Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Visiting climate campaigner cautions vs investments in “hi-tech”disposal technologies

Investments in the waste sector should not
go towards costly high-tech end-of-pipe technologies but towards Zero
Waste that will dramatically reduce the amount of trash sent for

US-based Neil Tangri, a waste and climate campaigner of the Global
Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), pointed this out today
before a gathering of over 50 waste activists in Quezon City that GAIA
co-organized with the EcoWaste Coalition.

“Investments in waste reduction, source separation, extended producer
responsibility, informal recycling sector and other initiatives will
lead to a progressive reduction on the volume and toxicity of waste
sent for disposal,” he said.

“By now, there is general agreement around the world on the best way
to manage municipal waste. This is codified in the waste hierarchy and
the mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” indicating a preferential order
for handling waste: source reduction is the highest priority, followed
by finding the “highest and best use” for each discard,” Tangri said.

He drew attention to the important role that the informal recycling
sector plays in developing countries like the Philippines.

“Wastepickers are the de facto recycling system in much of the world;
if not for their work, the waste problem would be much worse than it
already is. But they can do much more if they are given investment,
opportunities, and above all, respect,” he said.

To lower the amount of waste going to dumps, reduce greenhouse gas and
toxic air emissions and provide additional employment, local
authorities should seek cooperative arrangements with wastepickers to
implement source separation and treatment of organics, Tangri

He explained that the apparent fixation on disposal technologies are
“in part, because these are the most profitable aspects of waste
management, and in part, because so many open dumps and garbage
mountains persist around the world, with their attendant health and
environmental hazards.”

“Almost anything appears to be an improvement over open dumps and open
burning, but we should not fall prey to ‘second worst’ technologies,
of which there are many: engineered landfills with gas collection,
incinerators, refuse-derived fuel and staged incinerators are all
expensive technologies which fail to solve the garbage problem,” he

Echoing what local activists have been saying, Tangri argued that
end-of-pipe disposal technologies undermine resources for Zero Waste
while creating new problems such as toxic emissions, hazardous solid
waste, increased greenhouse gas production, and reduced employment in

“Even as engineered landfills attempt to capture methane – a powerful
greenhouse gas – they are managed in such a way to increase methane
production, much of which escapes to the atmosphere despite the
engineers’ best efforts,” Tangri said.

“Landfills also produce large quantities of toxic leachate which
contaminates ground and surface waters.”

During the forum, waste and climate activists rejected mass burn
incinerators as major sources of toxic air emissions and solid
hazardous waste in the form of incinerator ash.

Also, by destroying resources, these incinerators increase the demand
for virgin wood, plastic, paper and other materials and causing rising
environmental destruction in raw material extraction.

Contrary to their billing, incinerators are also major sources of
greenhouse gases, the activists said.

Tangri also rebuffed refuse derived fuel (RDF) and other “incinerators
in disguise.”

“Refuse derived fuel, whether burned in a purpose-built incinerator or
a cement kiln, is nothing more than dried mixed waste, with all the
attendant dangers of waste incinerators,” he said.

“Staged incineration processes such as plasma, pyrolysis and
gasification, use large quantities of energy to break the waste down
into a gas before burning it. They are an immature technology, prone
to leaks, high emissions releases, and even explosions. And they
generally end up using more energy to break the waste down than they
can recover from burning it,” he added.

Republic Act 8749 or the Clean Air Act prohibits the “burning of
municipal, bio-medical and hazardous wastes, which process emits toxic
and poisonous fumes.”

A related law, Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste
Management Act, reinforces the prohibition against waste burning with
the “adoption of best environmental practices in ecological solid
waste management excluding incineration.”


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