The Inflation Reduction Act: A pivotal opportunity to push back against false solutions

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) channels $270 billion in tax credits for climate investments but raises concerns about incineration—a false solution to waste disposal that could generate 637.7 million tonnes of CO2e emissions over two decades, further harming the environment and disadvantaged communities.

By: Marcel Howard (Zero Waste Program Manager, US/Canada) and Jessica Roff (Plastics & Petrochemicals Program Manager, US/Canada)

Key Highlights

  • The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is primarily a tax bill. Of the promised $369 billion in climate investments, $270 billion will come in the form of tax credits1
  • Incineration is one of the most polluting and expensive waste disposal systems. Industry2 often greenwashes incineration as  “waste-to-energy”3 despite producing minimal amounts of usable energy and massive energy input
  • By measuring the lifecycle climate impacts of incineration accurately, the Department of the Treasury can deny polluting facilities billions in tax credits intended for actual sustainable energy solutions and ultimately delay or block their construction or expansion
  • If industry succeeds in propping up incinerators for 20 years, they will produce 637.7 million tonnes of climate-change-inducing CO2e emissions and further exacerbate toxic pollution and environmental racism4
  • Pairing new subsidies for incinerators with incentives for EVs is perverse
  • Turning waste, including fossil fuel-derived plastics, into jet fuel is dangerous and does not decarbonize air travel 
  • Two-thirds of US incinerators are located in states that include incineration in their renewable energy portfolio
  • The IRA allocated billions of dollars in lending subsidies specifically meant to drive reinvestment in low-wealth and environmental justice communities. Environmental justice, frontline, and fenceline groups should consider applying for these IRA lending programs


The United States (US) has a waste problem compounded by a plastic problem. For decades, we have been handling our waste in ways that harm communities, our climate, and the natural world. Federal, state, and municipal governments continue to site waste incinerators of all forms in Black, brown, indigenous, and lower-wealth communities — plaguing them with decades of harmful air emissions, high levels of greenhouse gasses, toxic waste, accidents, and other health and safety-related concerns. From fossil fuel extraction to final waste product disposal, the entire production process damages these communities and numerous others. Across the board, incineration is one of the most polluting and expensive waste disposal systems.

Industry often greenwashes incineration as  “waste-to-energy” despite producing minimal amounts of usable energy and leverages this greenwashing to access billions of dollars in federal, state, and local green, renewable, and sustainable energy subsidies and tax breaks.
Against this backdrop, the Biden Administration signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) into law on August 16, 2022. Many agencies are already approving and funding false solutions under the IRA. The Department of Energy (DOE) is funding new carbon capture programs at nearly $3.5 billion and allocating $1.2 billion of Justice40 money to develop direct air capture facilities. We are in a pivotal moment where the US must decide if it will take critical steps to lower greenhouse gas and toxic emissions and move toward a truly sustainable future or will continue to subsidize the dirtiest industries to annually emit millions of tonnes of new CO2 and other dangerous air pollutants.

IRA Overview

The Biden Administration claims its 755-page IRA is the most comprehensive climate bill in US history that is supposed to “make a historic commitment to build a new clean energy economy.” Its provisions on climate change mitigation, clean energy, and energy innovation dominate headlines, as it raises nearly $800 billion from multiple sources. President Biden said, “With this law, the American people won and the special interests lost.” To ensure this is true and stop the incinerator lobby and other special interests from cashing in on a new pool of taxpayer money, the federal government must implement critical changes to its business-as-usual model.

The IRA is primarily a tax bill. Of the promised $369 billion in climate investments, $270 billion will come in the form of tax credits. Before the IRA, Congress awarded tax credits to specific technologies (including incinerators) regardless of greenhouse gas emissions or community harm. Beginning in 2025, however, their eligibility will depend entirely on the Department of Treasury (Treasury) determining that they are zero-emission technologies. By measuring the lifecycle climate impacts of incineration accurately, Treasury can deny polluting facilities billions in tax credits intended for actual sustainable energy solutions and ultimately delay or block their construction or expansion.

Threats & False Solutions

Lifelines to Old, Failing Incinerators

Corporate polluters are corrupting the IRA, lobbying to weaken its rules and definitions to qualify for billions in new subsidies to expand and retrofit existing incinerators, most of which have been operating for an average of 32 years. It is nearly impossible to construct new conventional incinerators due to cost and community opposition, so industry is focused on expansion and modification. If industry succeeds in propping up incinerators for 20 years, they will produce 637.7 million tonnes of climate-change-inducing CO2e emissions and further exacerbate toxic pollution and environmental racism. 

Codifying False and Greenwashed Definitions

The incinerator lobby’s goal is to maximize subsidies, profits, and expansion and to use the IRA and other climate bills as a subsidized path to an undeserved sustainable image upgrade. In the context of the IRA, federal agencies such as the Treasury, the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can either categorize incineration as the dirty, expensive, polluting process it is or bolster industry’s claims that incineration produces sustainable energy. If the federal government supports industry’s definitions in the earliest stages of IRA implementation, they will frame agency action and provide billions in tax credits, likely being codified for many climate laws, including the IRA.

IRA Breakdown & Opportunities for the Incinerator Lobby 

The incinerator lobby is working to undermine all aspects of the IRA, specifically focusing on (1) the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), (2) Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), and (3) IRA lending programs. 

Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

In consultation with the Department of Agriculture and DOE, EPA implements the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program. The RFS program is a “national policy that requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace or reduce the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel, heating oil, or jet fuel.” The four renewable fuel categories under the RFS are biomass-based diesel, cellulosic biofuel, advanced biofuel, and total renewable fuel. Although long limited to liquid fuels like ethanol, Biden’s EPA is in the process of allowing electricity from certain types of bioenergy to generate eligible credits. Under the current proposal, electric vehicle manufacturers would contract with power producers to generate highly profitable RFS credits.

Pairing new subsidies for incinerators with incentives for EVs is perverse. While support for electric vehicles is vital, it must not be fueled by dirty energy nor sacrifice frontline and fenceline communities. Incinerator interests recently launched a lobbying campaign to secure these incentives. Fortunately, EPA is not required to allow incinerator electricity into the program and has recently tabled an industry-backed eligibility proposal. But, only public pressure on Biden’s EPA and key Administration climate deciders will ensure they don’t approve such proposals.

Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) 

As one of the most generous IRA incentives, the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Tax Credit (SAF) poses an urgent environmental justice concern. The credit increases in value for lower lifecycle emissions fuels. Treasury’s implementation will determine if this approach succeeds or fails. Industry interests are pushing to make the credit friendlier– and more lucrative–to a new generation of incinerators masquerading behind greenwashing like “pyrolysis,”  “chemical or advanced recycling,” and “plastic-to-fuel.” Turning waste, including fossil fuel-derived plastics, into jet fuel is dangerous and does not decarbonize air travel. 

Although the new aviation production tax credit theoretically excludes petroleum-based feedstocks like plastic, industry is pressuring the Administration to interpret the law to maximize benefits for incineration-based aviation fuels. President Biden and Treasury must decisively determine that plastic-derived fuel — including that derived from pyrolysis oil or any other product of chemical recycling/pyrolysis/gasification — is ineligible for these tax credits.

Lending Programs

The IRA allocated billions of new dollars to EPA and DOE, in particular, to expand existing lending programs and launch entirely new ones. Like the rest of the IRA, these programs’ climate and justice benefits depend on implementation. EPA is in charge of the new Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF), arguably the most important non-tax provision of the IRA. Worth $37 billion, it will be divided into three separate programs. EPA released broad, unenforceable guidelines in April 2023, suggesting they will focus lending on distributed generation, building decarbonization, and transport. These guidelines will not ensure the money is appropriately allocated, so EPA must prioritize applicants working on proven zero waste approaches. 

DOE is in charge of The Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment (EIR) Program, a new loan guarantee program with $250 billion that must be spent before 2026. It can fund energy infrastructure upgrades and the reopening of defunct energy infrastructure, both of which industry could coopt to support their ongoing incineration and chemical recycling plans. DOE must refuse to consider any incinerator applications to guarantee industry does not use loopholes to access clean energy tax credits. 

In July, the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee passed the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies budget for Fiscal Year 2024. Their budget supports chemical recycling while cutting massive amounts from EPA’s budget and the IRA’s environmental justice efforts, including a nearly $4 billion EPA budget cut (a 39% reduction over 2023), reneging on the IRA’s $1.35 billion promised in environmental and climate justice grants.

Call to Action 

The incinerator lobby is so desperate for money and a government-greenwashed reputation that they launched a new, big-money–astroturf5 network, including DC power brokers and local government enablers. The combined movements6 for climate justice don’t have industry money, but we have people power, the truth, and a prime opportunity to fight against this industry push. There are three key areas in which to counter industry’s agenda: (1) Treasury engagement, (2) state-level renewable portfolio standards, and (3)  IRA lending subsidies. 

Treasury Engagement

As the Washington Post exposed in May 2023, the incinerator industry is among polluting industries racing to position themselves as green to access billions in subsidies and tax credits. In the last year alone, industry launched two trade groups to push their message: the Waste-to-Energy Association and the Circular Economy Coalition. Both have made comments to access benefits for incinerators under the Inflation Reduction Act, or considered prioritizing it. Industry is dedicated to getting Treasury to qualify incinerators as renewable, despite overwhelming evidence that incinerators are extremely polluting. 

It is critical to engage with Treasury as it develops policies, rules, regulations, and procedures to implement the IRA. If Treasury determines this most costly and polluting form of energy is zero emission, it will set an appallingly low bar within the IRA that will exacerbate rather than address the climate crisis, perpetuating and compounding the issues we currently face, and permanently scarring the Biden Administration legacy.

State-level Renewable Portfolio Standards 

The IRA has broad implications, reaching far beyond the federal level of government. Defeating federal government incinerator giveaways in the IRA and other federal climate initiatives will strengthen communities fighting state and local government incinerator giveaways. Currently, different states provide a patchwork of policies and incentives related to incineration. Perhaps most notable are state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and four US territories have an RPS. Each RPS has its own renewable electricity targets, defines what technologies qualify as renewable, designates particular technologies as higher or lower tier within the mix, and enables the trading or sale of renewable energy credits. Two-thirds of US incinerators are located in the 26 US states and territories that include incineration in their renewable energy portfolio. Showing industry’s power, scope, and connections at both the federal and state levels of government. It also shows an entrenched mentality that incineration is a clean energy solution. It is imperative that the IRA does not follow suit.

IRA Lending Subsidies

Along with Treasury engagement, environmental justice, frontline, and fenceline groups should consider applying to IRA lending programs. The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) and DOE’s Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment (EIR) Program offers billions of dollars for projects specifically meant to drive reinvestment in low-wealth and environmental justice communities. Both programs provide an opportunity to fund proven zero waste solutions that push back against false solutions, like incineration. 

The Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF): The GGRFis a $27 billion investment program designed to achieve the following: “ (1) Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants;  (2) deliver benefits of greenhouse gas, and air pollution-reducing projects specifically to low-wealth and disadvantaged communities; and (3)  mobilize financing and private capital to stimulate additional deployment of greenhouse gas and air pollution reducing projects.” The GGRF is being implemented via three grant competitions, which include: (1) the National Clean Investment Fund, (2) the Clean Communities Investment Accelerator, and (3) the Solar for All Fund.”7 

The National Clean Investment Fund: “The National Clean Investment Fund competition will provide grants to 2-3 national nonprofit clean financing institutions7 capable of partnering with the private sector to provide accessible, affordable financing for tens of thousands of clean technology projects across the country.To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit Application packages must be submitted on or before October 12, 2023, at 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) through

The Clean Communities Investment Accelerator: “The Clean Communities Investment Accelerator competition will provide grants to 2-7 hub nonprofits that will, in turn, deliver funding and technical assistance to build the clean financing capacity of local community lenders working in low-wealth and disadvantaged communities so that underinvested communities have the capital they need to deploy clean technology projects.” To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit Application packages must be submitted on or before October 12, 2023, at 11:59 PM (Eastern Time) through 

DOE Energy Infrastructure Reinvestment (EIR) Program: “The EIR Program provides $250 billion for projects that retool, repower, repurpose, or replace energy infrastructure that has ceased operations or enable operating energy infrastructure to avoid, reduce, utilize, or sequester air pollutants or greenhouse gas emissions.” To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit Individuals interested in applying should request a no-cost pre-application consultation with a member from DOE’s Loan Programs Office. 

USDA Empowering Rural America (New ERA) Program: “The ERA program provides $9.7 billion for projects that help rural Americans transition to clean, affordable, and reliable energy intending to improve health outcomes and lower energy costs for people in rural communities.” To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit Individuals interested in applying should submit a Letter of Interest (LOI) by September 15, 2023.  


On paper, the Biden Administration’s IRA may be the most comprehensive climate legislation in history, but it also has the immense potential to be a climate destroyer. We are at a crossroads where the Administration and all other levels of government have the power to use the IRA for its stated purpose to “confront the existential threat of the climate crisis and set forth a new era of American innovation and ingenuity to lower consumer costs and drive the global clean energy economy forward.” To make the promise a reality, the Administration — including all the executive agencies, particularly Treasury, Energy, and EPA — cannot succumb to industry greenwashing lobbying.

The Biden Administration must accurately measure the lifecycle climate and health impacts of all forms of incineration and its products (including pyrolysis and gasification) and unequivocally determine that it is not a source of clean energy or a safe way to make jet fuel. It will be up to our ever-expanding movement to hold the Administration accountable to the ideal of the IRA and ensure it is not another greenwashed handout to industry — and that its tax credits and funding go to sustainable solutions that benefit the Black, brown, indigenous, and low wealth communities as it initially intended. 

  1. As a tax bill, the categories and definitions of processes are critical because they will determine if a process is covered under it. Historically, there have been some good and some bad determinative definitions (including currently for chemical recycling). ↩︎
  2.  Industry refers to the plastics, incinerator, fossil fuel, and chemical industries who are all perpetuating the plastic waste problem ↩︎
  3.  Industry labels waste-to-energy (WTE) a number of different ways including: plastic-to-fuel (PTF), plastic-to-energy (PTE), refuse-derived-fuel, etc. ↩︎
  4.  This is entirely dependent on if the federal government places incinerators into favorable categories for purposes of massive amounts of tax credits and de facto subsidies. ↩︎
  5.  Astroturfing is the practice of hiding the sponsors of a message or organization (e.g., political, advertising, religious, or public relations) to make it appear as though it originates from, and is supported by, grassroots participants. ↩︎
  6.  The movement includes, but is not limited to – and is always open to expand – the environmental justice movement, climate movement, conservation movement, public health movement, plastics movement, etc. ↩︎
  7. The deadline for the Solar for All Competition has recently been extended to October 12, 2023. Please review this link for additional information:,%2C%20Tribal%20governments%2C%20municipalities%2C%20and ↩︎

The word “cero” in spanish means “zero,” and that’s the focus of this composting cooperative in Boston: moving the city towards zero food waste, and building stronger, more equitable communities in the process. The seeds of CERO were first planted at a meeting where local community members gathered to discuss how to improve recycling rates and create good jobs for marginalized communities. At the time Boston had an abysmal recycling and waste diversion rate of under 25%, and according to a 2015 study by the federal reserve bank of boston, white households had a median wealth of $247,500, and Dominicans and U.S. blacks had a median wealth of close to zero.  CERO sought to combat that economic injustice head on by creating a diverse, bi-langual worker co-op connected with Boston’s working class and communities of color. 

Close shot of a truck with blue sky and a brick building in the background. Photo taken in Boston, US.
©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

As worker-owner Josefina Luna says, “We started to think[] about green economy. The media talk[ed] all the time about green economy but we didn’t see any green jobs in our community… The first idea [was to] create jobs for the community, create better social development for the minority people, for the people who didn’t have the opportunities.” When the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection enacted a ban in 2014 that prohibits over 1,700 food businesses in the state from disposing of organic material with their trash, CERO was there to provide the solution.

The beauty of CERO is that it creates local “closed loop” systems for food, so that instead of disposing of food waste in dirty landfills that people have to live next to, they ensure that food is recycled back into soil that grows nourishing food for the community. And the model is working. So far the cooperative has prevented 11,867,122 lbs of food waste from going to landfills, and saved their customers $407,570 in trash hauling expenses!

A day in the life of a CERO worker-owner starts early. At 7am, Jonny Santos pulls up to his first customer. 

Jonny is originally from the Dominican Republic and primarily speaks spanish. Of his work with CERO, Jonny explains, “It’s been 1 year and 5 months since I’ve been with CERO and since I joined the company my life—both personally and economically— has changed. At CERO I feel important and useful.”

The first stop for Santos is Mei Mei, a stylish Chinese-American restaurant that uses fresh local ingredients and is dedicated to being a good employer for the Boston community, and preventing as much food waste as possible.

Worker owner of CERO coop in Boston, picking up compost bin. In the background a blue truck and a brick building.
Jonny Santos picking up compost from Mei Mei restaurant. ©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA


Mei Mei is a family business. Meaning “Little Sister,” in Chinese, it is now run by the youngest in the family, Irene Li. From the beginning, the restaurant was on a mission. “For me, I figured that if we were going to be in this tough challenging industry, it would have to be because we were trying to make a difference,” said Li. “We didn’t want to be another average restaurant. A lot of them contribute to a lot of social problems. Can we instead use restaurants as an engine for change?” In order to live up to those values, Mei Mei serves farm-to-table food at a reasonable cost, provides employee education and empowerment trainings, and thanks to their partnership with CERO, they are doubling-down on food waste.


Close up of a resturant's sign. Yellow sign with a fish as a logo and the words mei mei
Mei Mei restaurant. ©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

“When I got my first restaurant job I was pretty horrified by what I saw on a more commercial scale– recycling wasn’t happening, composting definitely wasn’t happening.” So at Mei Mei they make sure to repurpose food scraps (kale stems too tough for salad become a pesto or a perogi filling), donate what they can’t use, provide free or cheap food to employees through a wholesale program, and then whatever is left over goes into CERO’s compost bin.

Mei Mei and CERO’s partnership represents a perfect food loop– Mei Mei sources some of its produce directly from the very same local farms that use compost from its food waste. CERO makes sure that all those onion peels, carrot tops and apple cores that Mei Mei puts in the bin don’t go to waste, but turn into a rich compost to help grow the next crop of local fresh food that land on Mei Mei customers’ plates.

Mei Mei’s partnership with CERO not only helps grow a local food economy, but it’s helped them keep their costs down. “Not only is that good from a financial perspective, helps us show that you can buy ingredients selectively and still have manageable costs,” says Li. Not only does it make sense financially, it just feels right. It makes Mei Mei a place where people are proud to work,” says Li. “The world makes it very hard to live in alignment with our values, so if we can offer that in any small number of ways to our team that’s providing them some kind of harmony in their lives.” 

After picking up food scraps at Mei Mei it’s time to head to Green City Growers. Founded in 2008, Green City Growers is  an edible landscaping and urban farming company converting unused spaces to places where food is grown, revitalizing city landscapes and inspiring self-sufficiency. They install gardens in people’s homes, at restaurants, corporate offices, and grocery stores, and other–sometimes unexpected–urban spaces, like the top of Fenway park! 

The company was founded by Jessie Banhazl. Banhazl wasn’t always an urban farming extraordinaire– before she founded Green City Growers she worked in reality TV, working behind-the-scenes of shows like “Wife Swap”, “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”, and “The Hills.” But Banhazl wanted a more meaningful career, and she realized that to have a sustainable and resilient cities, they need to, quite literally, go green.  As Banhazl puts it, “[Green City Growers] creat[es] opportunities to see food growing in spaces where there wasn’t. It’s proven that it’s important for human beings to be around nature, and cities have moved away from that as a priority. We want to get that back into how cities are developed and built.” Green City Growers has a goal to create a regenerative, local food system throughout the country, and their partnership with CERO is an essential part of that system. Not only does CERO collect plant waste from over 100 Green City Growers locations, it also delivers the compost made from that waste for Green City Growers to enrich their soil with. Through its partnership with CERO, GCG has been able to compost 50,000 pounds of plant waste per year.

Close shot of a sign at a garden that reads Green City Growers
©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

Green City Growers has a bit of an unusual service model. Banhazl calls it “edible landscaping.” GCG takes care of the maintenance, and their clients get to use the fruit of that labor however they like, whether for their cafeteria, restaurant, or corporate donations. Banhazl estimates that 5,000 pounds of produce a year is donated to food banks. They also provide education programs for both students and seniors, exposing city dwellers of all walks of life to the joys of growing your own food. As Banhazl states, “The intention [of Green City Growers] is to build a business model around sustainable and regenerative agriculture.” They want to change the business culture in the region, so that sustainability “is a priority for how business takes place.”

Next stop is the Daily Table, a non-for-profit grocery store aimed to provide affordable food options to underserved communities in Boston.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. wastes 30-40% of its food supply, and 31% of that food waste comes from retailers and consumers, who cumulatively waste a whopping 133 billion pounds of food per year (as of most recent data from 2010). This wastefulness is all the more shocking when paired with the fact that 11% of households across the United States are food insecure. The Daily Table is out to solve the problem of food waste and food insecurity in the Boston area in one elegant solution– collect donated food from growers, manufacturers and retailers, and offer them at discounted prices to lower income communities.

However, Daily Table is sometimes not able to distribute all the fresh food before it goes bad. That’s where CERO comes in. CERO collects the leftover food and composts it so that nothing goes to waste.

Fruit and vegetables section at a grocery store
©Astudillo/Survival Media Agency/GAIA

Waste-conscious businesses like Mei Mei, Green City Growers, and Daily Table show the promise of local, sustainable food systems rooted in social justice and equity. CERO’s role is to connect these efforts together in a loop that prevents waste while creating green jobs, healthy soil, and more vibrant communities. As the city of Boston unveils its Zero Waste Plan– to get the city to 80 percent diversion by 2035 and 90 percent diversion by 2050 from recycling and composting– organizations like CERO are the key not only to reaching these ambitious goals, but transforming Boston into a place where its workers and all its residents can thrive. 

GAIA and #BreakFreeFromPlastic Members Respond to Ocean Conservancy’s Apology

MANILA: 15 JULY, 2022

The United States-based organization Ocean Conservancy (OC), on 11th July 2022, issued a long-overdue apology to more than seven hundred organizations for the harm caused by the publication of their 2015 report “Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean”, expressing its willingness to take responsibility for the damage caused by the publication.

Froilan Grate, Regional Director of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) –  Asia Pacific comments:

 “The OC report not only harmed the five countries wrongfully blamed for plastic pollution, but misled for years governments and the public into thinking that  burning plastic waste was a solution to the problem.”

“The apology is an invitation to hear the voices and concerns of communities and groups in the Asia Pacific region who have been disproportionately impacted by this framing, and for whom this issue is very personal. This is a time for the rest of the world to listen and follow their lead.“

When it was released, the OC report was instrumental in putting the onus for plastic waste on five Asian countries (Philippines, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand), completely disregarding the role of countries in the Global North for their overproduction of plastic and plastic waste exports to developing countries under the guise of “trade”. The report also promoted incineration as a “solution” to the plastic pollution problem, enticing governments to adopt incineration, exposing their citizens to health risks, and enabling further plastic production with the myth that we can simply burn our plastic pollution problems away.

Since then, more than seven hundred organizations signed a letter exposing the damaging impacts of such inaccurate framing. For years, environmental groups worked to correct the narrative by 1) providing evidence about the entities  primarily  responsible  for the tonnes of plastic waste ending up  in the  environment, namely  the Global North corporations producing and selling plastic; and 2) debunking false solutions like waste incineration, “Waste-To-Energy”, and Chemical Recycling that cause further damage to vulnerable communities while doing little to curb plastic production.

After receiving the apology, several of the impacted groups are engaging in a repair and transformative justice process with OC to identify ways to mitigate the harm caused. Currently, GAIA, together with its members and allies from the #breakfreefromplastic movement, is leading a series of conversations with Ocean Conservancy to identify the path forward.

Grate adds, 

“We are taking the first step with OC towards restoring the much-needed justice for the impacted communities in Asia. We feel hopeful that the outcome of this process will be healing and will repair some of the harm caused, and committed to keeping our community involved in the next steps of this conversation, and informed once concrete outcomes have emerged from this process.“



Sonia Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer | | +63 917 5969286

Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Regional Director | | +63 977 806 7653


About GAIA – GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. 

About Break Free From Plastic –  #breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,000 organizations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective



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

For more information, see 



Claire Arkin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), 



GAIA US Canada’s Community Tools for Anti-Incineration Organizing resource is designed to support community organizers and advocates in both new and existing incineration campaigns. The toolkit is informed by the experiences of GAIA members around the world who have mobilized their own communities and allies to fight for a world without waste-burning. 


It includes detailed information on: 

  • The history of incineration and its ongoing environmental, health, and safety impacts
  • How to find out crucial information about your incinerator, including how it works and who controls its continued operation 
  • Strategies and timelines for organizing your community to shut down your incinerator and guide a just transition for workers and residents
  • Case studies of two communities fighting incineration and landfilling, which can provide blueprints for your own campaign 


About the Report

For decades, U.S. cities have collected mixed plastic in recycling programs in an unsuccessful attempt to solve the plastic waste crisis. Analyzing the municipal solid waste (MSW) streams of five U.S. cities, this new report sheds light on the different ways legitimate recycling efforts are undermined, and how the simplest and most ethical solution to our plastic problem is to remove all non-recyclable plastic from the system. A key finding of the study is that 64% of plastic in these cities’ MSW streams cannot be recycled. It’s time for policy and regulations to prioritize reduction and reuse over recycling, and to rethink public programs and budgets for healthier outcomes.


In five major U.S. cities, 64% of plastic collected is NOT recyclable.

Key Takeaways

Lack of data transparency obstructs solutions. Good data leads to good policy. Data on municipal waste flows is absent, old and difficult to find. This allows the plastic industry to exploit loopholes and push self-serving narratives, and creates challenges for cities and communities that want to shift to true zero waste systems.

Most plastic is designed to be dumped or burned, harming communities. Cities can reduce pollution by banning non-recyclable plastic. Only 8.8% of all plastic in the waste stream in the five cities is actually recycled. The remainder is incinerated, landfilled or could supply plastic-for-fuel or chemical recycling facilities, all of which are harmful to our health and environment.

Recycling rates are low because most plastic produced is not recyclable. Companies, not cities, should pay. 64.3% of all plastic in the waste stream in the five cities is not recyclable through municipal recycling or state redemption programs, and yet communities are paying for it with their health and their pocketbooks. 



People (understandably) don’t know what’s actually recyclable. Cities should prioritize collecting only plastic that can be recycled. In the five cities, only 24% of potentially recyclable plastic (#1, #2, #5) gets recycled; 76% gets incinerated or landfilled. Conversely, 12%-55% of all plastic that ended up in single-stream recycling programs was not recyclable.

While plastic recycling must be improved, it has its limits. Plastic reduction and zero waste systems must be prioritized.  Zero waste infrastructure like reuse, refill, and repair provides up to 200x as many jobs as disposal, furthers environmental justice, and improves sustainability.

The Project

Across the United States, waste incinerators have plagued communities for decades with harmful air emissions, accidents, and other health and safety-related concerns. As their contracts with these aging incinerators expire in the next few years, cities have a choice to make: they can choose to bind themselves to a new generation of incinerators that will cost millions and continue to pollute our most vulnerable communities, or they can make a just transition to a sustainable system that improves public health and saves money. Communities most impacted by these facilities are taking the lead to create livable communities that manage waste effectively for the health of generations to come.


The Campaigns

“Recycling is part of a zero waste future, but it isn’t the solution to the plastic crisis we find ourselves in.”
Whitney Amaya, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice
“Because of a lack of data collection, communities are not fully aware of how serious this problem is.”
Natalia Figueredo, Ironbound Community Corporation
“We have been sold the myth that recycling is the solution to plastics and the waste that it produces.”
Akira Yano, Minnesota Environmental & Climate Justice Table
“The life cycle of plastic is harming communities all along the way; from extraction, to refinery, to single-use litter, to incineration.”
KT Andresky, Breathe Free Detroit
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Baltimore, MD

Over 65% of the plastic collected through the single-stream program in Baltimore is trash, and likely ends up in the incinerator, threatening the health of the surrounding community. South Baltimore Community Land Trust (SBCLT) is working to change neighborhoods from dumping grounds surrounded by polluting industries to healthy zero waste communities. As a result of SBCLT’s work, in collaboration with other local organizations and institutions, the Baltimore City Council unanimously adopted the Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste.


Image by South Baltimore Community Land Trust

Detroit, MI

After decades of community activism, the Detroit Renewable Power Incinerator announced the facility’s immediate closure. Now that an end has been put to municipal waste incineration in Detroit, Breathe Free Detroit in collaboration with grassroots groups is working to build new zero waste systems for the city. One major hurdle is that only 1.3% of plastic collected in single-stream is recyclable, and residents have to foot the bill for the resulting waste.


Image by Breathe Free Detroit

Long Beach, CA

East Los Angeles, Southeast Los Angeles, and Long Beach have been plagued with two of the three incinerators in California, as well as several oil and plastic production facilities. East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ) is a community-based environmental health and justice organization that has succeeded in shutting down one incinerator, and is advocating for a zero waste plan that will eliminate single-use plastic and build a network of reuse, refill, and repair shops across the city and a transition away from fossil fuel extraction, refining, and distribution.


Image by East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice

Minneapolis, MN

Of all of the cities in the study, Minneapolis has the most effective municipal recycling program, due to strong citizen advocates and the work of mission-based recycler Eureka Recycling to highlight the importance of recycling with the goal of waste reduction. Nevertheless, a lot of non-recyclable plastic is still sent to the incinerator, located near where the majority of Minneapolis’ Black population lives, which has the highest asthma rate in the state. The Minnesota Environmental & Climate Justice Table is working to show the county that Minneapolis doesn’t have to choose between burning and dumping its trash because zero waste is possible, feasible, and affordable. 


Image by Grounding Minnesota

Newark, NJ

In Newark, the Essex County Resource Recovery incinerator burns about 2.8 tons of waste per day.  It emits more lead into the air than any other U.S. incinerator, in addition to dozens of other toxic chemicals. At least 89.2% of plastic collected is incinerated. The Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) has been fighting incineration and all other major sources of pollution for more than forty years. Last year,  ICC succeeded in passing an environmental justice bill for New Jersey designed to prevent the siting of new industrial facilities or the expansion of current facilities in communities like Newark that are already overburdened with pollution.


Image by Ironbound Community Corporation

Minnesota Environmental Justice Table

We caught up with GAIA US member, Akira Yano, Community Organizer with the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table. Learn more about the transformative work they’re doing in the state to transition away from waste incineration and towards a zero waste future! 

What are your main ongoing campaigns (please describe)?

The main campaign that the MN Environmental Justice Table is working on is around the issue of incinerators in Minnesota and building more infrastructure around zero waste. The primary incinerator that we are working to shut down right now is the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center in Downtown Minneapolis, which is the #1 point-source producer of toxic air emissions in Minneapolis. These emissions have been attacking the health of North Minneapolis residents, who are predominantly BIPOC and/or low-income, for decades. The HERC relies upon a consistent stream of waste to exist; without that stream, its purpose becomes obsolete. Our campaign demands that the county replace incineration waste management infrastructure with zero waste through community-based action.

What challenges are you facing?

One of the largest challenges that we are facing is Hennepin County’s defensive response to community critique about the HERC. We constantly find ourselves having to push back against false narratives from the county claiming that HERC is a viable source of renewable energy, that it’s a beneficial “waste-to-energy” facility, and that we are simply misinformed about the reality of its impacts because we don’t fall under their narrow definition of “experts.”  This came to a head when Hennepin County was finalizing their climate action plan, which included incineration within the definition of renewable energy, but was then altered to not include the HERC specifically after the MN Environmental Justice Table and other organizations intervened.

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

I see our organization building capacity and creating a nourishing, exciting, and communal space for people (especially BIPOC folks) to learn about, and take action on environmental justice. I see our organization building capacity through community outreach and hiring more people to work full-time on future campaigns. As it currently stands, the incinerator and Zero Waste campaign is the sole campaign coming out of the Minnesota Environmental Justice Table, but i know that as it grows, so will our ability to support community members in addressing a myriad of other environmental injustices as well.

What are your thoughts on the waste crisis that we are living right now?

I think that the current waste crisis is immense, unnecessary, and solvable. It’s the result of unfettered racial capitalism which has prioritized cheap, unsustainable production over viable strategies for harmonious relationships with the Earth and people. We have been fed the lie that the main reason that we are in this crisis is because people overall are wasteful and that if we just recycled or composted enough, that we wouldn’t be in this crisis. This perspective diverts the responsibility for the vast majority of unsustainable waste away from the producer of these environmentally-unfriendly products and puts it on the consumers instead. 

Yes, people need to learn how to reduce their waste, re-use what they have, and recycle what they’re not using, but what would make that task significantly easier is if products were created with that in mind in the first place. Instead, they’re created with the mindset of “how can we do this in the way that will make us the most money?” I know that it’s possible to solve this waste because if this last year has taught me anything, it’s that systems which we are told are concrete, can change whenever those in power feel like changing them. Just as easily as this country can push immense amounts of funding into research for a vaccine, it can invest a similar degree of resources into addressing this waste issue.

How does your work relate to social justice? 

The existence of our work is due to social injustice. Fossil fuels have become the bedrock of economic growth and the basis of most social infrastructure. Some of the most horrific acts in US history were done in the name of economic growth. Things such as slavery, the attempted genocide of Native Americans, and countless wars all have roots in white supremacy and capitalism’s thirst for growth and profit. The latest manifestation of these crimes is a web of systems built upon fossil fuel infrastructure designed to benefit privileged classes and ensure that they don’t bear the consequences of fossil fuel extraction first. This can be seen in the U.S. response to the Line 3 pipeline or any pipeline before then, the Flint water crisis, or how Hennepin County has placed a trash incinerator near one of the largest Black communities in the state. Our work relates to social justice because the goal of safe and healthy communities necessitates the dismantling of all systems of oppression, not just those explicitly related to climate.

How has your work been impacted by the COVID crisis?

Like many others, the COVID crisis has forced a vast majority of our work to be done remotely, which has made it harder to do direct outreach with community members. Events which previously were great opportunities to build connections with others have become near non-existent and replaced with Zoom calls. In addition to creating barriers for us to interact with our community, COVID has also created another immediate crisis that requires everybody’s attention to navigate, adding on to the long list of issues that those with less privilege have to deal with on a daily basis. This means that less people have the capacity to organize around environmental issues because they’re understandably more concerned with things like making sure food is on the table, they have a roof over their head, and they don’t have to go to the hospital.

How do you envision a just and equitable recovery from COVID-19, and how can your organization’s work be part of the solution?

This is a difficult question that I feel like we are still trying to figure out the answer to as the COVID crisis has evolved over time. One of the main things that would contribute greatly to a just and equitable recovery from COVID-19 is universal healthcare to ensure that no matter who gets sick, they would be able to receive the necessary care without the debilitating financial burden. Another main thing would be access to the vaccine, and outreach programs that are geared towards addressing people’s fears fueled by misinformation. Another important aspect is  concentrated efforts to acknowledge the racist and classist history of US healthcare and take proper steps to ensure 

that the same travesties are not replicated. The biggest way that I see the MN Environmental Justice Table contributing to that solution is by ensuring that people have options for how they would like to engage with us and the work, whether that is in-person or virtually.

What is your favorite quote?

Our ancestors, our antennas
Reaching for a place
Somewhere outta space
Or just somewhere
Now I’m running circles in my labyrinth
Many just avoid the pain, I had to decongest it

Fools just manifest it – Erick the Architect

Who we are

Founded in 1969, Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) is based in and named after the Ironbound community of Newark, New Jersey. ICC’s mission is to engage and empower individuals, families, and groups in realizing their aspirations and, together, work to create a just, vibrant, and sustainable community. ICC upholds and builds upon the principles of “Justice and Equality for All.” We strive to practice and build equity, work towards a just JTransition, and organize community on the basis of the Jemez Principles. We envision a safe, healthy, just, and nurturing Ironbound community; a welcoming and fully inclusive community that supports equal and accessible opportunity for a better life. For us, revitalization means uplifting both people and place. We are leadingthe transformation of Ironbound into a neighborhood where anyone might choose to live, and current residents can remain in their homes and community without fear of being displaced.

The Fight to Close the Essex County Incinerator

Ironbound has been fighting incineration and all other major sources of pollution in our community and state for over forty years. In addition to New Jersey’s largest garbage incinerator, Ironbound is home to one of the country’s most contaminated land sites — a former Agent Orange dioxin factory — and has both active and abandoned industrial facilities, nearby flight paths, and active truck routes. In the 1980s, members of ICC stopped 13 proposed incinerators from being built, but lost their 1990 campaign against an incinerator in their backyard, the Essex County Resource Recovery incinerator. Owned and operated by behemoth incinerator company Covanta, it is the largest garbage incinerator in the state , burning about 2.8 tons of waste per day and emitting more lead into the air than any other U.S. incinerator. 

ICC is working to pass an environmental justice bill for New Jersey designed to prevent  the siting of new industrial facilities or the expansion of current facilities in communities already overburdened with pollution. We are also working to develop a zero waste action plan so that our community can advance alternatives to burning waste.

The Basics 

Incinerator:  Wheelabrator Baltimore

Incinerator:  Essex County Resource Recovery Facility

Location: 187 Raymond Boulevard, Newark, NJ

Pounds of pollutants (annually): total HAPs 38,076.96 (2017)

Mercury: 29.06 (2017)

PM2.5: 54,520.90 (2017)

Lead: 247.16 (2017)

NOx: 2,202,482.00 (2017)

Community: 71% minority, 37% below poverty line

Critical Date: (Permit expiration date): not available

The Fight to Close the Essex County Incinerator

Ironbound has been fighting incineration and all other major sources of pollution in our community and state for over forty years. In addition to New Jersey’s largest garbage incinerator, Ironbound is home to one of the country’s most contaminated land sites — a former Agent Orange dioxin factory — and has both active and abandoned industrial facilities, nearby flight paths, and active truck routes. In the 1980s, members of ICC stopped 13 proposed incinerators from being built, but lost their 1990 campaign against an incinerator in their backyard, the Essex County Resource Recovery incinerator. Owned and operated by behemoth incinerator company Covanta, it is the largest garbage incinerator in the state , burning about 2.8 tons of waste per day and emitting more lead into the air than any other U.S. incinerator. 

ICC is working to pass an environmental justice bill for New Jersey designed to prevent  the siting of new industrial facilities or the expansion of current facilities in communities already overburdened with pollution. We are also working to develop a zero waste action plan so that our community can advance alternatives to burning waste.

Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste

In addition to advocating for the closure of BRESCO, we are pushing the City of Baltimore to replace polluting waste infrastructure with just, equitable, and safe zero waste infrastructure. Working in collaboration with United Workers, other local organizations and institutions, and Zero Waste USA, we developed the Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste. This tool is a first step in transitioning the city to zero waste and reversing the health and economic disparities that have plagued our communities for generations. By implementing the plan, our city will legitimize and reinforce community power through land ownership, financial resources, jobs, and democratic governance. Thanks to the efforts of our community members, organizers, and allies, the Baltimore City Council unanimously adopted the Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste on April, 6th, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and pledged $16 million towards its implementation.  Currently SBCLT is working to ensure that the Department of Public Works actually allots the promised funding to create zero waste infrastructure, carries out zero waste education, and promotes zero waste businesses.

The Fight to Close BRESCO

The Wheelabrator Baltimore trash incinerator – formerly known as BRESCO – has been the city’s largest source of air pollutants, and similar developments in South Baltimore continue to pose serious public health risks.   Our community members are the most affected: they have higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses and die an average of 15 years earlier than those in wealthier, white Baltimore communities located a few miles away. Our city-wide campaign for a just transition to zero waste sees the closure of BRESCO as the first step in reversing these injustices. Although the outgoing mayor renewed BRESCO’s contract in November 2020,  our “Starve the Beast” campaign is addressing this setback by pushing for an early closure of the incinerator and shifting the city and every major contributing institution towards zero waste.

What you Can Do

Learn More and Join the Fight!


Follow on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook- Twitter: @baltimoresouth FB:South Baltimore Community Land Trust IG: southbaltimoreclt

The Basics 

Incinerator:  Wheelabrator Baltimore

Incinerator:  Essex County Resource Recovery Facility

Location: 187 Raymond Boulevard, Newark, NJ

Pounds of pollutants (annually): total HAPs 38,076.96 (2017)

Mercury: 29.06 (2017)

PM2.5: 54,520.90 (2017)

Lead: 247.16 (2017)

NOx: 2,202,482.00 (2017)

Community: 71% minority, 37% below poverty line

Critical Date: (Permit expiration date): not available

The organizer

Shashawanda Campbell grew up in Baltimore City and leads SBCLT’s campaign to close the BRESCO incinerator. Previously, she co-founded Free Your Voice, a student-led group that ran a successful campaign to stop what would have been the nation’s largest incinerator from being built less than a mile away from her high school.  Shashawanda sees her role as an organizer as a way to challenge and restructure the current system that picks and chooses who deserves to have dignity, opportunities, and rights. She continues to work with Baltimore residents to shut down the BRESCO incinerator, develop city-wide recycling/composting programs with free bins, and create infrastructure to manage these resources once collected.

In the news

Black History Month Voices: Shashawnda Campbell | Commentary

During February, Maryland residents are commemorating Black History Month by studying and celebrating the past. Meanwhile, what’s being called theracial reckoning of 2020 is barely in the rearview mirror. Those recent events — Black people killed by police and marches demanding systemic change — are prompting some Baltimore residents to explore what needs to be done to ensure there is substantial progress toward achieving racial justice and equity.

Published by the Baltimore Sun

Baltimore is burning trash, so we’re starving the fire – video

Residents in South Baltimore are fighting to ‘starve’ their nearby Bresco incinerator due to health concerns over the amount of pollution it creates. Of the 72 remaining facilities in the US, the vast majority are located in predominantly low-income or minority communities, raising concerns about compounding pollutants in already overburdened neighborhoods.

Published by The Guardian

Meet 30 Women Who Are Shaping Baltimore’s Future

“There are so many amazing women in Baltimore who are doing great things and working together for a cause,” says our cover model, Black Girls Vote founder and CEO Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson. Baltimore has always been a town that honors and elevates women. They are our politicians and business leaders, our artists and activists. The 30 emerging leaders featured in this story are simply following in that long, great tradition.

Published by Baltimore Magazine

Baltimore’s Community Land Trusts Offer a Pathway to Housing Justice

After years of grassroots activism, the city has found success in addressing historical housing discrimination through community land trusts.

Published by Yes Magazine