply of clean renewable energy such as solar and wind, and as such, “we do not need unreliable technologies like gasification to meet our energy needs.”

Greenpeace also expressed concerns about recommendations, particularly in the OC report, to provide incentives such as feed-in-tariffs (FIT) for plastic waste burning.

Aguilar explained that FIT is an incentive for clean, low-carbon technologies to harness renewable resources such as solar, wind, or hydro.

She said plastic is a petroleum-based product and burning plastic waste releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide and toxins into the atmosphere and environment.

“Burning plastics for energy is like burning fossil fuels. It completely contradicts the idea of renewable energy. Under our Renewable Energy Act, plastics are not eligible for FIT,” Aguilar said.

Meanwhile, EcoWaste Coalition (EWC), a pollution watchdog, said that burning plastic waste violates Philippine laws.

“Plastic waste burning also violates the country’s environmental laws such as the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and the Clean Air Act,” Aileen Lucero, EWC national coordinator, said.

In a new development, Lucero said more and more cities in the country are strictly implementing ecological waste management strategies, such as increased waste diversion, segregation at source, recycling, and composting and are making huge impacts in communities where these strategies are strictly implemented.

“All these efforts will be lost if we push our local government units to set up burn or thermal WtE facilities.

These facilities will bind them to long-term contracts, which will push them to create more waste, instead of aiming to reduce waste. Our environment and communities should not suffer in favor of non-solutions that cater to industries’ profit-driven interests,” Lucero said.

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