In line with the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) annual Asia Clean Energy Forum in June 14-17 in which waste incinerators, aka Waste-to-Energy (WtE), figures prominently as a renewable source of energy and a solution to a low-carbon future in its released draft Energy Policy, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific and #breakfreefromplastic gathered experts and representatives from civil society organizations (CSOs) to express their opposition to the Bank’s support for WTE incinerators.
The #breakfreefromplastic is a global movement working towards a future free from plastic pollution. The BFFP Philippines project is a collaboration of #breakfreefromplastic members EcoWaste Coalition, GAIA Asia Pacific, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Health Care Without Harm Southeast Asia and Mother Earth Foundation.
“ADB contradicts incinerator policy”
Under its Strategy 2030, the ADB has envisioned to “achieve a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty.” Moreover, it has supported cross-sectoral projects addressing water security and environmental conservation – including waste disposal services – in order to build livable cities. The ADB, however, maintains its endorsement of WtE incineration, which it describes as a “circular economy solution,” contrary to the Bank’s commitment to a low-carbon and inclusive development.
“ADB sham clean energy agenda”
Yobel Novian Putra, GAIA Asia Pacific’s Climate and Clean Energy campaigner stressed that, “Permitting WtE incinerators in its energy policy and considering it as renewable energy means ADB is offering a sham clean energy agenda and veering away from the Paris Agreement’s 1.5° target.” He highlighted that, “WtE incineration is neither clean nor renewable and it is dirtier than coal-power plants. In Europe, it is recorded that WTE incinerators generate twice the amount of direct CO2 emissions of the current EU28 average electricity grid intensity – significantly greater than conventional fossil fuel sources.”
“Incinerators spews out poison gasses”
In addition to a high level of carbon intensity, a study conducted by Zero Waste Europe revealed that waste incinerators – despite being equipped with safety mechanisms, long-term tests show that they emit dioxin and other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) far beyond international standards.
Today, waste incinerators are heavily regulated in the EU and the US and banned in the Philippines, Guam, and in Canberra, Australia. CSOs also said waste incinerators require a fixed amount of waste for incineration throughout the plant’s life – and as such – it undermines waste prevention, reuse and recycling policies and programs .
“Cancer, mental disorders”
Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of Centre for Environmental Justice in Bangladesh added that “the Stockholm Convention lists two groups of POPS namely, dioxins and furans as byproducts of incinerations which accumulate in living tissues. Long-term exposure can impair immune, nervous, endocrine and reproductive systems – and increase a person’s predisposition to cancer. Evidence suggests WTE also poisons food systems and environmental quality.” He also stressed that waste incineration projects fail because in the long run, waste incinerators demand more resources both in terms of waste and cash. “Waste incinerators are expensive to build and maintain and companies lock cities in 20- or 30- year contracts demanding cities to supply trash to burn or otherwise – pay a fine.”
“Maldives experience as model”
Ahmed Afrah Ismail, Co-founder of Zero Waste Maldives, believes that waste incineration investments will sink the Maldives into further debt. “The Maldives already has a bad record in running waste incineration projects. Not only is it disastrous to our economy, but waste incineration, which needs a lot of waste feedstock for its operations, will ruin the government’s efforts to ban single-use plastics. Effective 1 June 2021, the Maldives banned the import of single-use plastics, such as drinking straws, plates, cutleries, and disposable food containers.
“Opposing Waste Incinerators in Philippines”
In the Philippines, CSOs are actively pushing against a legislative bill proposing to repeal the incineration ban, which is enshrined under Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999, to address the country’s waste and energy problem. To Atty Rose Liza Osorio, a Trustee of the Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), “The proposal is mimicking the ADB’s perspective that waste incineration is a green source of energy. “ADB is magnifying inequities, harming country regulations and offering a false solution to a low-carbon future.” PEJC is working with communities affected by ADB’s WTE project in Cebu, Philippines on grounds of violations to national laws and social issues including health, pollution, and job losses of waste pickers.
Urging the institution to raise its ambitions by investing in just and cleaner energy systems and waste management solutions, the group then advised the ADB to explicitly exclude waste incineration and other thermal-based technologies in its energy policy. They also stressed that ADB’s decarbonization agenda must go hand in hand with achieving a more sustainable and equitable society.