Thermal waste-to-energy technology, unsafe and dirty


BAGUIO CITY — The Duterte administration’s intention to utilize waste-to-energy facilities was expressed by the president during his first State of the Nation Address.

In August 2017, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) announced that WtE is the “win-win solution” to the country’s garbage problem. Officials of the department believed it is a “smart alternative” compared to engineered sanitary landfills (ESL) mandated under the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act (RA 9003).

According to the Department of Energy, there are 12 installed biomass plants with an installed capacity of 87 megawatts but with 49 MW available capacity as of December 2017. In the same period, the agency listed seven WtE projects awarded in Northern Luzon.

WtE in Northern Luzon

Former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson’s Satrap Power Corporation is the proponent of one of the awarded contracts. The 10MW plant is located in Brgy. Nagpanaoan, Santa, Ilocos Sur and costs P1.16 billion. It will consume 86 tons and 200 tons of municipal solid waste and agricultural waste respectively. Operation of the plant that will employ about 30 individuals is eyed by April 2019.

There are four in Isabela, two in Alicia, the 3.6MW Biomass Plant owned by Lucky PPH International Inc. and the 20 MW Rice Husk-Fired Biomass operated by Isabela Biomass Energy Corp. According to DoE records, the former is non-operational while the latter is operational as of December 2017.

Other plants in the province are the 19 MW facility of Green Future Innovation, Inc. that uses waste sugarcane stalks (bagasse) in San Mariano and Isabela La Suerte Rice Mill Corp.’s 5MW rice-husk feed plant, both of which are operational.

Public concern

The source of the public outcry against WtE, besides tapping stored energy from waste naturally such as biogas production, is the government’s aggressive promotion of incinerating garbage to generate power.

Environmentalist and scientist here and abroad agree that WtE thermal technologies such as pyrolysis and gasification, while called by many names, in principle are all incinerators that burn materials and release pollutants in the environment.

Former UN Development Program consultant on healthcare waste projects Dr. Jorge Emmanuel said that incinerators are inherently dirty.

“WtE does not make waste disappear but turns them into toxic ash and pollutants in the air,” he said, adding that, “toxic particulates and gases are concentrated to pollution reduction devices that also require special handling and disposal.”

Environmental advocates also question the ability of local governments and even private contractors to handle the operation and maintenance of WtE facilities, citing their failure to comply even with the establishment of ESL and waste-recovery facilities.

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives said contrary to the proponents’ pronouncements, WtE is not renewable. The group said, WtE does not only “waste resources” but also “undermines” recycling and waste reduction efforts. Based on their fact sheet, about 90% of waste incinerated for disposal and power production are reusable, recyclable and can be used for compost.

Legalizing incineration

Under the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 (RA 8749) and RA 9003, the use of incinerators are prohibited.

However, legalizing the use of incinerator is on the way in the House of Representatives. House Bill 6893 seeks to amend RAs 8749 and 9003.

The legislation sponsored by Extrellita Suansing of Nueva Ecija will allow the use of thermal and other treatment technologies to dispose or utilize municipal and hazardous wastes for fuel. It also mandates LGUs in the region, province and/or clusters of municipalities to establish treatment facilities.

Authors include Reps. Pantaleon Alvarez, Carlito Marquez, Carlos Cojuangco, Manuel Luis Lopez, Gabriel Bordado, Jr., Mohammed Khalid Dimaporo, Anthony Bravo and Jose Enrique Garcia III.


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