Environmental Experts Shoot Down “Waste-to-Energy” Incineration

experts have strongly argued against the adoption of “waste-to-energy” (WtE)
technologies that burn municipal solid waste as this will drive up the
generation of trash and undermine environmentally sound approaches to managing
discards while producing highly toxic pollutants that can harm public health.
At a well-attended forum organized by the Stop WtE
Alliance, environmental scientist Dr. Jorge Emmanuel and environmental law
specialist Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos joined forces with zero waste and climate
justice activists in turning down burn WtE technologies as solutions to the
country’s swelling garbage that is projected to reach 40,087 tons per day this
“By their very nature, incinerators are technologies that
need a constant supply of waste feedstocks.  
Moreover, investing in WtE plants commit local government units (LGUs)
to these costly technologies for the long term that will require them to make
more waste for incinerators to operate profitably,” said Emmanuel who was chief
technical advisor of the United Nations Development Program on global
healthcare waste projects in 17 countries.
“There is no such thing as ‘clean incineration’ as all
incinerators release toxic particulates, toxic gases such as carbon dioxide and
carbon monoxide, toxic metals such as lead and mercury and other pollutants in
addition to dioxins, including 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzo-p-dioxin, the most
toxic compound known in science,” he said.
Emmanuel noted that the Philippines does not have the
technical in-country capability to carry out regular testing of dioxins from
incinerators and to conduct frequent independent spot checks of facilities in
order to enforce the current dioxin limit , much less a more stringent dioxin
limit to protect public health in the future.
“The use of pollution control devices such as filters and
electrostatic precipitators merely move the pollutants from one environmental
medium (the air) into another (solid filters or wastewater). The toxic
pollutants do not disappear; they are concentrated into other media that have
to be treated as hazardous waste,” he pointed out.
Ash from incinerators is toxic, heavily contaminated with
dioxins and leachable metals, and under the Guidelines on Best Available
Techniques/Best Environmental Practices of the Stockholm Convention on
Persistent Organic Pollutants,  ash
requires special land disposal as hazardous waste, Emmanuel further said,
adding that “these added costs are often not included in economic analyses but
they should be.”
For her part, Ramos stated that “no LGU in the country
seems to have crafted as yet an air quality action plan as directed by RA 8749
or the Clean Air Act. Only a handful has an approved ten-year solid waste
management plan, and it is appalling that some LGUs  are now even contemplating on hosting WtE
facilities.  Can LGUs handle the complex
WtE process and the tons of hazardous ash to be disposed of a result, when they
cannot even comply with what RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management
Act requires?”
Ramos likewise scored the “Guidelines Governing the
Establishment and Operation of WtE Technologies for Municipal Solid Wastes”
adopted by the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) last June 9
prior to the assumption to office DENR Secretary Gina Lopez on July 1.
“What the NSWMC did was beyond its authority and contrary
to R.A. 9003 as WtE encourages the mixing of wastes and undermines the required
ecological practices of waste prevention and reduction, segregation at sources
and resource recovery for reusing, recycling and composting clearly mandated by
said law,” she added.
Speaking on behalf of the Stop WtE Alliance, Aileen
Lucero, National Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition, said: “We urge our
lawmakers, our national government agencies particularly the DENR and NSWMC and
our LGUs not to be lured by quick WtE fixes that could further inflate waste
volume and  disposal costs, while
releasing dioxins, mercury and other toxic pollutants that can damage the
public health and the environment.”
“We are playing with fire if we allow WtE facilities to
thrive.  What is needed is an
honest-to-goodness implementation or RA 9003 nationwide and a change in our
old-fashioned mindset to bury or burn our discards,” she added. 
1.  Additional
Information about dioxins from Dr. Jorge Emmanuel:
a.  Dioxins are
toxic at very low levels and are known to cause cancers (specifically chronic
lymphocytic leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate
cancer, as well as cancers of the lungs, larynx and trachea).  They also cause birth defects, alter the
reproductive systems of fetuses, impact the IQ of children, suppress the immune
system, decrease fertility, cause ovarian dysfunction, and reduce the sizes of
male genitalia. They are highly persistent in the environment, so any dioxins
produced today will remain for up to 150 years if on top of the soil, more than
500 years if in bodies of water, and up to 1000 years if the dioxins are
covered by a few centimeters of soil surface.
b.  The dioxin
limits continue to be revised as new data come out. The current Philippine
limit is 0.1 ng I-TEQ/Nm3which remains the international standard, but a few
years ago the US EPA lowered its dioxin limits even further to 0.0099 to 0.027
ng TEQ/m3.  This suggests that in coming
years, the internationally acceptable dioxin limit will go down further as new
data compel us to promulgate more stringent limits to protect public health
from a pollutant that will remain in our environment for hundreds of years.
2.   Dr. Jorge
Emmanuel was a consultant to the World Health Organization, World Bank, Swiss
Red Cross, USAID, US National Institutes of Health, and other organizations,
providing assistance to about 40 countries on incineration, non-incineration technologies,
and waste management.  He holds degrees
and certificates in chemistry from North Carolina State University,
environmental management from the University of California-Berkeley, public
health from the University of Iowa, renewable energy technologies from Stanford
University, and a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan.

3.  Atty. Gloria
Estenzo-Ramos was faculty member of the University of Cebu College of Law
teaching Environmental Law, among other subjects.  She co-founded the Philippine Earth Justice
Center, which is based in Cebu.  At
present, she is Vice-President for the Philippines of Oceana, an international
organization that is working to protect and restore the oceans.