Turning Back the Tide

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 | sonia@no-burn.org | +63 917 5969286

Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Regional Director | froilan@no-burn.org | +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 solutions.www.breakfreefromplastic.org


November 24, 2021 – In a new Public Service Announcement (PSA), Waste Burning Exposed, the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific revealed truths regarding waste-to-energy (WtE) incinerators. 

Featuring distinguished professor and environmental scientist, Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, the PSA deflates the arguments offered by proponents of incinerators. “WtE is simply waste incineration in disguise. It burns tonnes of municipal wastes to generate a small amount of net energy while emitting massive amounts of toxic pollutants and greenhouse gases.” 

Similar to other countries in the Global South, waste incinerators are peddled in the Philippines, despite a national incinerator ban, as a solution to managing waste. In a privilege speech in September 2020, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian proposed including WtE facilities in managing and treating the country’s growing waste. Citing “sustainability” and “stability”, he justified that “incinerators do not only minimize waste but also generate energy.” 

However, environmental NGOs, private individuals, and communities have raised concerns stating that the supposed benefits are far outweighed by the health, economic, and environmental costs on cities and communities. 

Dr. Emmanuel substantiates the fears that waste incinerators do fail in living up to their promises. “Continuous monitoring of the state-of-the-art waste-to-energy plant in Harlingen, Netherlands revealed dioxin levels exceeding legal limits so much so that grass and eggs in farms up to 10 km away had high amounts of dioxins. Even when governments adopt international emission standards, it doesn’t guarantee that dangerous emissions aren’t being released, especially in developing countries where there is no technical capacity to monitor emissions continuously.” 

Yobel Novian Putra of GAIA Asia Pacific adds, “There are several waste incinerator proposals in the Philippines and all proposals claim that incinerators are clean and safe. What they don’t tell is that even in Europe, where standards are high, waste incinerators have been recorded to emit highly toxic pollutants — such as dioxins and heavy metal — and release immense amounts of CO2.”

“Further”, Putra adds, “Incinerators feed on highly combustible waste like plastic. Mostly made from fossil fuels, plastic that are burned in incinerators will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere—equal to the pollution from 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.” 

Dr. Emmanuel agrees, pointing out that “waste-to-energy incinerators are the most emission intensive form of energy generation, generating more total carbon emissions per kWh that coal, oil or natural gas.” They also undermine clean renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

In the Philippines and the rest of Asia, Dr. Emmanuel notes that about half of municipal waste is composed of organic discards, which should be segregated at source and composted instead of incinerated.

 “The calorific value and recovery efficiency of waste incinerators are dismal. We burn a lot of useful material to generate insufficient energy.” He expounds, “These facilities also take away resources that can be recycled, reused, or repurposed – and it affects the livelihoods of sectors that rely on recycling and materials recovery.”

A report released by GAIA found that waste incinerators come into conflict with the waste picking sector as it diverts valuable materials such as plastic, cardboard, paper, and textiles away from waste workers and waste pickers thus disrupting their livelihood and source of income.

Reiterating GAIA’s report and the sentiments of communities affected by waste incinerators, Putra stressed that, “Waste incineration is not a magical solution. In truth, waste incinerators would add fuel to the already ravaging flames of toxic wastes, air pollution, and climate change. In comparison, by opting for a Zero Waste path, we would save valuable resources, provide employment, and avoid getting locked into long-term contracts that would zap the economies of municipalities dry. For environment, climate and social justice, Zero Waste is the way to go.”


“Waste Burning Exposed”  is a 5-minute Public Service Announcement produced by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific with support from the Pacific Environment. Directed by award-winning Filipino director, Ray Gibraltar with animation and technical support provided by Awestruck Productions – a group of young and talented filmmakers from Negros Oriental, Philippines.

Media Contacts:

Sonia Astudillo, Communications Officer, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Asia Pacific I sonia@no-burn.org I +63 917 5969286

About GAIA  |  Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration. www.no-burn.org and www.zerowasteworld.org


In the report, “Zero Waste and Economic Recovery: The Job Creation Potential of Zero Waste Solutions,” GAIA estimates that more jobs can be created from repair, reuse, recycling and composting activities, compared to those that just focus on burning and landfilling waste.” Citing the City of San Fernando By adopting zero waste systems, for example, the City of San Fernando, Pampanga managed to divert 80 percent of its waste and resulted in savings of USD 677, 404.00 in waste disposal alone.”

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