Waste Incinerators: Harmful to People, Climate and Economy

Quezon City. The Philippines set a positive and leading example for the world when it banned waste incinerators as part of the Clean Air Act whose enactment ten years ago, according to environmentalists, rightly envisaged the need to veer away from wasteful, destructive and polluting practices that contribute to runaway climate change.

To commemorate the 10th year of the said law, the EcoWaste Coalition and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) today released a new report that spells out ten reasons why incinerators and their modern variants should be outlawed, saying that the same reasons validate the pollution prevention logic which went behind the adoption of the incineration ban.

Green activists are quick to point out though that while the intent of the Clean Air Act was clear in terms of outlawing waste incinerators due to the toxic and poisonous fumes associated with the process, some waste management companies sanctioned by government authorities have also been busy in their efforts to undermine the law.

“Despite the ban, vendors would not stop peddling costly incinerators, camouflaging their waste burning processes as ‘green’ solutions and giving them modern-sounding labels such as pyrolysis, gasification, plasma, cement kiln co-processing, etc.,” Manny Calonzo, President of the EcoWaste Coalition, said.

“The national and local authorities and the citizens need to stay informed and alert against attempts to ‘greenwash’ modern incinerators,” he added.

Greenwashing refers to the practice of some companies to dishonestly spin their policies and goods as ecologically-sound and beneficial to the people and the environment.

The report “An Industry Blowing Smoke” debunks industry efforts to ‘greenwash’ gasification, pyrolysis and plasma incineration, pointing to more sensible directions that should be considered by decision makers, such as Zero Waste strategies.

The report concludes that new incineration technologies, like older-style burners, are expensive, inefficient and contribute to both climate change and serious public health impacts.

The report says that, compared to conventional mass burn incinerators, modern incinerators emit comparable levels of toxic emissions, stressing that emissions limits do not ensure safety and are not always adequately enforced.

The report further calls attention to the relatively few jobs created by capital intensive waste incineration projects when compared to recycling and composting programs.

Author Dave Ciplet of GAIA pointed out that recycling, re-use and composting create six to ten times the number of jobs than both waste incinerators and landfills.

“These new, expensive incinerators would keep much-needed funding and resources from being invested in real solutions,” Ciplet said. “We could be creating millions of jobs worldwide by turning waste into work!”

“As we mark the 10th year of the incineration ban amid a global climate and financial crisis, we urge our decision makers to stick to ecological, cost-effective and job-creating solutions, such as waste prevention, reduction, source separation, reuse, recycling and composting,” the EcoWaste Coalition and GAIA said.

“Also, we ask the government to shut down all existing incinerators that managed to circumvent the ban due to its lax enforcement, and disallow further combustion of waste in dumpsites, garbage burners and cement kilns,” they added.

“An Industry Blowing Smoke” is available for free download at:


Signed on 23 June 1999 by then President Joseph Estrada, the Clean Air Act, among other preventive and precautionary steps, prohibits open burning and the incineration of municipal, health care and hazardous waste which process emits toxic and poisonous fumes.


10 Reasons Why Gasification, Pyrolysis and Plasma Incineration Are Not “Green” Solutions” from “An Industry Blowing Smoke”:

Reason #1: When compared to conventional mass burn incinerators, incinerators emit comparable levels of toxic emissions.

Reason #2: Emissions limits for incinerators don’t ensure safety. Also, emissions from incinerators are not measured sufficiently and thus overall emissions levels reported can be misleading. In addition, emission limits are not always adequately enforced.

Reason #3: Gasification, pyrolysis and plasma incinerators have a dismal track-record plagued by malfunctions, explosions and shut-downs.

Reason #4: Incinerators are not compatible with recycling. They compete for the same financing and materials as recycling programs, and undermine efforts to minimize the production of toxic and unrecyclable materials.

Reason #5: Gasification, pyrolysis and plasma incinerators are often even more expensive and financially risky than mass burn incinerators.

Reason #6: Incinerators inefficiently capture a small amount of energy by destroying diminishing resources. Gasification, pyrolysis and plasma incinerators are even less efficient at generating electricity than mass burn incinerators.

Reason #7: Incinerating discarded materials depletes resources and in many cases permanently damages the natural environment.

Reason #8: Incineration technologies contribute to climate change, and investment in these technologies undermines truly climate-friendly solutions.

Reason #9: All types of incinerators require a large amount of capital investment, but they create relatively few jobs when compared to recycling and composting programs.

Reason #10: Wasting valuable natural resources in incinerators and landfills is avoidable and unnecessary.