Why Waste-to-Energy Is a Waste of Energy

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As a capitalist society, our energy demands continue to increase in order to produce goods and services. Our planet, however, can’t support this infinite growth mindset, and reacts in a way that’s detrimental to all living things.

Environmentalists naturally proposed the idea of Sustainability, 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.

Composting biodegradable waste is technically converting waste to energy, only that it’s for plants to consume.

When converted to useful energy forms, waste finds a new purpose in both bio- and socioeconomic spheres through waste-to-energy (WTE) technologies.

However, the trending concept of WTE is one that means converting non-recyclable waste (mostly plastic) to heat. Resulting heat can then be used to generate other forms of energy, like electricity.

In power plants, heat is used to turn water into steam by evaporation. The steam is fed into a prime mover that spins a motor—the generator—by pressure. The generator produces electricity in this process, and is then distributed. This, of course, is a simplified explanation, and there are many other steps in between.

Let’s backtrack for a moment here: we know of our increasing energy demands. And we now acknowledge the opportunities of WTE tech. Does this mean we can now excuse ourselves for producing tons upon tons of garbage since we would be burning them for energy anyway? What kinds of waste needed anyway to be fed into a WTE technology?

The Stance of DENR1 on WTE

Unironically2, “[t]he DENR is looking 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.)

Earlier in that article, DENR Secretary (at the time of writing) Roy Cimatu was quoted: “We hope that we will be able to demonstrate in a pilot basis one solution to the waste problem using WTE method without the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.”

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.

Also, funny that Cimatu mentioned the Clean Air Act. Section 20 of the Clean Air Act (Republic Act 8749) clearly prohibits the use of incinerators.

And then, the House of Representatives passed House Bill No. 78293, which will allow incinerators to operate.4 This Bill was filed by Sherwin Gatchalian, Francis Tolentino, Nancy Binay, and Manny Pacquiao.

Solving PH garbage problem?

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, on 2018, tapped the expertise of Emmanuel et al.5 for whether it would be a good idea to put up a WTE facility in the country.

“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.

These toxic substances come as by-products of burning plastic, metals, and other waste. Incinerators release the fumes into the air, and soon, the toxic substances will fall to neighboring communities6.

By the way, construction, in itself, of incinerators7 and other similar facilities would also be harmful to the environment, by using up unnecessary resources and creating wastes in the process. Unsurprisingly, many would argue that this is normal in construction industry. Arguing against the construction industry as a whole is outside the scope of this article, but it is a problematic one indeed.

In 2019, Gatchalian “renewed his call” on the matter.8

“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.”

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.

He and his cohorts should also be allowed to live in the communities that will be affected by the toxic plumes coming out of the incinerators. He and his cohorts need to have skin in the game.

It’s also worth noting that Wellex Group, a company owned by William Gatchalian, Sherwin’s father, has NPC Alliance Corporation under them. According to their website9: “NPC Alliance Corporation owns and operates the largest and most advanced polyethylene plant in the country.”

Polyethylene is one of the most common plastic in use today.

So, maybe, Gatchalian does indeed have skin in the game. The question now is: Which one?

Incentive for the Producers of Plastic

Oil and gas industry not only supplies the fuel for our machines, but crude oil also is used to produce plastic.

The process of extraction is environmentally destructive. Communities are displaced from their land when big corporations lobby to buy off lands on which oil depots and pipelines are 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.

If you can, don’t buy their products! Most, if not all, of them don’t add any value to our lives in any meaningful way anyway.

We also need to question institutions like Asian Development Bank for funding and thus enabling WTE facilities here10 and abroad11.

Let’s not get tired in calling them out. They need to be held accountable for all the malicious acts they have done against communities and environment.

If you are employed in any of these top plastic producers and enablers, consider undermining the means of production, the scope of which is beyond this article. If interested, fire up your favorite search engine and look for “Simple Sabotage Field Manual” for inspiration.

Greentard or Environmentalist?

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.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a “greentard” if it meant being 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.

That greentard is also a hypocrite. Environmentalists, especially the radical ones, are not hypocrites.

This could mean lifestyle change for a lot of us.

By reducing our Consumption to meet only 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 pollution 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, which can be 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. 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. Department of Environment and Natural Resources; supposedly the agency responsible for “the conservation, management, development, and proper use of country’s environment and natural resources[…]” ↩︎

  2. Simeon, L.M. (2019, December 8) DENR issues waste-to-energy guidelines PhilStar Global https://www.philstar.com/business/2019/12/08/1975133/denr-issues-waste-energy-guidelines ↩︎

  3. Gatchalian, S. et. al. (2020, August 25). An Act Establishing A National Energy Policy And Regulatory Framework For Facilities Utilizing Waste-to-Energy Technologies https://legacy.senate.gov.ph/lis/bill_res.aspx?congress=18&q=SBN-1789 ↩︎

  4. Cantillana, A. (2021, February 19). Greenpeace warns Clean Air Act under threat; calls on Senate to uphold law protecting Filipinos’ health Greenpeace Philippines https://www.greenpeace.org/philippines/press/10350/greenpeace-warns-clean-air-act-under-threat-calls-on-senate-to-uphold-law-protecting-filipinos-health/ ↩︎

  5. Pelayo, M. (2018, July 3). Waste-to-energy facility highly impossible for the Philippines – Experts UNTV News & Rescue https://www.untvweb.com/news/waste-to-energy-facility-highly-impossible-for-the-philippines-experts/ ↩︎

  6. Garcia-Perez, J., Fernandez-Navarro, P., Castelló, A., López-Cima, M., Ramis, R., Boldo, E., & López-Abente, G. (2012). Cancer mortality in towns in the vicinity of incinerators and installations for the recovery or disposal of hazardous waste. Environment International 51 (2013), 31–44. ↩︎

  7. Zafar, S. (2009, Sep 08). Negative Impacts of Incineration-based Waste-to-Energy Technology Alternative Energy News https://www.alternative-energy-news.info/negative-impacts-waste-to-energy/ ↩︎

  8. de Guzman, R. (2019, December 18). Gatchalian pushes waste-to-energy bill to solve PH problem on garbage Yahoo! News https://ph.news.yahoo.com/gatchalian-pushes-waste-energy-bill-110403832.html ↩︎

  9. The Wellex Group website: https://www.wellex.com.ph/category/our-diversity/petrochemicals ↩︎

  10. ADB, P&G to Pilot Transforming Waste to Energy in the Philippines. (2012, August 31). Asian Development Bank. https://www.adb.org/news/adb-pg-pilot-transforming-waste-energy-philippines ↩︎

  11. ADB Approves $73 Million Package to Develop Waste-to-Energy Facility in Maldives. (2020, August 12). Asian Development Bank. https://www.adb.org/news/adb-approves-73-million-package-develop-waste-energy-facility-maldives ↩︎

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