APARAJITA: CHANGING WOMEN’S LIVES

Interview with Kalyani Rani Biswas by Samina Khondaker

Aparajita began with the goal of empowering women and ensuring that they had equal environmental rights. On March 8, 2017, Kalyani Rani Biswas, the organization’s founder, embarked on this path with little manpower and a heart full of dreams, ambition, and drive to empower women economically, mentally, and physically. 

Aparajita founder, Kalyani Rani Biswas. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

Kalyani Rani Biswas noticed many women living in poverty and uncertainty. She recognized at that point that this could not happen. So, in order to make them self-sufficient, she began working with them, starting with sewing and gradually progressing to preparing spices and vermicomposting. Vermicomposting was chosen since the majority of the ladies were from a farming background and found it simple to cope with, and cow dung is one of the greatest raw materials for vermicomposting, with which they are already accustomed to. 

Currently, around 37 active individuals are working for Aparajita in various parts of Magura in order to help women become psychologically and physically independent.

GAIA sat down with Kalyani to know more about their work.

What are the top priorities of Aparajita?

Aparajita is now focused on sewing, spice preparation, and vermicomposting, although vermicomposting is their major priority. Work has been done in Magura Municipality Wards 4, 7, and 8, as well as Changardanga village in Magura Sadar Upazila. We are trying to spread the word about vermicomposting across Magura Zilla and, if feasible, the entire country.

The spices come next. Women from the organisation prepare around 1,500 kilos of vermicompost each month, which are purchased by the local Spice Research Institute and the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA). The organization also retails these spices to the local community.  

What are the main ongoing campaigns? 

One of our continuing campaigns involves waste workers. We are training them to separate the waste they collect every day into biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste and to dispose of it in a specified location. The biodegradables are later used in vermicomposting.

Sewing is another one of our ongoing initiatives. We stitch clothing and sell them at the local market, and people make a livelihood from it.

And spices are already an active campaign for us, since we prepare and sell them on a daily basis.

At Aparajita’s Training Center. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

What would you consider are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

One of our organization’s most significant successes is that around 25 houses in our neighborhood are effectively doing vermicomposting. Because of this, the soil fertility of that area has grown significantly, as has the soil’s water holding capacity, and fertilizer needs are being satisfied. After viewing the results, many farmers are interested in doing vermicomposting. As a result of this successful endeavor, Aparajita was awarded the best organization award, and I was honored for entrepreneurship by the Department of Cooperatives. 

Receiving the Best Entrepreneur Award from the District Administrator and Upazila Chairman. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

What challenges are you facing?  How is your work impacted by the COVID crisis?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Aparajita suffered tragically. Earthworms with a BDT 3 Lac value (approx US$3,233) perished due to a lack of staff and extreme heat! During the pandemic, lockdowns were implemented around the country, preventing individuals from going out to work. The organization’s workforce was dwindling at the time. In the midst of the pandemic, we had to endure a loss of BDT 3 Lac.

Aside from COVID, we faced several hurdles such as the difficulty of persuading community members to work with earthworm and cow dung, two key vermicomposting supplies. We had to convince them that 10 kilos of raw cow dung may yield 7 kilos of fertilizer. If this is sold in the market for BDT 20 (US$0.22) or at retail for BDT 15 (US$0.15), they may make a respectable profit and transform their lifestyle for the better.

People were eventually convinced after our persistent campaigning, and they are now working and earning more than before!

What are the main environmental issues that your country/region is facing?

Because of climate change, we are facing many issues such as untimely rain which is creating waterlogging that is completely destroying our field and the products it contains such as paddy, rice, etc.

How do you see your organization’s work evolving in the next years? 

Aparajita views the organization’s growth through vermicomposting not just in Magura Zilla, but throughout the country. This would benefit not just the country, but also the farmers who are living in poverty. This choice will allow them to generate a respectable income for themselves while also creating opportunities for others.

Production of earthworm manure in the trainee’s own home after receiving the training.
Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries in your region (and in the world) are living in right now?

Waste has become a major issue for all of us. If our administration does not handle this properly, the implications might be disastrous especially when it comes to our respiration. This will not only impair human health but will also have a negative impact on the ecosystem. It is about time to properly manage waste, all types of waste. This will not only result in a healthy environment, but also in a habitat environment.

Sorting waste at its source is highly crucial and effective. Wastes are effectively handled, waste workers’ health and the foul odor of waste will not affect the environment.

Do you collaborate with partners in other regions? If so, how?

Aparajita collaborates with ASD Bangladesh. Together we conduct different training and events related to organizational projects. ASD Bangladesh, also based in Magura, provides manpower and conducts training sessions for Aparajita.

At the Aparjita Training Center. Photo courtesy of Aparajita.

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

We have always tried to work for the betterment of the community and society. We try to make people aware of the negative impacts that an issue might have. We have a theater group when we go on awareness campaigns in villages. Drama or play is one easy method that works because it has both audio and visual. This helps us gauge the community’s opinion on the issue and see their enthusiasm towards the advocacy.  

Who do you admire most in the environmental work (in your country or in the world)?

Aparajita always admires work related to soil and farmers. We are interconnected and these days, it is a growing concern that we need to work on. One of the organization’s motto is ‘Krishok Bachle, Desh Bachbe’ (If the farmer survives, the country will survive)’

We also admire those working against plastic pollution. We would love to contribute to this movement in the near future.

Interested in supporting the work of Aparajita?  They need additional support for:

  • Vermicomposting (mostly with resources such as creating a shed for the compost, for buying earthworms, and other resources)
  • Collection and sorting wastes through 3 compartment vans which will help them to sort wastes easily and work safely.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 22 JUNE, 2022

Civil society organizations, including the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and Break Free from Plastic, are calling on leaders in the U.S. and Africa to stop waste colonialism—the illegal importing of waste from countries in the Global North to African nations already impacted by the waste and climate crises. 

Their demand letter was first introduced at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention in Geneva, Switzerland, the first of a series of negotiations following the March adoption at UNEA-5 of a global, legally-binding treaty addressing the full lifecycle of plastics.

The U.S. is one of only three countries that have not ratified the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste from OECD countries (primarily wealthier nations) to non-OECD countries (primarily low-income countries in the Global South). Recent research from the Basel Action Network found that U.S. ports exported 150 tons of PVC waste to Nigeria in 2021, in violation of the Convention. Many of the exporting ports are located in environmental justice communities, which like their counterparts in Africa are impacted by the waste and climate crises. 

“Whatever waste is not burned in our communities is being illegally sent to relatives and grassroots partners in the global South,” says Chris Tandazo, Community Connections Program Coordinator at New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. “Fighting for waste justice here would mean waste justice for communities in the Global South. We cannot allow the white supremacist colonial practice of dumping waste in low-income and communities of color to continue. We will continue to organize against polluting industries at home, and globally.”

Rather than stopping plastic pollution at its source, waste colonialism encourages waste management approaches that create severe health implications for workers, communities and the environment by generating significant amounts of greenhouse gases, toxic air pollutants, highly toxic ash, and other potentially hazardous residues. This includes waste incineration, chemical “recycling”, plastic-to-fuel or plastic-to-chemical processes, pyrolysis, and gasification.

“Colonialism is alive and fully functioning in the ways that waste, toxicants, and end-of-life products produced by and for overdeveloped societies move to Indigenous lands,” says Dr. Max Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) at Memorial University, Canada. “Without access to other people’s lands and waters, the economic systems of overdeveloped countries simply don’t work. This assumed access to other’s lands and waters is colonialism.”

“Nigeria is already overwhelmed with plastic waste—we barely have enough facilities to recycle internally generated plastics in Nigeria,” says Weyinmi Okotie, Intervention Officer of Green Knowledge Foundation (GKF) Nigeria. “I’m urging the Federal Government of Nigeria to sign the Bamako convention on toxic waste, as it will be an effective legal tool in stemming the importation of toxic wastes into Africa.”  

“Ensuring that countries manage their own waste is the best way to prevent global environmental injustice. It is also essential for countries to truly come to terms with their waste footprint rather than shipping it off in containers. Once countries fully realize the absurdity of wasting precious materials and resources, harming the planet, our climate, and human health in the process, they become ready to shift to local zero waste economies centered around reuse, repair and composting of bio-waste,” says Sirine Rached, Global Plastics Policy Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). 

Media Contact:

Zoë Beery, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternative
zoe@no-burn.org

For more information, see no-burn.org/stopwastecolonialism. 

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Contact

Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), claire@no-burn.org 

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Gear up and get ready, GAIA Asia Pacific will be bringing you exciting fellowship opportunities for media, CSO communications officers, and communications students this August!

Media Fellowship on Climate – South and East Asia

Exclusive for media practitioners in South Asia and East Asia – get to know the facts on how our climate is changing and how we are currently dealing with the problem. 

In this fellowship, 

  • You’ll learn about climate issues, policies, and conferences;
  • Make the connection between climate, Zero Waste, and waste pickers; climate and the plastics issue; and climate and waste burning;
  • Delve into climate reporting; and 
  • Be the 1st to hear about our latest report on climate and Zero Waste.

Climate and environment experts from across the globe will guide you through the ins and outs of climate change and Zero Waste and top-notch journalists will offer their insights on how to communicate these very important and timely topics. 

Criteria for Application 

  1. The Fellowship is open to early-career journalists (at least 3 years) from print, radio, or television.
  2. Applicants must have a keen interest in climate, environmental, and developmental journalism.
  3. The applicant must be willing to commit to the 5-month fellowship.  Failure to do so will result in disqualification in succeeding GAIA AP bootcamps, training, and fellowships.
  4. The applicant must secure an endorsement letter from the media outlet or a peer journalist.
  5. Other than the twice-a-month sessions, the participant must commit to regular consultation with the mentors. 
  6. The applicant must have experience in covering and engaging with CSOs.  Previous engagement with a GAIA member CSOs is a plus.  

Slots available: 

South Asia: India (3), Nepal (2), Sri Lanka (2), Bangladesh (2), Maldives (2), Bhutan (1), Pakistan (1)

East Asia: Hong Kong (2), Taiwan (2), China (3), Japan (2), Korea (2)

SEA Biodiversity Media Bootcamp

Join our  Southeast Asia Biodiversity Media Bootcamp where we bring together journalists, civil society organizations’ communications practitioners, and communications students to achieve the common good: communicating biodiversity conservation within the context of Zero Waste! 

There are no strenuous military drills here; instead, you will learn: 

  • Biodiversity terms and various international biodiversity conventions
  • Environmental issues in Southeast Asia especially the marine plastic pollution
  • Zero Waste contribution to biodiversity
  • Biodiversity reporting from knowledge building to persuasion and moving the audience to act
  • Waste pickers as biodiversity champions; and
  • Zero Waste communities as vanguards of biodiversity

And to top it off, you will be mentored by biodiversity and communications experts and top-notch journalists from Southeast Asia while working with other students, comms practitioners, and journalists. 

Criteria for Application 

  1. For Communication Officers, the applicant must be working as a Communications Officer for a GAIA AP member organization.  In the absence of a dedicated Communications Officer, a staff assigned to do communications work for the organization may qualify, provided that he/she is willing to write a biodiversity piece as part of the deliverables of the bootcamp.  He or she must be a regular employee of the member organization.  Interns and consultants with more than one year contract with the organization may apply.
  • For Journalists, the Bootcamp is open to early-career journalists (at least 3 years) from print, radio, or television.
  • For Communication students, the applicant must be a Communication college or university student and at least 18 years old. 
  1. Applicants must have a keen interest in science, environmental, and developmental journalism.
  2. The applicant must be willing to commit to the 5-month bootcamp.  Failure to do so will result in disqualification in succeeding GAIA AP bootcamps, training, and fellowships.
  3. The applicant must secure an endorsement letter from the organization’s head (for communication officers), media outlet or peer journalist (for journalists), and teacher or journalist mentor (for communication students) to attend the bootcamp and be granted time to attend the bootcamp sessions.
  4. Other than the once-a-month sessions, the participant must commit to regular consultation with the mentors. 
  5. The journalist applicant must have experience in covering and engaging with CSOs.  Previous engagement with a GAIA member CSOs is a plus.  
  6. Communication Students with volunteer experience with a CSO and involvement with the school paper are a plus.

Slots available:

  • 12 journalists: Cambodia (1), Indonesia (3), Malaysia (1), Philippines (3), Thailand (1), Vietnam (3)
  • 12 comms practitioners: Cambodia (1), Indonesia (3), Malaysia (1), Philippines (3), Thailand (1) Vietnam (3)
  • 12 comms students: Cambodia (1), Indonesia (3), Malaysia (1), Philippines (3), Thailand (1) Vietnam (3)

Twice-a-month online sessions for the Media Fellowship on Climate – South & East Asia and once-a-month online sessions for the SEA Biodiversity Bootcamp. Both fellowships will run from August to October with a two-month allocation for story writing.  Story grants are available.  

All sessions will be conducted in English.

Slots are limited so send your applications before July 19, 2022! 

Apply now 

Media Fellowship on Climate – South & East Asia

SEA Biodiversity Bootcamp

GAIA AP has a strict non-discrimination policy.  We believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, sex, gender identification, sexual orientation, national origin, native language, religion, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, pregnancy, or any other characteristic protected by law. 

Applicants will be screened based on completed requirements and may be called for an interview if needed. For more inquiries, email Sonia@no-burn.org

Manila – The Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) – Asia Pacific condemns the continued promotion and commitment of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to invest in Waste-to-Energy (WTE) incinerators. It has also relentlessly shaped country and regional energy and climate policies and guidelines to include this polluting technology as a renewable or clean source of energy. 

The ADB has conducted the last four days of the  Asia Clean Energy Forum (ACEF) as a virtual marketing platform for the WTE industry and its backers to sell this technology to governments and development planners.  While WTE promoters enjoyed speaking spaces to promote its false solutions,  there was no space provided for communities and grassroots organizations to challenge the purported promises of environmental, social, and financial opportunities from WTE incinerators and to be heard on how these technologies impact their health, jobs, and their environment. In summary, the ACEF has been nothing but an arena for industry polluters in shaping the narrative of what a low-carbon energy mix should look like for the region. 

Investing in WTE incinerators undermines national and global goals to keep temperatures at 1.5 degrees and achieve resilience amid the urgency to act strongly on climate, health, and fiscal emergencies in the region. Incinerators are dirtier than the rest of the grid. Per unit of electricity output, they emit 3.8 times as much greenhouse gases — 1.9 times as much carbon dioxide, 15 times as much nitrous oxide and methane, and 66 times as much biogenic carbon dioxide as the grid average. WTE incinerators are also known to create persistent organic pollutants as byproducts of their operations. 

The ACEF’s silence on the impacts of WTE incinerators on poor and marginalized communities. WTE incinerators are always placed beside low-income communities that cause long-term, multi-generational health impacts from toxic air and groundwater pollution. WTE also threatens informal workers in the waste sector and poses a threat to the generation of green jobs as these facilities wipe out opportunities by burning waste that should have been up for recycling. WTE destroys the resilience of the poor and marginalized communities and should have no place in the just transition. 

Instead of bringing toxic energy and unsustainable debts, we urge the ADB to invest more in environmental waste management priorities which begins with waste reduction, reuse, to recycling instead of incinerating precious and finite resources.

The ADB, as a development bank, whose aim is to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development in the region should also cease in shaping the narrative that industry polluters are the drivers of innovation on energy, waste, and inclusion. This narrative negates the existing Zero Waste practices and communities that sustainable waste management patterns in the Asia Pacific.

We are also deeply concerned that the newly-adopted ADB Energy Policy 2021, which states that investments in WTE incinerators shall flow only after meeting the following requirements 1)  after careful consideration of their political, social, and environmental contexts and in accordance with international conventions, 2)  provided that the feedstock for combustion results from a prudent order of waste management priorities, and lastly 3) first reducing waste generation, then exploiting the options for reusing and recycling materials, remains to be an empty promise. To date, we have not seen any guidance framework to ensure that these precautionary measures and priorities are in place. We strongly call for the immediate implementation of this policy requirement immediately. 

We call on the ADB to stop undermining national and global development objectives and align its investment policy to the requirements of the Paris Agreement, international instruments, and other development objectives for a truly just and resilient path to net zero. ####

Media Contact:

Sonia Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer sonia@no-burn.org, +63 917 5969286

Campaign Contact:

Yobel Novian Putra, GAIA Asia Pacific Climate & Clean Energy Associate yobel@no-burn.org 

Kenya Waste Pickers, in Nairobi, at  Dandora Dumpsite (2022)

The term decolonisation describes the process of indigenous people achieving sovereignty over their land, culture, political and economic systems. African countries have largely achieved political independence from colonial powers, and have attempted to dismantle political systems and symbols of oppression. Sadly, in the 21st century, we are facing a new wave of neo-colonialism from Multinational Corporations. 

Colonial settler objectives are rooted in principles of gaining control and exploiting indigenous territories. Likewise, corporations have taken over public space, destroyed consumer choice and displaced individuals from their traditional mechanisms of subsistence. 

In the waste sector, colonialism is evident in several ways. It can be described as the export of waste from economically powerful countries to lower-income countries, where there is a clear lack of infrastructure to manage problematic waste streams. This is further compounded by the double standards that corporates have by sending cheap, single-use products to African countries- under the guise of development while boasting effective sustainable waste management practices where they operate in the Global North. Petrochemical plants which are part of the plastic production process are often placed in poorer communities at the expense of their health and wellbeing. Waste colonialism is also evident when corporations propose false solutions like Waste-To-Energy incineration (WTE), which disregards and will displace waste pickers and their contribution to the local economy. Fundamentally, these practices of waste colonialism treat people as disposable and that is unacceptable.

In Ghana, a German company McDavid Green Solutions has proposed to construct a facility in the Ashanti region.3  Waste workers in Ghana have helped increase waste management services across the 261 Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to 80%, across the country.4 A facility like this risks displacing waste workers who are integral to the country’s waste management system. Since there is a high level of organic waste in the African waste stream, in order to meet the quotas of waste needed to be burnt to make incinerators financially feasible, it would need recyclable materials to be burnt as well.

The way forward |

We need African governments to:

  • Uphold existing legislation like the Basel and Bamako conventions, which prohibit the illegal exportation of waste from economically powerful countries. 
  • Invest in the ongoing discussions around a global plastic treaty, and ensure this mandate reflects the local plastic pollution realities within the region and attempts are made to address the problems of plastic across its entire value chain with significant emphasis on slowing down production.
  • Avoid false solutions like WTE, and rather empower individuals with local solutions to waste management by adopting zero waste practices. 

Last year we commemorated  Africa Day on the 25 May 2021, by releasing a solidarity video on Waste Colonialism.  This year we continued creating awareness on the different impacts and forms of waste colonialism by holding an online meeting with our African member organisations, with presentations from expert speakers. In addition to the online meeting, we developed a sign-on letter on waste colonialism directed to African government, which was launched on 01 June 2022.  

To quote Griffins Ochieng, director of the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya: “When waste is within your boundaries, it is your responsibility to deal with it, and assess how you manage this waste. You don’t export this to other countries to live with your problem.”

Ends 

GAIA and its members are fighting to end Global North plastic waste dumping in Global South countries, and advocating Basel Convention leadership for a worldwide shift towards localized zero waste economies that foster sharply reduced plastic production, discourage false solutions like so-called “chemical recycling,” and end plastic waste burning, which poisons people and planet and harms our climate. 

For more information on the Global Plastics Treaty, visit our webpage.


Policy Brief: Plastics at Basel COP 15

Three years after the Basel Convention COP14 adopted the plastic waste trade amendments that came into force in January 2021, the global plastic waste trade has shifted but remains a cause of environmental injustice, with communities and ecosystems in importing countries bearing a disproportionate portion of the toxic burden associated with the dumping, burning and environmentally-unsound recycling of plastic waste.

Chemical Recycling: Status, Sustainability, and Environmental Impacts

This technical assessment reveals that chemical recycling is polluting, energy intensive, and has a track record of technical failures, and concludes that it is impossible for chemical recycling to be a viable solution in the short window of time left to solve the plastic problem, especially at the scale needed.

waste beach
Comments on the Plastic Waste Technical Guidelines

Comments on the Basel Convention Draft Updated Technical Guidelines on the Environmentally Sound Management of Plastic Wastes and for their Disposal Submitted by Basel Action Network, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Environmental Investigation Agency

Additional Resources

Policy Brief: Plastics Treaty and Waste Trade

Top exporters such as the United States, Germany, the UK, Japan and Australia are placing a disproportionate toxic burden on the environment and communities in importing countries. A Global Plastics Treaty can enact stricter measures on the waste trade to prevent environmental injustices.

Mr Yoga, (left) poses for a portrait with his wife and daughter amongst imported plastic waste at his recycling factory in Bangun Village, near Gresik, Surabaya, Indonesia on 22nd February, 2019.

Investigative Report: Discarded– Communities on the Frontlines of the Global Plastic Crisis

When China closed its borders to foreign waste in 2018, countries in Southeast Asia were flooded with garbage masquerading as recycling, primarily from wealthy countries in the Global North. This investigative report uncovers how communities on the ground were impacted by the sudden influx of foreign pollution, and how they’re fighting back.

Between January and August 2020, the United States shipped 44,173 tons of plastic waste, the same tonnage as almost 300 blue whales, to 15 Latin American countries, approximately 35 containers per day. An investigative report by GAIA LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) members reveals the untold story of how the United States is exporting its plastic problems to Latin America–disregarding international and national laws–and the harm that it’s causing to the Latin American people and environment. 

Policy Brief: Transposing the Basel Convention plastic waste amendments

Before April 2019, most plastic waste flows between countries were uncontrolled under international law. Exporters only had to obtain prior informed consent from importing countries before shipping hazardous plastic waste, as is the case for all hazardous waste under the Basel Convention. However, companies in high-income countries have been exporting mixed, heavily-contaminated and
often unrecyclable plastic waste abroad in order to avoid paying to properly manage it locally.

Basel Action Network: Plastic Waste Transparency Project

Here, activists, policy makers, academics and industry stakeholders can find up-to-date information on the global trade in plastic waste, the countries and actors engaged in it, as well as campaign information to combat the unsustainable trade in plastic waste.

#StopShippingPlasticWaste

Waste trade is the international trade of waste between countries for further treatment, disposal, or recycling. Often, toxic or hazardous wastes are exported by developed countries to developing countries, such as those in Asia-Pacific. Since 1988, more than a quarter of a billion tonnes of plastic waste has been exported around the world. In 2021, a report by the Environmental Investigative Agency and Rethink Plastic found that if the world is serious about tackling marine plastic pollution, waste trade issues must be addressed, alongside other solutions.

IPEN: Basel Convention Resources

Policy briefs and other resources pertaining to the Basel Convention.

Why climate finance for the cement industry is a terrible idea
In 2003, Lafarge Cement took over a 130-year-old cement plant in Trbovlje and began burning petcoke. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

by Claire Arkin, Global Communications Lead

When Uroš Macerl took over the family farm, nestled in the small hilltown of Trbovlje, Slovenia, he was in for an unpleasant surprise. The world’s biggest cement producer, Lafarge, soon took over the local cement plant and started to burn “green alternative fuels,” aka 100 tons of hazardous industrial waste a day. Uroš and his community became deeply concerned about the threat of worsening air pollution. The existing emissions from the plant already made growing crops impossible, and Uroš had to switch to raising sheep. Children who lived in the area were twice as likely to suffer from chronic respiratory illnesses than the rest of the country. 

The cement industry has been progressively switching from burning traditional fossil fuels like petcoke to burning waste, which still emits greenhouse gases, along with a host of other toxic pollutants. Their main interest is economic, as they profit from carbon credits (in Europe), and from “tipping fees” from municipalities and businesses for burning waste. Moreover, the cement industry claims that burning waste is part of their decarbonising strategy on the grounds that they are avoiding the use of fossil fuels – so it’s also a greenwashing strategy to appear to be working on its carbon footprint.  

Now the cement industry is poised for another major win: Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI), a think tank that aims to “mobilise global capital for climate action,” according to their website, is considering recommending that governments and financial institutions give climate funding to cement kilns to burn waste. This is great news for the industry because it means that they’re going to get paid to burn toxic trash to power their kilns, instead of actually confronting the devastating climate costs of their business model.

The climate cost of the cement industry is staggering. If the industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world. The full scope of this industry’s cost to humanity and the planet is next to impossible to truly fathom, but the Guardian’s Jonathan Watts does a fair job of it: “In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete,” he writes in his 2019 investigative report: “Concrete: the most destructive material on earth.” “In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England.” Take a moment to let that sink in. It truly gives life to Joni Mitchell’s famous lyric, “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.” 

In many ways, the cement industry is very much like the fossil fuel industry– both are taking massive subsidies to fuel their devastating business models. Both are hellbent on burning as much as possible despite (in some cases quite literally) the planet being on fire. Both are getting richer and richer by polluting low-income and marginalized communities. (Uroš’s largely working class community lived under the shadow of the coal and cement industry for generations.) And both industries have long had governments and financial institutions in their pockets. Desperate to be heard by the Slovenian government, Uroš and other activists lay down in the road that the Prime Minister was set to traverse through the region. “Run over us and step on us,” he dared the Prime Minister. “We will sit here and you can continue to treat us as you’ve always had.”

With help from legal experts at Eko Krog, a local environmental group, Macerl challenged Lafarge in Slovenian and European courts. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

Telling the cement industry to swap out coal with waste is like telling an alcoholic to swap out vodka for tequila– it’s still going to wreck the alcoholic’s liver, and in this case, it’s still going to wreck our planet. Much of the waste cement kilns want to burn is plastic, and plastic is made of 99% fossil fuels, so it’s just substituting one fossil fuel for another. 

Bizarrely, the technical review board responsible for developing CBI’s cement kiln financing criteria decided to completely ignore emissions from burning waste, because apparently, “their use leads to equivalent emissions reductions in the waste management industry.” This is puzzling logic, because it seems to be unaware of the emissions that it takes to create the plastic in the first place. By 2050, it is estimated that the greenhouse gas emissions from the entire plastic life cycle could reach over 56 gigatons—10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget. 

And of all the ways to “manage” plastic waste, burning it is the worst option, from a climate perspective, as it releases the embedded carbon into the atmosphere, to the tune of 1.1 tons for every ton of waste burned, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. As if that weren’t bad enough, the cement industry also releases an equivalent amount of greenhouse gas emissions from limestone as it is heated to form the glue that holds concrete together, so changing the fuel source is failing to get to the root of the problem. 

To make matters worse, cement plant emissions are often not well-regulated; heavy metals, particulates, and semi-volatile persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans (PCDD/PCDF) are released when waste is burned. POPs are what scientists call “forever chemicals”– once they’re released, they are with us forever, traveling long distances and accumulating in our food chain. You can’t put this cat back in the bag. 

Unlike CBI, many are not fooled by this cement industry greenwashing scheme– GAIA delivered a letter to CBI signed by a community of scientists, practitioners in the field of waste management, policy-makers, and 175+ environmental NGOs in 35+ countries, stating their opposition to CBI’s move. Communities across the world impacted by cement kilns are standing in solidarity with one another to fight against this gross mismanagement of climate funding. Ricardo Navarro of Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology, El Salvador, a group that has long fought cement kilns, has a message for CBI: “Giving climate bonds to the cement industry for co-generation [co-incineration] is the moral equivalent of giving awards to people who have committed a crime.” 

Enormous amounts of climate finance investments are needed to create the essential just transition as the world faces up to impacts from climate change. In fact, developed countries’ commitment to provide $100 billion a year up to 2025 to do climate reparations to those most affected but least responsible for climate change in the global south is far from being met. There is a stark need to build up climate funds and ratchet up climate action to stay below 1.5 degree Celsius global temperature rise, but it’s important to get it right. This means that we can’t keep giving money to some of the world’s most polluting industries to tinker around the edges, while the problem is at the core. 

Macerl took over his family’s farm, but began raising sheep when air pollution made growing crops impossible. (Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize)

CBI and other climate financing institutions have a tremendous responsibility to cut through the industry greenwashing and make sure funding is going to the right place, and they are failing. If they approve this draft financing criteria for the cement industry, their reputation is on the line and they will appear to be an industry puppet instead of the independent judge that they are claiming to be. The cement industry, as one of the most polluting industries on the planet (with a long track record of human rights abuses), should not be incentivized to tinker at the margins. That’s the same as subsidizing the fossil fuel industry to make “slightly less polluting” gasoline. 

The solutions to both waste, the cement industry and climate change are right in front of us, and they are fast, cheap and affordable; switching to reusable alternatives, funding innovation in green building materials, and financing better separate collection, recycling, and composting can all have a tremendous impact on our climate. 

Big Cement likes to make it seem like their industry is as solid, inevitable, and immovable as the concrete walls that are increasingly closing in on us. But this is simply not true, and Uroš Macerl can prove it: after years of battling in the courts, national authorities ordered Lafarge to halt production in Zasavje in 2015. Since the plant’s shutdown, the spruce trees are growing again on Uroš farm. Migrating birds that hadn’t been spotted in the region in decades have since returned. 

Let’s put our money on a liveable future, not a concrete block. 

Civil society groups from across Asia, Europe and Latin America are staging the first-ever virtual walkout during a session about the future direction of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) energy sector financing. The AIIB is currently in the process of updating its 2018 Energy Sector Strategy and has invited public comment on a proposed draft between April 8th and June 3rd. However, today’s one-hour online session together with a similar session scheduled for one hour tomorrow, are the only time slots the Bank has opened for groups from around the world to directly raise questions and concerns to staff over the course of the eight week consultation period, leaving no time for meaningful engagement and discussion.  

Tanya Roberts-Davis, Energy Policy and Campaigns Strategist from the NGO Forum on ADB explained: “It is absolutely imperative that the AIIB, an international financial institution bankrolling large-scale infrastructure projects that have significant impacts on people, economies and the environment across the entire range of borrowing member countries, engage in a transparent, inclusive, publicly accountable process for updating their strategic framework guiding future energy investments. Indeed, by the Bank’s own calculations, energy accounts for nearly one-third of its project financing. Yet, only now –  after repeated calls from civil society groups to the Bank’s management – and a mere two weeks before the end of the period of public input, are we being ‘invited’ to one-hour time slots for submitting brief comments on the draft update of the Energy Sector Strategy. We refuse to consider such a restrictive platform as a space for genuine, meaningful, inclusive discussions, dialogue and debate.” 

The group of organizations from diverse social sectors made the decision to join the AIIB’s consultation session scheduled today in order to read out a collective statement of denunciation,  before staging the online walkout, while others will convey a similar message by boycotting the process entirely. 

As Vidya Dinker from the Indian Social Action Forum affirmed: “We are tempted to be as dismissive of the AIIB’s process as the Bank has been of any principles of meaningful consultation or due diligence. However, our commitments to advancing the concerns of affected communities and to keep AIIB accountable mean we shall be there today to clearly say yet again what we have said before to the Bank – to call them out and state that these token ‘consultations’ cannot be used to legitimize what has been an extremely listless and disrespectful process. Any updated Energy Sector Strategy that AIIB adopts without due course correction will be unacceptable and at variance with their stated obligations.”

Maia Seeger from Sustentarse in Chile further explained: “The AIIB is just beginning to finance energy projects in Latin America. Over the years, our countries in this region have been affected by the development of mega-energy infrastructure carried out without proper consultation, with huge impacts on Indigenous Peoples, communities and the environment. We are therefore highly concerned about the resources the AIIB will be allocating to expand mega-energy projects in the region, for instance, if it will include resource-intensive green hydrogen plants in Chile. In light of the malpractices we have seen regarding AIIB consultation processes to date, we can only expect the investments will lead to increasing socio-environmental conflicts in the future.”

Nora Sausmikat from Urgewald, based in Germany, asserted: “As a triple-A rating multilateral bank devoted to financing the ‘infrastructure of tomorrow” shareholders and the management should not stick to outdated crisis evoking technologies. It is time to listen to science and the people, as requested during the last six years. The updating of the Energy Sector Strategy needs to take into account the voices of the people – now – and in a meaningful manner!

Mayang Azurin from the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives-Asia Pacific elaborated further: “We urge the AIIB to resolve the flagrant inconsistencies in investment practices in its current support to Waste-to-Energy (WTE) projects. It’s time for the AIIB to rule out direct and indirect support for this toxic and carbon-intensive technology either as a form of power generation or waste management and clearly exclude it from eligibility for financing under the updated Energy Sector Strategy. In line with this positioning, we urge the Board to reconsider any further support for currently financed WTE projects in the Maldives and Turkey. In addition, the AIIB must avoid becoming further entangled in future investments in the sector by immediately withdrawing the proposed financing for WTE projects through financial intermediary on-lending to China Everbright Limited. Let’s be clear, such support undermines not only national ambitions to pursue a low-carbon energy trajectory but also international commitments to ban the production of the very pollutants that Waste-to-Energy projects emit, contaminating the air, soil and water our survival depends upon.”

For the think-tank Center for Energy, Ecology, and Development (CEED) in the Philippines, genuine consultation with stakeholders and experts should guide AIIB to climate-aligned financing directions that hold no preference for fossil fuels. Gerry Arances of CEED further emphasized that: “In its proposed 2022 Energy Sector Strategy, AIIB peddles the myth of fossil gas and LNG’s supposed role as a transition fuel for Asia, and even as a contributor to energy security. But massive gas expansion brings a methane boom that will cause us to miss our climate goals, and will trigger more costly electricity prices even as they are already at an all-time high. AIIB cannot boast of being ‘lean, clean, and green’ if it cannot even take a firm policy to divest from fossil gas and focus on renewable energy. More so, AIIB must address the glaring gaps in its policy implementation which lead to investments that directly contradict its own commitments to the Paris Agreement.” 

Echoing this sentiment, Kate Geary from Recourse (UK/Netherlands) concluded: “At a time when the AIIB has committed to align its investments with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, it is vital that the bank gets its energy investments right. This means moving out of fossil fuels and into supporting sustainable renewable energy, to improve energy access across Asia, especially for poor communities. A true consultation would open space for those most affected by climate change to share their concerns and propose alternatives – instead, AIIB has chosen to effectively close the door on their engagement.

Background Information:

Open letters jointly signed by civil society organizations across Asia, Europe and Latin America have raised questions and concerns about the AIIB’s process for updating its Energy Sector Strategy and have been submitted on several occasions since January 2022. A sample of these letters can be read here: https://www.forum-adb.org/aiibcommunications These letters have called for the AIIB to: 

  1. Post translated draft texts of the proposed Energy Sector Strategy Update in major languages of regional and non-regional members;
  2. Schedule online interactive discussion sessions held in different time zones and languages
  3. Engage  in focussed discussions with civil society groups on specific types of project-related concerns (such as on financing for hydropower dams or gas power projects) as well in country-specific contexts where AIIB energy sector investments have been most concentrated to date; 
  4. Accepting written input in major languages of member countries;  and
  5. Proactively responding to the range of concerns about the risk of reprisals experienced by outspoken community members in project-affected areas.

The full statement of denunciation made by civil society groups to the AIIB during the  May 19th Session can be read here: : 

https://www.forum-adb.org/post/collective-statement-for-the-energy-sector-strategy-update

Press Contact: 

Tanya Lee Roberts-Davis, Energy Policy and Campaigns Strategist, NGO Forum on the ADB| Email: tanya@forum-adb.org   

Dennis T. Paule, Communication and Support Liaison Officer, NGO Forum on ADB l Email: dennis@forum-adb.org 

Dandora Landfill Site in Nairobi Kenya.

Nipe Fagio in collaboration with Bio Vision Africa in Uganda, Global Initiative for Environment & Reconciliation in Rwanda, and the Centre for Environmental Justice and Development in Kenya, recently released an investigative report on the illegal trade and smuggling of plastic bags in the East African Community. The report analyses the state of single-use plastic bags in four countries and examines the trade and flow of plastic carrier bags, which have been fully banned in Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda, but are still found in the markets and on the streets.

Currently, the state of plastic pollution in East African countries can be described as one where countries are struggling with increasing amounts of single-use plastics that invade the markets and consequently the environment and waterways. Waste management systems are insufficient to handle the single-use plastic produced and most of the single-use plastic cannot be recycled locally, increasing the environmental harm.

Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania have implemented legislation to restrict single-use plastics. In the case of Rwanda, the legislation is comprehensive, restricting several kinds of single-use plastics. In the case of Kenya, single-use plastic carrier bags have been banned and other kinds of plastic restricted. In Tanzania, plastic carrier bags have been banned as well as plastic bottle seals, while Uganda is still grappling with effective ways to enforce its laws on plastic. 

Despite these bans on single-use plastic carrier bags, cross-border smuggling of these plastic bags is still taking place. 

“There is a need to increase knowledge on the reasons why the restrictions are in place and public campaigns, as well as incentives, for the use of reusable alternatives. Beyond that, the lack of harmonisation of the national legislations is necessary to impose regional restrictions that will make fiscalisation easier, and also prevent products produced in one country from migrating to neighbouring countries”, said Ana Le Rocha, director of Nipe Fagio. 

The report makes several recommendations to curb this illegal trade, this includes:

  • Dis-incentivising the smugglers;
  • Handling corruption problems;
  • Reducing consumption through awareness and education;
  • Sourcing sustainable packaging alternatives;
  • Finance research and locally-sourced alternative packaging;
  • Better waste management practices;
  • Better stakeholder engagements and collaboration in decision making at all levels;
  • A move towards a total ban;
  • Regional and international cooperation;
  • Strengthening surveillance of lawbreakers and empowering implementing bodies;
  • Harmonize regulations across the EAC and enhance regional cooperation.

Furthermore, East Africa has the potential to become the first single-use plastic-free region in the world. The success of plastic restrictions in Rwanda and the current restrictions in Kenya and Tanzania are global examples of well-implemented policies. The harmonisation of the national laws by bringing countries with less strict laws closer to countries with more strict laws, will increase the implementation rates, ease oversight and increase the effectiveness of the legislations.

The four East African organisations have also launched a petition calling on the Secretary-General, East African Community (EAC) to harmonise the use of single-use plastics in the East African Community. Sign the petition here to support their cause!

Ends.