The Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE): We Can Be Heroes

Interview with Jane Bremmer by Dan Abril

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

Jane Bremmer is one of Asia Pacific’s prominent and outspoken environmental advocates. However, with two Arts degrees and a Sound Design major, her involvement in environmental activism was something she didn’t quite expect or envision. She shares, “We had just moved into an old house with our 4-month-old baby and we were planning on a ceramics business when we discovered we were living next door to Western Australia’s worst contaminated site – a massive 38000 m3 pit of waste oil.” 

Heavily involved in social activism back in university, Jane was not the type to hold herself back; and so, together with others in the community, they formed a group and managed to get the site cleaned up and relocate those residents most affected by the contamination.

Known then as The Bellevue Action Group, it soon joined with other communities facing environmental justice threats and morphed into the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE) 

25 years later, the alliance has seen ordinary folks become heroes: from holding industrial polluters to account to getting involved in campaigns against waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerators, and climate change.  As ACE’s pioneer, Jane Bremmer sat with us to discuss the joys and challenges that come with coordinating and leading such an alliance.  

What are ACE’s main ongoing campaigns? 

ACE continues to support environmental justice communities facing pollution threats. In addition, we have two large WTE incinerator proposals here in Western Australia (WA) and so to counteract their waste disposal narrative, we are focused on supporting Zero Waste Campaigns here. 

Aside from that, we are also working on the impacts of pesticide use in both agricultural and urban environments.  A lot of people are interested because they are tired of seeing children’s playgrounds drenched in pesticides.  

What are your biggest accomplishments/achievements?

Our campaign on contaminated sites resulted in the state government introducing the first-ever Contaminated Sites Act. This was a great achievement and outcome for our campaign, ensuring no community in the future would face the same situation.

ACE was also able to prevent a fifth brickworks from being built in an already heavily industrial-impacted neighbourhood where air quality had long been compromised. We consider that every time that our government listens to us, and acts to protect our health and environment,  it is a win for us!

In 2005, ACE was also bestowed with a Sunday Times Pride of Australia Award for the Most Outstanding Environment Work Award. 

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

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

ACE is a very independent voice and one of the significant challenges of an environmental justice campaigner is that you are often criticizing corporations and the government – and that is not a great way to make friends or get funding. In WA, mining corporations fund everything, even the academe is very industry-captured here and as such, it is very difficult for us to get the financial support we need. 

Another concern is that the world is changing very rapidly and people have less time now and people are feeling jaded and cynical. Compared to 20 years ago, people were more willing to take action and get involved in their local communities to defend their health and environment. Today, people are less interested and often accept government and industry platitudes without question. 

Our working model is to focus on providing resources that frontline communities need to raise awareness and engage their own communities and connect with experts and other contributors. 

COVID posed another problem, people became reluctant to meet – Australia has been so lucky dealing with the pandemic but I understand that the pandemic caused so much stress to so many other people, especially in the Asia Pacific (AP) region. 

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

There are many issues but climate change is right at the top. The fossil fuel industry, the petrochemical industry, and the pesticide industry are a deadly trio that wreaks havoc on climate, economics, trade, and people’s health. 

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

ACE is currently considering its future right now. Our membership often fluctuates according to the campaign – so whether we will still be ACE in 10 years or evolved into another organization, I don’t know. People retire and move on.  My hope is that I will see me and my colleagues in our old age sitting in the back while all these awesome, young, energetic campaigners will take up the reins and lead ACE forward. Whatever happens in the future, ACE will still be around in some shape or form. This oasis will always be here. 

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

Every single state in Australia is facing an incinerator threat. Two big ones have already been approved in WA, while New South Wales (NSW), Victoria, and Queensland are now facing numerous incinerator threats. South Australia (SA) meanwhile, has been quietly burning waste all this time and has massive expansion plans for refuse-derived fuel (RDF). The ‘waste disposal sector’ dominates in Australia driving a narrative of false solutions like waste incineration while failing to invest in sustainable Zero Waste policies and redefining a Circular Economy to enshrine waste burning. The waste disposal industry does not talk about Zero Waste and as such, government finances are funneled into waste incinerator projects and not source segregation. 

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

I have a bit of hope here though. Industry heads have acknowledged that they do not have a social licence to operate in Australia. When they say that, I know that we are being effective. 

While Australia’s world-first waste export ban was a step in the right direction, it is simply enabling further waste dumping in the AP region through a simple redefinition of waste as a fuel commodity that can continue to be exported. This will exacerbate the global waste crisis and push incineration projects into the AP region. This will be a disaster for our climate, health, and environment. The vulnerable equatorial region on our planet is no place for dangerous highly polluting waste incinerators. The AP region knows how to implement Zero Waste policy and have long been leaders in this area. They just need respect and support to scale up. Imagine a world without waste incinerators or coal industries!

To look at the other positives: Australia has seen some major waste policy improvements such as single-use plastic (SUP) bans, container deposit schemes, extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes, and now has a national food and garden organics (FOGO) programme diverting this waste from landfills to composting. 

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

We work with a number of other organizations – from local groups such as the Conservation Council of WA to international networks as the Basel Action Network (BAN), International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), Zero Waste Europe (ZWE), and of course the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

How does your work on waste relate to social justice?

Most environmental justice threats disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples (IPs) and other minority groups and Australia is no exception.  It is well-documented that communities hosting industries in their neighborhoods are often negatively impacted by those industries. ACE’s fight against air pollution is a battle for human rights. Everyone has a right to clean air, water, and soil. 

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

There are so many great women in Australia and around the world who work for environmental justice, whether it’s petrochemicals, pesticides or plastic. They deserve much more recognition. Noting the work of  Dr Mariann Lloyd- Smith who founded the National Toxics Network (NTN), Lois Marie Gibbs, who lifted the lid on dioxin and its impact on communities in the US, Theo Colburn and her incredible work on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, and  Rachel Carlson who wrote “Silent Spring”. I have come to cherish and rely on them all. 

There are lots of incredible women who are doing amazing things in environmental justice spaces and a lot of women are simply standing up for their kids and communities – and they inspire me to keep going. 

Photo courtesy of the Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE)

The Alliance for a Clean Environment (ACE) is in need of funding to continue its work on exposing the threat of waste incinerators and its campaign against the use of pesticides in urban areas. Reach out to ACE via their website or their Facebook group to learn more. 

Dear ADB President Asakawa, Managing Director Woochong Um, VP Ashok Lavasa (Private Sector Operations), and Members of the ADB Board of Directors,

We are writing to collectively urge an immediate reconsideration of the proposed financing for a new waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration project in Binh Duong Province, Viet Nam (Project Number: 56118-001). Formally reported as “Viet Nam: Binh Duong Waste Management and Energy Efficiency Project”, once operational, this project is expected to burn 200 tons of industrial and municipal solid waste per day.

This letter outlines the key reasons why the project should be urgently put on hold until it is revised rather than proceeding to the Board for approval, specifically: 1) in light of the absence of a finalized guidance note on WTE as mandated by the new 2021 Energy Policy (required to provide specific screening measures at all stages of the project cycle)  to meet the requirements of paragraph 71 of the policy that the choice of feedstock is a result of a prudent order of waste management and WTE will be the last option, approving this project would be a breach of due process; 2) the lack of any evidence-based information to illustrate how the project will actually tackle climate change and support making cities more liveable as per operational priorities of ADB’s Strategy 2030 (see the Project’s Initial Poverty and Social Analysis); 3) the unsubstantiated claim that WTE incineration is a viable source of renewable energy source; 4) high risk of safeguards violations in light of the lack of clarity how the implementing company’s own ESMS can be relied upon when across the region, WTE incineration plants systematically circumvent national pollution control laws while undermining standards upheld by international conventions.

Below, we elaborate why deploying the ADB’s limited resources to facilitate the building of such an unnecessary, risky, and resource-intensive project lacks foresight — most especially given the urgent need to support borrowing member countries to rapidly scale up options for reliance on locally relevant, decentralized renewable energy generation, and waste management systems.

  1. Background: Missing guidance notes on WTE incineration

We are alarmed by the fact that this project is proposed in the absence of the staff guidance note on WTE. Until today, the guidance note has not been finalized and made publicly available. In our latest conversation with senior management-level staff in the Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department, it was made clear that the guidance notes will be applied before the approval stage of a project cycle.  As mandated by the new Energy Policy, the staff guidance will elaborate upon the screening criteria for ADB operations involving natural gas, large hydropower plants, and WTE plants. On WTE, the guidance note should provide criteria to ensure that the feedstock used in ADB’s proposed projects on WTE incineration will follow “a prudent order of waste management priorities”. This means, before WTE incineration is considered to be installed, ADB operations must ensure first the reduction of waste generation, material reuse, and recycling to take place. 

The guidance note on WTE must reinforce and not undermine paragraph 71 of the new Energy Policy, ensuring prioritization of waste management options in which WTE incineration is the last option. WTE incineration is an end-of-pipe solution to waste. Its existence does not stimulate higher and more important solutions for waste management which are reduction, reuse, and recycling. In fact, it disincentivizes upstream solutions due to its huge financial implications for local governments’ budgets through the high cost of construction and operational costs. In many cases, national governments need to subsidize the tipping fee, feed-in tariff, or false renewable energy subsidy. 

There is no clear evidence-based rationale for the Board to approve the WTE incineration component of this non-sovereign loan worth USD 7 million before the guidance note is in place and duly adhered to by ADB staff. The project does not indicate any means to reduce waste generation, such as first supporting the implementation of a ban on single-use products and packaging, a deposit-refund system, or local programs to promote reuse and refillable containers, food loss and food waste prevention — all of which could in fact help make the cities in the project area more livable. The project also does not include a component of material recycling for recyclable metal, plastic, paper, and cardboard. Additionally, it is also unclear whether the composting plant will treat source-separated waste or mixed waste — a critical factor in ensuring a high-quality organic management process. Lastly, there is no initial analysis on waste composition and generation conducted to justify that the WTE component has followed a prudent order of waste management priorities. 

Given the absence of a guidance note, there is no way for civil society to verify how the implementing company, BIWASE, will adopt the best internationally available standards in accordance with international conventions as mandated by the new Energy Policy. In this regard, we note with concern that the company’s website also does not list any intent to follow international guidelines for emissions or other environmental, health, and safety standards.

Support for WTE incineration would also hamper efforts to avoid harming livelihood opportunities for the poorest of the poor working along the waste value chain as required in the new Energy Policy. WTE incineration facilities create the least jobs compared to composting, recycling, remanufacturing, and repair. Therefore, it will most likely lead to an extensive loss of employment and loss of livelihood for those working in the informal waste sector. Furthermore, the presence of incineration plants also typically lead to a drastic loss of income for the informal waste sector. This happens because incinerator plants demand a constant and huge amount of waste with high-calorific content which is found in recyclables. Expansion of WTE incineration capacity would also contradict Viet Nam’s national recycling targets.

  1. WTE incineration is not a low-carbon investment

The claim that this project is aligned with the operational priorities of ADB’s Strategy 2030 —in particular the key operational priority on tackling climate change— is very concerning to us as civil society organizations directly advocating for climate, energy, social and economic justice. Waste incineration projects are heavily reliant on burning plastic. This makes WTE incineration plants no different than any other fossil-powered energy generation system. Incinerating plastic which is 99 percent made of fossil fuels emits 2.7 tonnes of CO2e for every tonne of plastic burned. Further, when energy is recovered, incinerating one tonne of plastic still results in 1.43 tonnes of CO2e — way higher than real renewable sources such as wind and solar.

WTE incineration is not a low-carbon technology; in fact, it is more emission-intensive than the average emission intensity on the grid, including coal-fired and gas-fired power plants. In both the U.S. and the E.U., WTE incineration is considered among the dirtiest sources of energy and the most emissions-intensive form of power generation on the  grid. The US Environmental Protection Agency states that incinerators emit more carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour than coal-fired, natural-gas-fired, or oil-fired power plants. A recent scientific paper further proves that incinerators emit more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of electricity produced than any other power source. This finding is corroborated by a study on European incinerators which shows that the carbon intensity of electricity produced from WTE incinerators is twice the current European Union average electricity grid intensity — significantly greater than energy produced through conventional fossil fuel sources.

Lastly, waste incineration has no place in any decarbonization plans. WTE incineration facilities are expected to operate for about 25 years with significant GHG emissions as explained above — causing both carbon lock-in and feedstock lock-in effects. This hinders countries from achieving their climate targets and improving their waste prevention and recycling rate. This process would also encourage more extraction of resources, since discarded materials have been destroyed rather than recovered, thus indirectly contributing to more emissions.

  1. Municipal and industrial solid waste is not a renewable energy source 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines renewable energy as energy created from natural processes that do not get depleted, such as bioenergy, direct solar energy, and those derived from wind, or ocean. IPCC also states that only the organic component of municipal solid waste is considered renewable. Hence, fossil components of waste streams such as plastic materials are non-renewable. In the case of this project, 840 tons per day of organic waste would be taken by the composting facility. Thus, it is likely that WTE will rely on burning non-organic waste fraction, especially fossil-derived plastic. 

Additionally, both municipal and industrial solid waste contains recyclable and reusable materials lost from the economy that needs to be re-mined, re-grown, and re-manufactured which incinerators destroy. Reuse and recycling also save more energy and prevent more greenhouse gas emissions compared to waste incineration. Therefore, investments in burning discarded materials such as plastic, paper, and glass that are derived from finite natural resources undermine climate goals.

Labeling WTE incineration as a renewable energy source project has severely unjust energy transition implications. This fact is well reflected in the U.S. where waste incineration is considered one of the most expensive ways to generate energy. A more recent study also shows that WTE incineration is nearly four times higher than solar power and onshore wind energy and 25 percent more expensive than coal-fired power plants. WTE incineration also reflects the weak financing model for an industry that has become increasingly dependent on renewable energy subsidies to stay afloat. 

  1. Potential safeguards violation of WTE incineration projects

We question the project environment safeguard categorization as well as the suggestion in the Project Initial Poverty and Social Analysis that it will make surrounding cities more livable. The project is currently categorized as a Category B. WTE incinerators cause long-term public health and environmental damage. Case studies of waste incineration projects throughout Asia and the Pacific have unequivocally demonstrated causal connections to adverse and irreversible environmental impacts. Paragraph 36 of ADB Safeguards Policy 2009 (SPS 2009) requires borrowers to avoid any release of hazardous substances and materials subject to international bans and phaseouts. This clearly conflicts with two international conventions. Both Minamata and Stockholm conventions have identified waste incineration as a major source of mercury and dioxins which are highly toxic and must be phased out immediately.

This project also does not reflect compliance with SPS 2009. In paragraph 35, the borrower is mandated to minimize the generation of hazardous and non-hazardous waste resulting from project activities. WTE incineration does not eliminate waste as it only converts domestic waste into toxic waste in the form of ash. For every four tons of waste burnt, it is expected that there will be at least one ton of toxic incinerator fly ash and bottom ash. Furthermore, paragraphs 34 and 35 also require borrowers to prioritize waste prevention, reuse, and treatment (i.e. composting and recycling) — compliant with resource conservation principles and a prudent order of waste management priorities. Similarly, Viet Nam national law on Environmental Protection also mandates all organizations to prioritize upstream preventive measures.

A report by IPEN shows that toxic ash and other residues from waste incineration around the globe contain dioxins, furans (PCDD/Fs), and a range of other highly toxic Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which occur at levels threatening to human health and the environment. Also, WTE incineration emits fine and ultra-fine particles that contain high amounts of toxic compounds and pose a serious threat to the environment and human health. 

The Danish Environmental Protection Agency released findings showing that the Norfos incineration plant has repeatedly exceeded the limit value for toxic emissions for dioxins and furans since 2014. More recent research conducted in Kaunas (Lithuania), Pilsen (Czech Republic), and Valdemingomez (Spain) show that WTE incinerators contribute to high dioxin levels in the vicinity of the plants. Long-term studies from state-of-the-art WTE incinerators in Harlingen (the Netherlands) and Sant Adrià de Besós (Spain) reveal emissions of toxic pollutants far beyond the limits set by EU laws. A similar long-term study in 2019, showed that UK incinerators breached their air pollution limits 127 times — with five different facilities reporting more than 10 permit breaches. There were 96 hours of abnormal operations where toxic pollutants such as dioxins are very likely to be released and not monitored.

The toxic contamination is not incidental, but systemic as shown by the recent news of Lausanne dioxin contamination in Switzerland. The country’s fourth-largest city is currently trying to cope with the effects of a recent discovery of wide-scale soil pollution caused by toxic compounds from an old garbage incinerator. This incident has caused an EU-wide investigation into impacts at other incinerator locations and should be a wake-up call for the ADB management – it is time to end support for WTE incineration. 

Incinerator bottom ash from burning waste also contains significant total concentrations of elements that are a ‘high level of concern’ based on EU REACH hazard classifications. For example, studies from a municipal solid waste incinerator in Phuket (Thailand) have shown that the ash emitted contains high concentrations of dioxins. The accumulated ash is stored adjacent to the plant and near the coastline, without protective barriers to prevent dioxins from leaking into the sea. Close to the plant, it was found that some of the fish and shellfish samples, also wild bird eggs, had elevated POPs levels. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that waste incineration exacerbates microplastic contamination in surrounding areas, for example, up to 102,000 microplastic particles are found per metric ton of waste incinerated.

The national regulation on industrial waste incineration also uses lower safeguards standards on dioxins emission in flue gas (QCVN 30: 2012/BTNMT). The emission standard for dioxins in flue gas is 0.6 ng TEQ/Nm3. That is six times lower than the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU) of the European Parliament (EU IED) standard which set 0.1 ng TEQ/Nm3 for dioxins emissions in the flue gas. Additionally, the national law on Environment Protection also only requires once a year dioxins and furans monitoring in incinerator wastewater and flue gas — which is less than what is required by the EU IED on the monitoring frequency.

We note with concern that in the past, ADB has also supported one WTE project in Viet Nam which has been reported as non-compliant with ADB SPS yet remains to be in operation to this day. This first ADB-funded WTE plant in Viet Nam (Project Number: 50371-001) is located in the solid waste treatment area of Xã Trường Xuân Commune of Thới Lai District, which is 36 km from Cần Thơ City. According to the ADB’s own Environmental and Social Monitoring Report and Annual Environmental and Social Performance Report, there are several instances of significant safeguards violations (SPS 2009; Safeguard Requirement 1: Environment; paragraphs 33, 34, 35, and 36).

  1. Lack of monitoring of toxic persistent organic pollutants

In 2019, the operator of Cần Thơ WTE plant has signed an MoU with ADB providing assurances that the Plant shall meet the emissions limits based on the EU IED. This directive is often referred to as the best international standard on WTE incineration. 

In the reports, dioxins and furans are not monitored continuously, but rather only monitored once every three months by third-party laboratories. Moreover, these toxic pollutants are only measured over an average sampling period of two hours. In practice, this would only represent 0.1% of the total operation time per year. Even if the measurement of dioxins and furans meets the limitations stipulated in the EU IED, the sampling period is recorded for only six to eight hours; i.e. representing 0.4% of the annual operation at best. 

  1. ​​Lack of testing parameters for toxic pollutants 

The Environmental and Social Monitoring Report has highlighted several missing testing parameters for the incinerator bottom ash, including those related to heavy metals, dioxins, and furans. It also underscored the lack of capacity of local government authorities to manage toxic incinerator ash adequately. In fact, Cần Thơ City Government does not have any safeguard measures for securing incinerator toxic ash. Currently, the city government is still in the planning stages for developing a fly ash landfill within the solid waste treatment area in the Thới Lai District. Notably, the EU IED also requires monitoring of dioxins contained in WTE incineration wastewater. Yet, no such measurements are reported from Cần Thơ WTE.

  1. Lack of meaningful consultations and insufficient information disclosure

Crucially, ADB’s own Environmental and Social Monitoring Report of the respective project also indicates the need to conduct additional consultation to ensure affected communities around the site are fully informed of the project. The report highlighted that the project needs to inform local communities about the grievance system. From our perspective, it is also critically important that ADB and project staff communicate the potential risks of toxic emissions and ash released from the plants to surrounding households in a  language they understand.

These three concerns are indicative of the serious risks from WTE incinerators, which as recognized by international laws and growing evidence even in countries with superior regulatory environment, has to be avoided than mitigated. Without any requirement that mandates continuous sampling and information disclosure from emission monitoring activity, WTE incineration plants pose significant health risks to local communities. It is crucial to ensure the establishment of working project grievance mechanisms that enable secure, independent reporting channels to avoid risks of reprisals and retaliation. This should be accompanied with regular meaningful consultations with the affected communities, conducted in a language they understand, in spaces where they can express concerns and raise questions free of fear of reprisals. In cases where serious safeguards requirements are not fulfilled, the Board must withdraw from these projects. 

In light of the above information, we are calling on the ADB to 1) decisively withdraw the WTE component from the proposed Binh Duong Waste Management and Energy Efficiency Project (56118-001); 2) publicly disclose the guidance note on WTE online; and 3) include compliance with the guidance note as a mandatory provision on the project data sheet if/when new WTE projects are proposed — allowing civil society groups and local communities to follow up accordingly. At a minimum, taking these steps would help provide a basis for clarity for civil society and community groups to evaluate whether and how the Bank is diligently prepared to follow a prudent order of waste management priorities in its project investments and ensure a transparent set of screening standards are firmly in place for staff and project proponent guidance.

We look forward to your timely response. Thank you.
 

Sincerely,

Cc: 

  • Won Myong Hong, Project Officer, Private Sector Operations Department
  • Suzanne Gaboury, Director General, Private Sector Operations Department
  • Christopher Thieme, Deputy Director General, Private Sector Operations Department
  • Priyantha Wijayatunga, Chief of Energy Sector Group, Sustainable Development and Climate Change Department
  • Bruce Dunn, Director, Safeguards Division

September 30, 2022 – Reacting to the conclusion of the 55th Annual Meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB),  the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific, said: 

“The ambition of the Bank to finance the requirements of meeting 1.5C goal risks create more inequities as we see continued support for false solutions with the same industrial polluters that pushed us to this climate crisis.” Yobel Putra, Climate and Clean Energy Campaigner said. 

GAIA Asia Pacific said ADB’s investments for Waste-to-Energy (WTE)  incinerators that over 1 billion US$ in combined loans, grants, and technical assistance have been disbursed in the region between 2009 to 2021.  

“That’s a lot of money that could have been better spent supporting measures for preventing unsustainable production, waste collection and segregation, recycling, and redesign for saving more natural resources which could drastically reduce our carbon footprints.”, Putra said. 

The WTE industry is being supported as a solution to waste, energy, and ocean health. GAIA AP says this hampers the region’s efforts to come out of the crisis stronger and greener. 

Global evidence on WTE incinerators shows that the technology is costly and dirty leading to plant closures but leaving behind permanent problems such as a trail of bad debts, long-term health implications for communities, ecosystem damage, loss of jobs for waste pickers and recyclers, and 68% more greenhouse gases per unit of energy than coal plants.

“Countries highly susceptible to impacts of climate change such as ours do not need or want WTE incineration as a waste management solution. When it comes to WTE incineration projects, the Maldivian experience is an experience riddled with debt, corruption, and irreversible environmental destruction! Community-led Zero Waste solutions have proven to be more effective for waste management for us. ADB should stop promoting false solutions to us!”, says Afrah Ismail, Zero Waste Maldives. 

GAIA Asia Pacific calls for the ADB to cease categorizing WTE incinerators as climate-mitigating, enhancing ocean health, and environmental sustainability. The flawed tagging direct policies, international efforts and public finance in support of a polluting industry.  Currently, WTE projects in Maldives, China, Thailand, and Vietnam were supported through ADB’s green and blue bonds financing without meaningful consultations with affected communities and civil society organizations to discuss the merits and implications of these projects.

Stronger protection for people and the planet 

GAIA AP also urges the Bank to develop coherent implementation arrangements and safeguards policies to realize the promise stated in its new Energy Policy meaning that no new projects for incinerators shall take place without considering “holistically the order of priorities— first reducing waste generation, then exploiting the options for reusing and recycling materials and opting for WTE only as the last option. It is also committed to being aligned with international covenants. 

Since last year, GAIA AP has been strongly advocating for the inclusion of economic activities which produce Persistent Organic Pollutants such as dioxins and furans in the Bank’s exclusion list, cognizant of the Stockholm and Basel Conventions. These dangerous pollutants are emitted by waste incinerators and found in their ash residues. During the ADB virtual meeting session on safeguards policy, however, the Asia Development Bank confirmed that it is not excluding projects that generate dioxins and furans. “It is disappointing that the ADB would not respect, Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEA) despite the recent recognition that such air pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels and biomass for energy use, is the principal source of air pollution in the region killing nearly 4.5 million a year,” Jane Bremmer, National Toxics Network of Australia. 

GAIA AP also sees dangers in the Bank’s role in the institutionalization of WTE even in countries with clear legal bans. Aileen Lucero of Ecowaste Coalition in the Philippines also criticized the Bank for violating national environmental laws through its technical assistance support in the conduct of feasibility study, marketing, procurement and other facilitation activities to allow the WTE corporation to enter into a joint venture agreement with the Cebu local government. 

The outdated policy framework and weak implementation of its safeguards policy risk posing more harm than good to cities where these incinerators will be running, especially because most of these are entered into with the private sector with voluntary reporting on environmental and social performance,” said  GAIA AP.  

GAIA AP challenges the Bank to set the direction for a climate resilient and green recovery by developing strategies that are inherently found in the region and have been empowering communities such as the Zero Waste approach.  

###

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 

This post is written by plastics campaigners at Greenpeace UK and guest authors from UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN), and originally published on greenpeace.org.uk

Earlier in July, the long-awaited results of The Big Plastic Count – the UK’s largest ever investigation into household plastic waste – were revealed. The citizen science project sought to discover how much plastic we throw away, where it actually goes once it leaves our homes, and how much of it gets recycled.

Turns out it’s not a lot. Sadly, just 12% of the 100 billion pieces of plastic leaving our homes every year is actually recycled in the UK. What happens to the rest of it? Well, most ends up in an incinerator.

Incineration is bad for the climate

Plastic is almost entirely made from oil and gas. So burning it is essentially burning fossil fuels. In fact, for every tonne of dense plastic burned more than two tonnes of CO2 is released into the atmosphere.

Now, let’s consider the fact that UK households throw away nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging a year, and nearly half of that is ending up burned. Incinerating this plastic releases around 750,000 tonnes of CO2 into our atmosphere each year. That’s the same as adding 350,000 cars to our roads here in the UK.

To make matters worse, global plastic production is set to triple by 2060. This means that, without a big change, the amount of plastic incinerated will also increase.

Those profiting from incineration often call the energy from burning waste “green”. This greenwash would be laughable if it wasn’t so utterly frustrating. The reality is, electricity from plastic incineration is even dirtier than coal.

We’re in a climate crisis. We urgently need to stop extracting fossil fuels. We need to transition to renewable energy, such as wind and solar. We do not need to worsen climate change by burning plastic under the guise of being “green”.

It’s bad for air quality and our health

Burning plastic waste also releases a range of toxic gases, heavy metals, and particles into the air. These can be bad for our health.

Dioxins are just one of the many harmful emissions from incinerators. They are highly toxic and can cause cancer and damage to the immune system. Dioxins are also known to interfere with hormones. This can trigger problems in our brain, reproductive and nervous systems.

Even state-of-the-art incinerators can give off potentially dangerous amounts of dioxins. Because, while incinerators are fitted with technology to capture such toxins, some get through the filters.

Research has found chicken eggs within 2 kilometres of a modern incinerator were unsuitable for consumption due to contamination. A 2021 study found high levels of dioxins near incinerators.

Far better solutions exist to tackle the plastic crisis. Corporations and governments should not sacrifice the health of local communities with poor plastic waste management.

It’s costing us money

For decades, incinerators have been releasing harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the burning of plastic without compensating society for the climate harm it’s causing.

Last year alone, the incineration of plastic in the UK was responsible for nearly £2 billion of unpaid climate harm. And this staggering figure doesn’t even include the associated health costs.

It’s racist and classist

Incineration is also a prime example of environmental injustice. Incinerators are three times more likely to be built in the UK’s most deprived neighbourhood and more than 40% of existing incinerators are in areas with higher diversity than their local average.

An infamous example of this is the Edmonton ‘EcoPark’ – an incinerator located in one of the most deprived areas in England, where 65% of residents are people of colour. In the words of Enfield Black Lives Matter campaigner, Delia Mattis:

“We need to be calling this what it is; racism. These industries know that when they place an incinerator in an area like Edmonton, one of the most deprived constituencies in the country, people won’t get involved in campaigns against it because they are already tired from fighting against racial oppression and injustice all their lives”.

The recent decision to expand the Edmonton incinerator, despite strong objections from local communities, is in stark contrast to the decision made by Cambridgeshire County Council, where “the incinerator was rejected because it wasn’t in keeping with the listed and historic buildings in the area. In Cambridgeshire buildings are important, in Edmonton, lives are not.”

It competes with recycling and we’re already over-capacity

Incinerators can’t be easily switched off and on, so they need constant feeding to keep running. This means incinerators compete for plastic and other waste with recycling and composting facilities. Incinerators are expensive to build, and as incineration companies want a return on their investment, these facilities tend to be run for decades.

This often means waste companies secure long-term contracts with local councils who promise to pay for capacity whether they use it or not. Councils often then go on to tell local residents that they can’t afford to invest in waste education or recycling because, even if it resulted in less waste being burned, they would still need to pay for the incinerator.

It should therefore come as no surprise that regions with the highest rates of incineration also tend to have the lowest recycling rates. Incinerators in the UK are relying on burning recyclable material to keep going. We already have far too much incineration capacity and we certainly do not want any more.

And no, simply increasing recycling capacity isn’t the answer either. Plastic reduction is the key.

So what can be done?

Incineration is not a viable option for solving the plastic crisis, and is making the climate crisis even worse. So what needs to be done? And what can you do to help?

One obvious action that needs to be taken is the phasing out of incineration, and some parts of the UK are already leading the way.  In June this year, Scotland introduced a ban on new incinerators – meaning no further planning permissions will be granted for new Scottish waste incineration capacity. This follows Wales introducing a ban in 2021. Both countries acknowledge that new incinerators act as a barrier to achieving zero waste, net zero and a circular economy.

The rest of the UK must now follow in their footsteps.

The UK must also focus on reducing single use packaging, and transitioning towards reusable options – alternatives that cost less both financially and environmentally. Reducing the amount of plastic produced in the first place, means less plastic being burned, less carbon in the atmosphere and less toxins in our air. Greenpeace is demanding that the government halves single use plastic by 2025.

For the sake of our health and our planet, burning plastic needs to end.

Help UKWIN reach over 125.000 signatures calling for an incineration moratorium

SIGN THE PETITION to the UK Government calling for them to “Fix the UK’s plastic waste crisis: reduce single use plastic by 50% by 2025, ban all waste exports, ban new incinerators being built, and roll out a deposit return scheme.”

“Incinerators in the UK are relying on burning recyclable material to keep going. We already have far too much incineration capacity and we certainly do not want any more.”

UK Without Incineration Network (UKWIN)

Ocean Conservancy commits to working with GAIA Network to address damages done to impacted communities

September 14, 2022 – Today the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in the Asia Pacific and its member organizations have concluded the first step of a restorative justice process with the U.S.-based organization Ocean Conservancy (OC). The process aims to address the years of damage brought about by its “Stemming the Tide” report (now removed from OC’s website) by correcting the narrative and agreeing to restorative actions requested by communities and sectors most impacted by the report. 

In contrast to the 2015 report which placed the responsibility for plastic waste solely on the shoulders of five Asian countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) while ignoring the role of the Global North in plastic overproduction and waste exports, this process is leading to new common ground. Agreements include prioritizing plastic reduction policies, moving resources to Zero Waste solutions, denouncing false solutions like burning plastics in so-called “waste to energy” (WTE) incinerators and “chemical recycling,” and accountability mechanisms.

”This unprecedented report retraction is an opportunity to interrupt decades of waste colonialism,” shares Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Coordinator. “Ocean Conservancy is in a position to raise awareness among other organizations and policymakers about the false narrative propagated by the report. We call on all organizations to adhere to democratic organizing principles when interacting with communities in the Global South, and to respect solutions that are grounded in the real situation of the communities.” Grate encourages advocates to reinforce the restorative justice process.

First coined in 1989, waste colonialism is the process by which rich and developed countries show dominance over other lesser-developed countries through toxic waste exports, leaving the receiving (and often, ill-equipped) countries to deal with the waste, thus severely affecting their communities and environment. 

Christie Keith, GAIA International Coordinator, expounds,  “The five Asian countries mentioned in the report are not to be blamed for plastic waste. That fault lies with the corporations that make and push out ever-increasing quantities of plastic – and those fighting for Zero Waste community solutions deserve to be honored and celebrated, not attacked. We welcome OC’s commitment to repair the harm done, and uplift Zero Waste solutions. ”

Aditi Varshneya, GAIA US Membership Coordinator, adds, “‘Stemming the Tide’ also harmed communities in more ways than one. The report’s findings have undermined long-standing community efforts to achieve sustainable policies on health, waste management, and funding.”

Rahyang Nusantara of Aliansi Zero Waste Indonesia emphasizes that “The report (‘Stemming the Tide’) has harmed our communities but we are not victims because we have the solutions.” David Sutasurya of Yaksa Pelestari Bumi Berkelanjutan (YPBB) adds,  “We have Zero Waste solutions to counter waste.”  Sutasurya shares that in the first year of YPBB’s Zero Waste pilot areas in Bandung, the districts successfully diverted 950 kg of waste away from landfills daily and managed to save about IDR 63 million (USD 4,300) in waste transportation costs. 

According to Satyarupa Shekhar, #breakfreefromplastic movement Asia Pacific Coordinator, “OC’s report, which was drafted by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm whose clientele includes some of the world’s top plastic polluters, diluted existing restrictions on incineration and opened the doors to false solutions and controversial techno-fixes to deal with the plastic pollution crisis. Some of the glaring examples are: in the Philippines, where a national ban on incineration is threatened by new proposals to allow WTE incineration plants, and in Indonesia, where the government continues to push for waste incineration despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruling revoked Presidential regulation No. 18/2016, which speed up the development of waste-based power plants or incinerators.“

Aside from retracting the report, OC acknowledged its mistake in focusing on plastic waste management and reconsidered its position on WTE incineration and other similar technologies to deal with the burgeoning plastic waste crisis. OC has also admitted its error in failing to look at the work of local communities and the subsequent effects of the report on them. 

Welcoming OC’s change of position, Aileen Lucero of Ecowaste Coalition in the Philippines and Daru Rini of ECOTON in Indonesia illustrated that the current plastic crisis is not a waste management issue, but instead, the problem should be addressed by looking at the entire lifecycle of plastic. Rini states that “the problem begins the moment fossil fuels are extracted to produce single-use plastics (SUP).”  

Fighting False Solutions to Plastic Pollution

In recent years, several false solutions have been offered to counteract the plastic crisis,  from burning waste to “chemical recycling,” which in no way addresses the full lifecycle of plastic. 

For Sonia Mendoza, Chairman of Mother Earth Foundation in the Philippines, “Each country should be responsible for the waste it generates and not export them under the guise of ‘trade’. Burning waste is not an option as well. WTE could as well mean “waste of energy.”

Looking at the current end life of SUPs, Xuan Quach, Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance chairman, highlights that, “WTE and chemical recycling are not sustainable.” To which, Nindhita Proboretno of Nexus 3 Foundation in Indonesia adds,  “Those technologies are not environment-friendly solutions and have no place in a world struggling against climate change.”  

Xavier Sun,  organizer of the Taiwan Zero Waste Alliance, agrees, stating that such strategies only  “cause further toxic pollution (such as bottom ash, fly ash, and greenhouse gases (GHGs) that damages our climate and human health. Additionally, they encourage further plastic production, and undermine real solutions.”

Moving toward Zero Waste

Meanwhile, Merci Ferrer of War on Waste-Break Free From Plastic (WOW-BFFP) – Negros Oriental in the Philippines, adds that “This  process with OC would bring justice and recognition to the work of communities engaged in Zero Waste work.”

Summarizing the sentiments of all key leaders, Nalini Shekar of Hasiru Dala in India, adds, “The report has influenced decision makers to divert valuable resources meant for decentralized Zero Waste solutions to centralized, highly-mechanical unsustainable practices and caused other harm to communities. However, the report retraction is a step towards healing and reversing the damages done –  showing once again that Zero Waste is the only sustainable solution.”

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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. 

Media Contacts:

Sonia Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Senior Communications Officer  | sonia@no-burn.org | +63 9175969286

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Bahasa Indonesia:

Kemajuan Bersejarah dalam Perang Melawan Kolonialisme Sampah

Ocean Conservancy berkomitmen untuk bekerja sama dengan GAIA Network untuk mengatasi kerugian yang terjadi pada masyarakat yang terdampak

14 September 2022 – Kemarin, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pasifik dan anggotanya telah menyelesaikan langkah pertama dari proses keadilan restoratif dengan Ocean Conservancy (OC) organisasi yang berbasis di AS. Proses ini bertujuan untuk mengatasi kerugian yang sudah bertahun-tahun  yang ditimbulkan oleh laporan “Stemming the Tide” (saat ini sudah dihapus dari situs web OC) dengan mengoreksi narasi, dan menyepakati tindakan restoratif yang diminta oleh masyarakat dan sektor yang paling terkena dampak atas laporan tersebut.

Berbeda dengan tahun 2015, dimana lima negara Asia (China, Indonesia, Filipina, Thailand, dan Vietnam) dinobatkan sebagai negara yang bertanggung jawab atas sampah plastik namun mengabaikan peran negara-negara Global Utara dalam produksi plastik dan ekspor sampah yang berlebihan, saat ini proses keadilan restoratif mengarah ke kesepakatan baru. Kesepakatan termasuk memprioritaskan keb akan pengurangan plastik, mentransfer sumber daya ke solusi Zero Waste, menolak solusi palsu seperti pembakaran plastik yang disebut insinerator “Waste to Energy”, daur ulang bahan kimia’, dan mekanisme akuntabilitas.

Pencabutan laporan yang belum pernah terjadi sebelumnya ini untuk menginterupsi puluhan tahun kolonialisme sampah,” kata Froilan Grate, Koordinator GAIA Asia Pasifik. “Ocean Conservancy berada dalam posisi untuk meningkatkan kesadaran di antara organisasi dan pembuat keb akan lain tentang narasi palsu yang disebarkan oleh laporan tersebut. Kami meminta kepada semua organisasi untuk mematuhi prinsip-prinsip pengorganisasian yang demokratis ketika berinteraksi dengan masyarakat di negara-negara Global South, dan untuk menghormati solusi yang didasarkan pada situasi nyata masyarakat lokal,” tambah Grate mendorong para advokat untuk memperkuat proses keadilan restoratif.

Pertama kali diciptakan pada tahun 1989, kolonialisme sampah adalah proses di mana negara-negara kaya dan maju menunjukkan dominasi atas negara-negara kurang berkembang lainnya melalui ekspor limbah beracun, membiarkan negara-negara penerima

(dan seringkali, tidak dilengkapi teknologi yang baik) untuk menangani limbah, dengan demikian mempengaruhi dalam memperparah dampak yang dialami masyarakat dan lingkungan mereka.

Christie Keith, Koordinator Internasional GAIA, menjelaskan, “Lima negara Asia yang disebutkan dalam laporan tidak dapat disalahkan atas sampah plastik. Kesalahan itu terletak pada perusahaan yang membuat dan mendorong jumlah plastik yang terus meningkat – dan mereka yang berjuang untuk solusi Zero Waste Community layak untuk dihargai dan dirayakan, bukan diserang. Kami menyambut baik komitmen OC untuk memperbaiki kerusakan yang terjadi, dan meningkatkan solusi Zero Waste, ” ujarnya.

Aditi Varshneya, GAIA AS Koordinator Keanggotaan, menambahkan, “‘Stemming the Tide juga merugikan masyarakat dengan lebih dari satu cara. Temuan laporan tersebut telah merusak upaya masyarakat lokal untuk mencapai keb akan berkelanjutan tentang kesehatan, pengelolaan limbah, dan pendanaan,” tambahnya.

Rahyang Nusantara dari Aliansi Zero Waste Indonesia juga menekankan bahwa, “Laporan (‘Stemming the Tide’) telah merugikan komunitas kami tetapi kami bukan korban karena kami memiliki solusinya.” Begitu juga dengan David Sutasurya dari Yaksa Pelestari Bumi Berkelanjutan (YPBB), dia menambahkan, “Kami memiliki solusi Zero Waste untuk mengatasi sampah.” David menjelaskan bahwa pada tahun pertama daerah percontohan Zero Waste YPBB di Kota Bandung dan kabupaten-kabupaten tersebut berhasil mengalihkan 950 kg sampah dari tempat pembuangan sampah setiap hari dan berhasil menghemat sekitar Rp 63 juta (USD 4.300) untuk biaya transportasi sampah.

Sementara itu, menurut Satyarupa Shekhar, Koordinator gerakan #breakfreefromplastic Asia Pasifik, “Laporan OC, yang disusun oleh McKinsey & Company, sebuah perusahaan konsultan manajemen global yang kliennya mencakup beberapa pencemar plastik terbesar di dunia, melemahkan pembatasan penggunaan teknologi insinerator yang ada dan membuka pintu untuk solusi palsu dan perbaikan teknologi kontroversial untuk menangani krisis polusi plastik,” jelasnya. Satyarupa memaparkan beberapa contoh mencolok adalah: di Filipina, di mana larangan nasional terhadap insinerator terancam oleh proposal baru yang mengizinkan pembangkit listrik tenaga sampah menjadi energi, dan di Indonesia, di mana pemerintah terus mendorong insinerasi sampah meskipun keputusan Mahkamah Agung telah mencabut Perpres No. 18/2016, yang mempercepat pembangunan pembangkit listrik berbasis sampah atau insinerator.

Selain mencabut laporan tersebut, OC mengakui kesalahannya yang hanya fokus pada manajemen pengelolaan sampah plastik dan mempertimbangkan waste-to-energy atau insinerasi dan teknologi serupa lainnya untuk menangani krisis sampah plastik yang sedang berkembang. OC juga mengakui kesalahannya karena tidak melihat apa yang sudah dikerjakan oleh masyarakat lokal dan bagaimana dampaknya terhadap mereka akibat laporan tersebut.

Menyambut perubahan posisi OC, Aileen Lucero dari Ecowaste Coalition di Filipina dan Daru Rini dari ECOTON di Indonesia mengilustrasikan bahwa krisis plastik saat ini bukanlah hanya masalah manajemen pengelolaan sampah saja, melainkan masalah yang harus diatasi dengan melihat seluruh siklus hidup plastik. “Masalah dimulai saat bahan bakar fosil diekstraksi untuk menghasilkan plastik sekali pakai (PSP),” pungkas Daru.

Memerangi Solusi Palsu terhadap Pencemaran Plastik

Dalam beberapa tahun terakhir, beberapa solusi palsu telah ditawarkan untuk melawan krisis plastik, mulai dari pembakaran sampah hingga ‘daur ulang bahan kimia’, yang sama sekali tidak membahas siklus hidup plastik secara penuh.

Bagi Sonia Mendoza, Ketua Mother Earth Foundation di Filipina, “Setiap negara harus bertanggung jawab atas limbah yang dihasilkannya dan tidak mengekspornya dengan kedok ‘perdagangan’. Membakar sampah juga bukan pilihan. Waste to Energy (WtE) juga bisa berarti: pemborosan energi.

Melihat umur akhir PSP saat ini, Xuan Quach, ketua Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance, menyoroti bahwa, “WtE dan daur ulang bahan kimia tidak berkelanjutan.” Untuk itu, Nindhita Proboretno dari Nexus 3 Foundation di Indonesia menambahkan, “Teknologi tersebut bukanlah teknologi yang ramah lingkungan dan tidak memiliki tempat di dunia manapun yang saat ini berjuang melawan perubahan iklim.

Senada dengan Nindhita, Xavier Sun, pengurus Taiwan Zero Waste Alliance, menyatakan bahwa “Strategi seperti itu hanya menyebabkan polusi beracun lebih lanjut (seperti bottom ash, fly ash, dan gas rumah kaca (GRK) yang merusak iklim dan kesehatan manusia. Selain itu, mereka mendorong produksi plastik lebih lanjut, dan merusak solusi nyata.”

Bergerak menuju Zero Waste

Sementara itu, Merci Ferrer dari War on Waste-Break Free From Plastic (WOW-BFFP) -Negros Oriental di Filipina, menambahkan bahwa “Proses dengan OC ini akan membawa keadilan dan pengakuan atas pekerjaan masyarakat yang terlibat dalam pekerjaan Zero Waste.

Merangkum sentimen dari semua key leaders, Nalini Shekar dari Hasiru Dala di India, menambahkan, “Laporan tersebut telah mempengaruhi para pengambil keputusan untuk mengalihkan sumber daya berharga yang dimaksudkan untuk solusi Zero Waste yang terdesentralisasi menjadi terpusat, praktik tidak berkelanjutan yang sangat mekanis dan menyebabkan kerugian lain bagi masyarakat. Namun, pencabutan laporan adalah langkah menuju penyembuhan dan membalikkan kerusakan yang dilakukan – menunjukkan sekali lagi bahwa Zero Waste adalah satu-satunya solusi yang berkelanjutan.

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Tentang GAIA – GAIA adalah aliansi di seluruh dunia yang terdiri dari lebih dari 800 kelompok, organisasi non-pemerintah, dan individu di lebih dari 90 negara. Dengan pekerjaan kami, kami bertujuan untuk mengkatalisasi perubahan global menuju keadilan lingkungan dengan memperkuat gerakan sosial akar rumput yang memajukan solusi untuk limbah dan polusi. Kami membayangkan dunia tanpa limbah yang adil yang dibangun dengan menghormati batas ekologis dan hak-hak masyarakat, di mana orang bebas dari beban polusi beracun, dan sumber daya dilestarikan secara berkelanjutan, tidak dibakar atau dibuang.

Kontak Media:

Sonia Astudillo, Senior Staf Komunikasi GAIA Asia Pasifik | sonia@no-burn.org | +63 9175969286

Vancher, staf komunikasi AZWI | vancher@aliansizerowaste.id | +62 812-8854-9493

Kia, staf komunikasi AZWI | kia@aliansizerowaste.id | +62 852-1580-9537

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Vietnamese

Bước nhảy vọt lịch sử trong cuộc chiến chống chủ nghĩa thực dân chất thải

Ngày 14 tháng 9 năm 2022 – Hôm nay, Liên minh Toàn cầu về Giải pháp Thay thế Lò đốt (GAIA) ở Châu Á Thái Bình Dương và các tổ chức thành viên của nó đã kết thúc bước đầu tiên của quy trình phục hồi công lý với tổ chức Ocean Conservancy (OC) có trụ sở tại Hoa Kỳ. Quy trình này nhằm mục đích giải quyết những thiệt hại trong nhiều năm do báo cáo “Stemming the Tide” gây ra (hiện đã bị xóa khỏi trang web của OC) bằng cách sửa lại câu chuyện và đồng ý thực hiện các hành động phục hồi theo yêu cầu của cộng đồng và các lĩnh vực bị ảnh hưởng nhiều nhất bởi báo cáo.

Trái ngược với báo cáo năm 2015 đặt trách nhiệm về rác thải nhựa lên vai 5 quốc gia châu Á (Trung Quốc, Indonesia, Philippines, Thái Lan và Việt Nam) trong khi bỏ qua vai trò của các nước phát triển trong việc sản xuất thừa nhựa và xuất khẩu chất thải, quá trình này đang dẫn đến điểm chung mới. Các thỏa thuận bao gồm ưu tiên các chính sách giảm thiểu nhựa, chuyển nguồn lực sang các giải pháp Không Chất thải, lên án các giải pháp sai lầm như đốt nhựa trong cái gọi là lò đốt “biến chất thải thành năng lượng” (WTE) và “tái chế hóa chất” và cơ chế trách nhiệm.

Froilan Grate, Điều phối viên GAIA Châu Á Thái Bình Dương chia sẻ: “Việc rút lại báo cáo chưa từng có tiền lệ này là một cơ hội để ngăn chặn chủ nghĩa thực dân chất thải nhiều thập kỷ qua”. “Ocean Conservancy có nhiệm vụ nâng cao nhận thức của các tổ chức và nhà hoạch định chính sách khác về câu chuyện sai sự thật được tuyên truyền bởi báo cáo. Chúng tôi kêu gọi tất cả các tổ chức tuân thủ các nguyên tắc tổ chức dân chủ khi tương tác với các cộng đồng ở các nước đang phát triển và tôn trọng các giải pháp dựa trên tình hình thực tế của cộng đồng”. Grate khuyến khích những người ủng hộ củng cố quy trình phục hồi công lý.

Được hình thành lần đầu tiên vào năm 1989, chủ nghĩa thực dân chất thải là quá trình các nước giàu và phát triển thể hiện sự thống trị so với các nước kém phát triển khác thông qua việc xuất khẩu chất thải độc hại, khiến các nước tiếp nhận (và thường là thiếu cơ sở hạ tầng) phải đối phó với chất thải, do đó ảnh hưởng nghiêm trọng tới cộng đồng và môi trường của họ.

Christie Keith, Điều phối viên Quốc tế của GAIA, giải thích, “Năm quốc gia châu Á được đề cập trong báo cáo không nên bị đổ lỗi cho rác thải nhựa. Lỗi đó nằm ở các tập đoàn đã sản xuất và đưa lượng nhựa ra môi trường ngày càng tăng – và những người đấu tranh cho các giải pháp không rác cộng đồng (Zero Waste Community) xứng đáng được tôn vinh và trân trọng, chứ không phải bị tấn công. Chúng tôi hoan nghênh cam kết của OC trong việc khắc phục những tác hại đã gây ra và đề cao các giải pháp Không Chất thải.”

Aditi Varshneya, Điều phối viên Thành viên GAIA Hoa Kỳ, cho biết thêm, “Stemming the Tide” cũng gây hại cho cộng đồng theo nhiều cách. Các phát hiện của báo cáo đã làm suy yếu những nỗ lực lâu dài của cộng đồng nhằm đạt được các chính sách bền vững về y tế, quản lý chất thải và tài trợ”.

Rahyang Nusantara của Aliansi Zero Waste Indonesia nhấn mạnh rằng, “Báo cáo (‘ Stemming the Tide ’) đã gây hại cho cộng đồng của chúng tôi nhưng chúng tôi không phải là nạn nhân vì chúng tôi có các giải pháp.” David Sutasurya của Yaksa Pelestari Bumi Berkelanjutan (YPBB) cho biết thêm, “Chúng tôi có các giải pháp Không Chất thải để chống lại chất thải”. Sutasurya chia sẻ rằng trong năm đầu tiên của các khu vực thí điểm ở Bandung, các quận đã chuyển thành công 950 kg rác khỏi các bãi chôn lấp mỗi ngày và tiết kiệm được khoảng 63 triệu IDR (4.300 USD) chi phí vận chuyển rác.

Theo Satyarupa Shekhar, Điều phối viên Châu Á Thái Bình Dương của phong trào #breakfreefromplastic, “Báo cáo của OC, được soạn thảo bởi McKinsey & Company, một công ty tư vấn quản lý toàn cầu có khách hàng bao gồm một số nhà gây ô nhiễm nhựa hàng đầu thế giới, đã làm loãng các hạn chế hiện có về đốt rác và mở ra cánh cửa cho các giải pháp sai lầm và các bản sửa lỗi công nghệ gây tranh cãi để đối phó với cuộc khủng hoảng ô nhiễm nhựa. Một số ví dụ rõ ràng là: ở Philippines, nơi mà lệnh cấm đốt rác trên toàn quốc bị đe dọa bởi các đề xuất mới cho phép các nhà máy đốt rác phát điện và ở Indonesia, nơi chính phủ tiếp tục thúc đẩy đốt rác bất chấp phán quyết của Tòa án Tối cao đã thu hồi Quy định của Tổng thống số 18/2016, trong đó đẩy nhanh sự phát triển của các nhà máy điện hoặc lò đốt rác thải.”

Bên cạnh việc rút lại báo cáo, OC thừa nhận sai lầm của mình trong việc tập trung vào quản lý chất thải nhựa và xem xét lại quan điểm của mình về đốt rác phát điện và các công nghệ tương tự khác để đối phó với cuộc khủng hoảng chất thải nhựa đang gia tăng. OC cũng đã thừa nhận lỗi của mình khi không xem xét công việc của các cộng đồng địa phương và những ảnh hưởng sau đó của báo cáo đối với họ.

Hoan nghênh sự thay đổi quan điểm của OC, Aileen Lucero của Liên minh Ecowaste ở Philippines và Daru Rini của ECOTON ở Indonesia đã minh họa rằng cuộc khủng hoảng nhựa hiện nay không phải là vấn đề quản lý chất thải, mà thay vào đó, vấn đề cần được giải quyết bằng cách xem xét toàn bộ vòng đời của nhựa. Rini nói rằng, “vấn đề bắt đầu từ thời điểm nhiên liệu hóa thạch được chiết xuất để sản xuất nhựa sử dụng một lần (SUP).”

Chống lại các giải pháp sai lầm đối với ô nhiễm nhựa

Trong những năm gần đây, một số giải pháp sai lầm đã được đưa ra để chống lại cuộc khủng hoảng nhựa, từ đốt chất thải đến “tái chế hóa học”, chúng không giải quyết được toàn bộ vòng đời của nhựa.

Đối với Sonia Mendoza, Chủ tịch Quỹ Đất Mẹ tại Philippines, “Mỗi quốc gia phải chịu trách nhiệm về chất thải mà mình tạo ra và không xuất khẩu chúng dưới chiêu bài‘ thương mại ’. Đốt chất thải cũng không phải là một lựa chọn. Biến chất thải thành năng lượng (đốt rác phát điện) cũng có thể có nghĩa là: lãng phí năng lượng.”

Nhìn vào vòng đời của nhựa dùng một lần, Xuân Quách, Điều phối viên Liên minh Không rác Việt Nam, nhấn mạnh rằng “Đốt rác phát điện và tái chế hóa chất không bền vững”. Nindhita Proboretno thuộc Tổ chức Nexus 3 ở Indonesia cho biết thêm, “Những công nghệ đó không phải là giải pháp thân thiện với môi trường và không có chỗ đứng trong một thế giới đang đấu tranh chống lại biến đổi khí hậu”.

Xavier Sun, người sáng lập Liên minh Không chất thải Đài Loan, đồng ý, nói rằng các chiến lược như vậy chỉ “gây ra ô nhiễm độc hại hơn nữa (chẳng hạn như tro bụi, tro bay và khí nhà kính (GHG) gây hại cho khí hậu và sức khỏe con người của chúng ta. Ngoài ra, chúng khuyến khích tiếp tục sản xuất nhựa, và phá hoại các giải pháp thực sự.”

Hướng tới Không Chất Thải

Trong khi đó, Merci Ferrer chiến binh của Chống Rác thải (WOW-BFFP) – Negros Oriental ở Philippines, nói thêm rằng “Quá trình này với OC sẽ mang lại công lý và sự công nhận cho công việc của các cộng đồng tham gia vào công việc Không Chất thải”.

Tóm tắt ý kiến của tất cả các nhà lãnh đạo chủ chốt, Nalini Shekar của Hasiru Dala ở Ấn Độ cho biết thêm, “Báo cáo Stemming the Tide của OC đã ảnh hưởng đến các nhà hoạch định chính sách để chuyển hướng các nguồn lực có giá trị dành cho các giải pháp Zero Waste phi tập trung sang các hoạt động không bền vững tập trung, mang tính cơ học cao và gây ra những tổn hại khác cho cộng đồng. Tuy nhiên, việc rút lại báo cáo là một bước hướng tới việc chữa lành và khắc phục những thiệt hại đã gây ra – một lần nữa cho thấy rằng Zero Waste là giải pháp bền vững duy nhất”.

——

GAIA là một liên minh trên toàn thế giới gồm hơn 800 nhóm cơ sở, tổ chức phi chính phủ và cá nhân tại hơn 90 quốc gia. Với công việc của mình, chúng tôi đặt mục tiêu thúc đẩy sự thay đổi toàn cầu hướng tới công bằng môi trường bằng cách tăng cường các phong trào xã hội cấp cơ sở nhằm thúc đẩy các giải pháp chống lãng phí và ô nhiễm. Chúng tôi hình dung một thế giới công bằng, không rác thải được xây dựng dựa trên sự tôn trọng các giới hạn sinh thái và quyền của cộng đồng, nơi mọi người không phải chịu gánh nặng ô nhiễm độc hại và các nguồn tài nguyên được bảo tồn bền vững, không bị đốt cháy hoặc đổ bỏ.

Ante la amenaza de la licitación para implementar una planta de termovalorización en Colombia, las asociaciones de recicladores de todo el país se reunieron para discutir todas las medidas de retroceso que dificultan el futuro de su trabajo.

En mayo de este año la alcaldesa de Bogotá, Claudia López, anunció que la ciudad  tendrá la primera planta de termovalorización de Colombia, que según indican contaría con un “sistema de limpieza de emisiones atmosféricas” y que contribuiría a la reducción de emisiones de efecto invernadero que se generan en el enterramiento de residuos.  

Pero el nuevo anuncio, viene acompañado de una larga y ya conocida historia conocida por los miembros de nuestra red. Se habla de sus grandes beneficios ambientales, que es limpia, que ya se ha instalado en otros países, sobre todo los países europeos, (ejemplo que tanto gusta dar a las empresas), que genera puestos de empleo, e incluso que es un ejemplo de economía circular. Sin embargo, nada se ha dicho de los daños que genera la incineración de residuos, de cómo comunidades empobrecidas han sufrido los impactos ambientales y a la salud cuando llegan estas plantas a sus barrios, no hay declaraciones que mencionen cómo se alinearán las políticas ambientales orientadas a la reducción de residuos con los cientos de toneladas de residuos que necesita una planta de incineración para mantener su funcionamiento, y en un tema clave en América Latina, nada se ha dicho de cómo una planta termovalorizadora vulnerará el trabajo de los miles de recicladores de Colombia. 

La Asociación cooperativa de recicladores de Bogotá tiene una gestión desde 1987, desde el cierre de los botaderos a cielo abierto en Colombia. Han sido años de trabajo, de lucha por sus derechos y por el reconocimiento de un oficio que sí contribuye a la gestión social y medioambientalmente responsable, que los ha puesto como un modelo exitoso a nivel mundial de organización e inclusión en modelos de gestión de residuos, por eso, el anuncio de una planta de incineración es una bofetada a las soluciones reales y de base.

Ante esta situación, más de 700 recicladores se reunieron para profundizar en las verdaderas implicancias ambientales y laborales que tendría una planta de termovalorización en Colombia, en un foro donde se compartieron experiencias internacionales que detallaron los altos riesgos que han vivido las comunidades que ya cuentan con plantas incineradoras en sus territorios.

Los recicladores presentes, exigieron que se protejan las condiciones para que el sistema de manejo de residuos local se materialice en proyectos que realmente recuperen los residuos y eleve el trabajo de los recicladores y no en falsas soluciones como la incineración. Las agrupaciones tienen claro que una incineradora no haría más que profundizar la vulneración, no solo contra los recicladores sino contra la humanidad porque según han señalado, proponer la implementación de una planta de termovalorización de residuos a una escala de 3 mil toneladas día, es una medida desproporcionada y una amenaza grave de alta contaminación, y como si lo anterior no fuera suficiente, es también la condena a la desaparición del sistema de reciclaje con recicladores en Colombia.

Gracias al sistema de gestión que han desarrollado cerca de 20 mil recicladores de oficio en Bogotá, la ciudad no solo ha logrado aportar más del 50% de las materias primas recuperadas que son suministro a las empresas de productos de consumo masivo como por ejemplo el papel higiénico. Los recicladores desvían del relleno sanitario más del 20% (más de 1.500 toneladas diarias) de los residuos que se generan en la ciudad. 

En Colombia, más de 20 mil recicladores han prestado el servicio de rescate de residuos por más de 80 años, han avanzado, por ejemplo, en pequeñas unidades de aprovechamiento de plásticos y han conseguido el aseguramiento del mínimo vital. Todo esto está en riesgo de convertirse literalmente en cenizas si las autoridades no toman las decisiones correctas. Por eso han pedido a la ministra de Medio Ambiente que debe poner la propuesta de quema de basuras en el mismo grado de inconveniencia que el fracking y pedir a la alcaldía de Bogotá modificar sus propuestas relacionadas con incineración y enterramiento indiscriminado de basuras.

Las y los recicladores de base saben mejor que nadie lo que es luchar por defender su oficio, por eso, este foro marca tan solo el comienzo de las movilizaciones para hacer frente a las falsas soluciones como la incineración. 

Lecturas recomendadas:

https://www.no-burn.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Borrador-documento-es-4-1.pdf

https://www.no-burn.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/GAIA.incinerandoelfuturo.pdf

https://www.no-burn.org/wp-content/uploads/ocho-razones-b0-web.jpg

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.“

 

Contact:

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

Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Regional Director | froilan@no-burn.org | +63 977 806 7653

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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 solutions.www.breakfreefromplastic.org

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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 

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.