Why Waste-to-Energy Is a Waste of Energy

As a capitalist society, our energy demands continue to increase in order to produce goods and services. Our planet, however, doesn’t fully support this infinite-growth mindset, and reacts in a way that could be detrimental to all living things. Environmentalists naturally proposed the idea of Sustainability1, a broad term in itself. Energy sources like solar, wind, waves, tides, and geothermal are generally considered renewable and, thus, sustainable. Somewhere during solution-finding, someone asked, “What if we could turn our waste to energy?” Wastes and biomass fuels are usually viewed as sustainable energy sources, up to a certain point. When converted to useful energy forms, waste finds a new purpose in both bio- and socioeconomic spheres through waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies.

Let’s backtrack for a moment here: we know of our increasing energy demands. And we now acknowledge the opportunuties of WTE tech. Does this mean we can now excuse ourselves for producing tons and tons of garbage since we would be burning them for energy anyway?

DENR issues waste-to-energy guidelines

Unironically, “[t]he DENR is loooking at WTE as a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to the traditional sanitary landfill, which is the waste disposal method allowed by the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.” (Emphasis added.)

While it should really be no surprise at this point now, it still spooks me a little to see government agencies employ Orwellian doublespeak in making proposals.

Gatchalian pushes WTE bill to solve PH problem on garbage

“In pushing Senate Bill No. 363 or the Waste-to-Energy (WTE) Act, Gatchalian believes that its passage will encourage the development of new technologies in the treatment and disposal of solid waste.”

The context in which the senator uses WTE is in the “conversion of non-recyclable waste materials into useable heat” to “address the waste problem”.

Now, it wouldn’t be so farfetched to infer that this means burning our mostly-plastic garbage to produce electricity and whatnot.

But more than a year prior: “WTE facility highly impossible for the Philippines – Experts

“Incinerators and the newer versions of WTE plants all produce the most poisonous and toxic substances,” said Dr. Jorge Emmanuel, an energy technology specialist from Siliman University.

Back in 2018, Gatchalian tapped the experitse of Emmanuel et al. for whether it would be a good idea to put up a WTE facility in the country. However, the Clean Air Act clearly prohibits the use of incinerators.

We don’t know what happened to the train of thought of Gatchalian and his staff, but he should consult with more experts in the field.

This incentivizes, directly or indirectly, producers of plastic.

Oil and gas industry not only supplies the fuel for our machines (cars, ships, mechanical engines, generators, etc.), but crude oil also is used to produce plastic.

The process of extraction isn’t really environmentally friendly. It has also displaced communities from their land when big corporations lobby to buy off lands on which oil depots and pipelines would be constructed.

Manufacturers like Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Proctor & Gamble would also see this as a reason to continue production of (single-use) plastic packaging, especially in developing countries like Philippines where there are little to no regulations for plastic packaging and solid waste disposal in general.

Not to be a Greentard, but…

To address all problems, we must continuously ask why it occurs until we get to the bottom of it.

The problem of solid waste (and Capital-W Waste in general) should be addressed from the source, so that generation of waste would drastically be reduced, if not altogether removed.

(Sidenote: There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a “greentard” if it meantbeing a radical environmentalist. Unless “greentard” would mean, according Urban Dictionary: “Someone who does everything, including the irrational, to be environmentally friendly. Like burning books so they don’t need to cut down more trees. Walking across a forest to work so they don’t need to use a car, and killing a squirrel’s habitat in the process. And buying their anti-car protest placards from Wal-Mart, then drinking a Starbuck’s coffee with totally unfair trade coffee shipped in diesel oil tankers 90000 miles to their little town, and then slapped with a made-in-china “fair trade” sticker so they think they’re helping the environment.")

This could mean lifestyle change for a lot of us.

By reducing our Consumption to just our needs, we limit our carbon footprint. This also lowers the demand of goods and services, so corporations become less incentivized to mass-produce things that we only occasionally need. Consequentially, this would result to less polution in the air and water, less packaging, less single-use plastics, less garbage.

By consuming local products, we decrease the distance goods and services must travel to reach the consumer. This means we can use “weaker” packaging, but is derived from more renewable sources like plant matter. If only lunch can be bought wrapped in banana leaves.

By learning how to properly compost our biodegradables, we reuse our biowaste as fertilizers that plants and other micro-organisms can feed on. Here’s a free example for you: a cheap and easy worm bin! By segregating bio- from the non-biodegradable, they decay faster, especially when decomposers are allowed to work their magic on them in their element.

As with all problems, solutions must be inclusive.

Which also means including a lot of people’s participation.

We know that organizing multitudes of individuals to do a common goal for everyone’s benefit might not be as easy as we think, but we shouldn’t be relying on leaders or whoever is “currently in charge”.

Lifestyle change can be done by anyone. It’s just that the entry barrier depends on how you are willing to commit to improve you and everybody else’s lives.

It shouldn’t be just that, though. Simultaneously, we should continue to call out Capitalists and Government Officials for endangering the environment and its inhabitants with their half-baked solutions.

By addressing the source from all fronts can we only solve the waste crisis. TNU

  1. Sustainable Development Goals, according to UN

    • No poverty
    • Zero hunger
    • Good health and well-being
    • Quality education
    • Gender equality
    • Clean water and sanitation
    • Affordable and clean energy
    • Decent work and economic growth
    • Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
    • Reduced inequalities
    • Sustainable cities and communities
    • Responsible consumption and production
    • Climate action
    • Life below water
    • Life on land
    • Peace, justice, and strong institutions
    • Partnerships for the goals

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