The waste-to-energy myth

  • Reading time:7 mins read

LABELING waste-to-energy (WTE) as renewable and clean energy is arguably the biggest falsehood perpetrated in advocating for this method of power generation through incineration. Advocates claim it solves the world’s waste disposal issues, but it’s time to expose the truth.

Unlike sunlight, wind or other natural sources of energy, garbage is inherently not renewable. It is simply waste — a by-product of human activities, encompassing food waste, plastics, scrap metal and toxic substances.

Here, proponents market WTE as a clean power source, but the reality is far from that. The incineration ban was lifted for thermal incinerators, permitting the burning of garbage for electricity production. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources acknowledged the potential of WTE to manage increasing volumes of waste, further weakening the ban.

Unlike sunlight, wind or other natural sources of energy, garbage is inherently not renewable. It is simply waste — a by-product of human activities, encompassing food waste, plastics, scrap metal and toxic substances.

Here, proponents market WTE as a clean power source, but the reality is far from that. The incineration ban was lifted for thermal incinerators, permitting the burning of garbage for electricity production. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources acknowledged the potential of WTE to manage increasing volumes of waste, further weakening the ban.

The ban faces further dilution after proponents declared in 2019 that WTE can help address a growing volume of wastes.

The then-environment secretary Roy Cimatu had issued an order listing guidelines for operating WTE facilities to treat municipal solid wastes.

Numerous bills in Congress have sought to repeal the incineration ban, backed by claims that WTE is a more sustainable alternative to sanitary landfills. However, experts caution against such beliefs, emphasizing the environmental hazards posed by WTE plants.

There are various reasons for this lunacy. One, policymakers and officials could be deeply misinformed that they take the lies hook, line and sinker. Two, they could have been co-opted by business interests profiting highly from the false notion that garbage energy is renewable and clean. Three, they could have been corrupted by unscrupulous financiers who are making a killing out of propagating false science.

Undeniable

There are several issues surrounding the WTE idea that are undeniable. In fact, experts, those who base their findings not on pseudo-science but actual studies, have been debunking this idea.

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 wastewater and ash.

Operating more WTE plants would worsen the shortage of sanitary landfills, instead of addressing this. To keep feeding WTE, you need to produce more of its fuel, garbage. To produce more garbage, you have to encourage more wasteful practices, an absurd concept.

39 percent

In a report last year, the Commission on Audit said only 39 percent of Philippine villages have access to material recovery facilities (MRFs) as of 2021. Where I live in Cavite, we had difficulty in setting up a new garbage-disposal system when several companies informed us they couldn’t find an available landfill in the province. Fortunately, we found a company whose landfill was in the fringes of Batangas.

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

Also, experts in the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives said toxic ash can’t be just dumped in regular landfills.

Take the case 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 said.

Emmanuel warns of severe health risks associated with WTE emissions, including fine particles that can trigger heart and respiratory issues. The toxic chemicals released, such as dioxins, pose serious health threats to both humans and the environment.

Dangerous

WTE emissions also release dangerous metals like mercury and lead which target the central nervous system. Emissions from WTE are “the most toxic chemical pollutant known to science,” Emmanuel warns.

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

Greenpeace, the worldwide environmental group, has raised alarms about the detrimental impacts of WTE on public health, linking it to thousands of pollution-related deaths in the Philippines. These well-founded concerns shed light on the fallacy of categorizing garbage incineration as renewable energy.

Greenpeace said already 27,000 Filipinos have died of pollution and allowing WTE plants would kill more.

These are not just scary scenarios or projections. They’re scientific, unassailable facts about WTE on top of the lie that burning garbage to produce electricity is renewable.

It’s time to confront the truth and move away from the facade perpetrated by waste-to-energy proponents.


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

X: @bobitiglao

Website: www.rigobertotiglao.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.