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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Is waste-to-energy a big hoax?

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“Waste-to-energy looks to us as a cure that can even worsen the problem it was meant to solve”

WHAT’S the biggest fallacy about waste-to-energy?

We have been told time and again that it can be a form of renewable energy. But we all know that garbage is not a naturally occurring material like sunlight, wind, or waves.

Garbage is nothing more than, well, trash.

It is produced by human activity in the form of food waste, plastics, scrap metal, and toxic substances, among others. 

 Proponents of WTE, especially in the Philippines, claim the technology is renewable and a source of clean power. But that seems to be furthest from the truth.

In the Philippines, an incineration ban was lifted to give way to thermal incinerators which convert burning garbage directly into electricity.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources had declared in 2019 that WTE can help address a growing volume of wastes and become a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to sanitary landfills.

The DENR Secretary then, Roy Cimatu, issued an order listing guidelines for operating WTE facilities to treat municipal solid wastes.

But we can cite various reasons to the contrary.

First,  policymakers and officials could be deeply misinformed that they take the lies hook, line and sinker.

Second, they could have been co-opted by business interests profiting highly from the false notion that garbage energy is renewable and clean.

And third, they could have been corrupted by unscrupulous financiers who are making a killing out of propagating false science.

We can only speculate, but on whether there is truth to claims that WTE is renewable and clean, the facts are undeniable.

Experts, those who base their findings not on fake science but actual studies, are quick to debunk the WTE myths.

Jorge Emmanuel, professor of environment science and engineering at Silliman University, said any technology that produces emissions is dangerous.

At a roundtable discussion hosted by marine conservation group Oceana, Emmanuel said WTE plants release various pollutants into the air, soil and water.

These include particulates, carbon monoxide, acid, toxic metals and toxic organic compounds. Thermal WTE plants also produce toxic waste water and ash.

Operating more WTE plants would worsen the shortage of sanitary landfills, instead of addressing the pollution issue.

In a report last year, the Commission on Audit said only 39.05 percent of Philippine villages have access to material recovery facilities as of 2021.

According to Emmanuel, ash produced by WTE would require proper disposal so more MRFs would be needed.

Experts in the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives also insist that toxic ash cannot just be  dumped in regular landfills.

We can derive lessons from the experience of Singapore, which is heavily dependent on WTE and is being considered by local proponents as a model for WTE processes.

The website of the Singaporean Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment admits that incineration plants are very expensive to build and operate. “They also take up very large areas of land,” it said.

“We cannot keep building more incineration plants,” the ministry added.

According to Emmanuel, a typical WTE plant spews emissions into the air that include fine particles. These ultra-fine particles, he said at the Oceana forum, can cause heart attacks, lung diseases and other illnesses.

These also release dangerous metals like mercury and lead which target the central nervous system.

Emissions from WTE, he said, are “the most toxic chemical pollutant known to science.”

The most dangerous waste coming from WTE is dioxin. It is a family of 210 chemicals that are found in small concentrations in the food chain.

These poisonous substances find their way into fish and animals which transfer the dioxin to humans when these fish or animals are consumed.

Dioxins can also find their way into humans by inhalation, especially among people living near WTE plants.

The dioxins fall into the ground, chickens and cows eat these and convert these into bio-concentrates which transfer to human bloodstreams.

Greenpeace, the worldwide environmental group, said 27,000 Filipinos have already died from pollution and allowing WTE plants to operate would kill many more.

These are not just scary scenarios or projections.

They are scientific, unassailable facts about WTE on top of the falsehood that burning garbage to produce electricity is renewable.

In the end, waste-to-energy looks to us as a cure that can even worsen the problem it was meant to solve. (Email: ernhil


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