Plastic and pollution problems to worsen with Gatchalian’s Waste-to-Energy bill –environment group

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The national environmental alliance No Burn Pilipinas (NBP) on Saturday denounced moves by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian and Senator  Francis Tolentino to railroad a Waste-to-Energy  (WtE) bill that will serve to worsen the country’s plastic and air pollution problems.

If approved, the proposal will weaken the Clean Air Act as it seeks to legalize and incentivize the construction of polluting thermal waste-to-energy plants, whose toxic ash and air emissions  present significant threats to public health and the environment, NBP said in a statement.

No Burn Pilipinas is a coalition of 78 people and non-government organizations across the country advocating for clean and healthy environment by campaigning against waste incineration  and promoting zero-waste approach to managing waste management problem of the country.

NBP said, once constructed, these high-priced facilities  would  require  an uninterrupted supply of combustible waste feedstocks — especially non-recyclable, throw-away plastics, and  single-use packaging.

Environmentalists assert that Gatchalian’s proposal is bad for the environment and undermines the spirit and intent of the Clean Air Act, which has banned waste incineration to  protect the public from the harmful, toxic and carcinogenic emissions associated with waste burning. The group also questioned  Gatchalian’s motivations for pushing the bill given his family’s vested interest in the plastics industry.

Thermal waste-to energy is a label often used by incinerator pushers to mislead the public and to  disguise the polluting nature of  waste incineration technologies which also include variants like  pyrolysis, plasma arc and gasification processes.

The plastics industry is a major supporter of these so-called waste-to-energy plants as they help justify their continuing production of problematic and non-recyclable plastics.

“Linguistic subterfuge will not erase the fact that these thermal waste-to-energy plants are actually incinerators in disguise. You can put lipstick on a pig but it would still be a pig. Contrary to what proponents say, even these modern facilities are known to emit pollutants of concern, and create toxic and hazardous  ash, which still requires proper and safe disposal. Instead of implementing real solutions to the waste crisis as already embodied in our Ecological Waste Management laws, the Gatchalian bill will only perpetuate that crisis and transform it into a more formidable pollution problem with grave consequences to  public health,” said Von Hernandez.

Hernandez won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 for his crusading work against waste incineration. He is also the Global Coordinator of the Break Free from Plastic movement.

For his part, Glenn Ymata, Senior Campaign Manager of No Burn Pilipinas,  warned  that “the Gatchalian bill will suck the financial coffers of  cities and local governments dry, citing the experience of cities in other countries who have had to declare bankruptcy because they cannot  afford to pay the astronomical and guaranteed tipping fees obligated  by such plants.

“Because they are expensive to build,  these plants require huge amounts of subsidies from the government as well as guaranteed tipping fees to sustain operations. Even worse, local governments will be required to guarantee the uninterrupted supply of waste to burn in such facilities – and pay nonetheless if the supply falls short — thereby encouraging even greater waste generation. Lulutuin tayo sa sarili nating mantika!” he said.

NBP members assert that if the Gatchalian bill becomes law, it will reverse significant policy gains and overturn the benefits that Filipinos currently enjoy from the implementation of landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Waste Management Act.

Cities, municipalities and communities in the country who have been faithfully implementing the ecological waste management law report impressive waste diversion rates from decentralized and local waste segregation programs, not to mention the many jobs created and the significant savings realized by the local government, which would have otherwise been spent on waste management and disposal.

“Local governments like the City of San Fernando in Pampanga and Malabon have demonstrated that Zero Waste programs work in solving our waste problems. These woes can already be effectively addressed by sorting household waste at source, composting leftovers, recovering recyclables, and banning single-use plastics,” said Sonia Mendoza, Chairman of Mother Earth Foundation

“Waste-to energy incineration represents a waste of energy. These plans can only generate a small fraction of energy because of low calorific value of domestic waste, half of which are organic matter. To function effectively, incinerators need to burn large quantities  of waste, especially those that can be sold to junk shops and recycled. In contrast, Zero Waste practices conserve as much as five times the amount of energy produced by waste incineration,” said Froilan Grate, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA- Philippines)./Stacy Ang

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