NO TRASH TALK: Unmasking ADB’s proposed energy policy as a greenwashed plan toward a low-carbon future

10 June 2021 – 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. 

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.

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 (1). 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. (2)”   

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 (3).

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 .

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.” 

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.

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.   



(1) ILSR (2018 December). Waste Incineration: A Dirty Secret in How States Define Renewable Energy. 

(2) Zero Waste Europe (September 2019). The impact of Waste-to-Energy Incineration on Climate.

(3) Zero Waste Europe (2018 November). Hidden Emissions: a story from the Netherlands. 

Media Contacts:

Sonia Astudillo, Communications Officer, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific  I I +63 917 5969286

Jed Alegado, Senior Communications Officer, Break Free From Plastic (BFFP) Asia Pacific I I +63 917 6070248

About GAIA  |  Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. and

About Break Free From Plastic | | @brkfreefromplastic The #breakfreefromplastic Movement is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 11,000 organizations and individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and to push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. Break Free From Plastic runs the #WeChooseReuse campaign, calling for a global shift towards refillable and reusable products.

Related resources:

Media briefing: Zero Waste Asia – YouTube or 


18th Congress of the Senate of the Philippines (31 July 2019). Gatchalian bats for the passage of the Waste-to-Energy bill.

Asian Development Bank (May 2021). Energy Policy Supporting Low Carbon Transmission in Asia and the Pacific. Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila, Philippines.

Asian Development Bank (19 May 2021) Key Figures in the Fight Against Climate Change.

Asian Development Bank (November 2020) Waste to Energy in the Age of Circular Economy. Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila Philippines. waste-energy-circular-economy-handbook.pdf

The President’s Office, Republic of the Maldives (01 June 2021) President declares list of Single-use plastics prohibited to import from June 01, 2021.

Yang, A. (28 March 2021) ADB affirms support for waste to energy despite opposition. Business World Online,

World Health Organisation (04 October 2016). Dioxins and their effect on human health.

Zero Waste Europe (November 2018) Hidden Emissions: a story from the Netherlands.