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Empowering Our Communities To Redesign

Zero Waste Europe at the COP22

 Photo by Rhys Gerholdt, WRI (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) edits by ZWE
Photo by Rhys Gerholdt, WRI (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) edits by ZWE

Despite the fact that COP 22 will sadly go down in history as the Trump COP, the Zero Waste Europe team did not miss the chance to participate in the climate negotiations and promote the work of zero waste cities, communities and recycling workers all over the world for climate action.

During the first week and in collaboration with Cities Alliance, WIEGO, Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers and UNEP, Zero Waste Europe co-organised the event Sustainable Solid Waste Solutions for Communities and Climate Change to discuss the best solid waste solutions for cities resulting in cleaner, greener and healthier cities as well as income generation and emissions reduction.

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe’s lead on Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme, provided an introduction to the zero waste vision and its contribution to climate mitigation, as well as showed progress made by the Zero Waste Municipalities network in Europe and around the world. Vilella stressed the importance of including informal recyclers into zero waste strategies, especially in the Global South, where the millions of waste pickers are the de facto recycling systems.

 

Mariel at COP22

 

Precisely, the participation in the annual climate negotiations proved to be a challenge for grassroots recycling communities from the Global South once again. In this case the representatives from the Alliance of Indian Waste Pickers were not allowed to board their planes for no reason other than false claims made regarding their VISA documents, reminding us of all the prejudice and discrimination that vulnerable communities such as wastepicker women are faced with on a daily basis.

In the civil society space, the “Blue Zone”, the Moroccan group Zero Waste Skhirat organised a space dedicated to reflection on the use of resources and wastage with creative reused items and a programme of workshops on the topics of reuse and recycling.

In the second week, Zero Waste Europe’s Product Policy Officer Delphine Lévi-Alvarès presented the Break Free From Plastic Campaign at a side-event organised by the French Ministry of Environment to launch an international coalition of countries committed to “stop plastic waste” in the ocean.

Lévi-Alvarès stressed that plastic pollution in the ocean is just the tip of the iceberg, the result of a linear and wasteful economy which we need to address by adopting a holistic approach and looking at the root causes of this pollution. In connection to the climate change debate, she highlighted that the twenty-fold increase of plastic production over the past 50 years has led to plastics using 6% of global oil consumption, the equivalent of the aviation sector but with significantly worse externalities.

“If we keep doing business as usual, plastic production will increase twenty-fold by 2050, representing the 20% of the global oil consumption, offsetting the development of renewable energies and clean transport”, said Lévi-Alvarès, who invited the audience to join the campaign at breakfreefromplastic.org.

Delphine Lévi-Alvarès at COP22
Delphine Lévi-Alvarès speaking at COP22

Looking at progress made in the negotations, the Marrakech “implementation” COP – as it was nicknamed, in the hope of ramping up the sort of climate action momentum that should have followed the entry into law of the Paris Agreement – delivered a meagre yet necessary declaration (the Marrakech Action Proclamation), which reassured the global commitment with climate change in spite of the US election.

Remarkably, 47 of the world’s poorest countries grouped together as the Climate Vulnerable Forum, launched the Marrakech Vision with a commitment to generate 100% of their energy from renewable sources as soon as possible. They also pledged to update their nationally determined contributions before 2020 and to prepare long-term strategies.

Despite these highlights, it’s clear that after three years of breaking temperature records and with 2016 to become the hottest year on record, the climate crisis will not be solved with the current voluntary pledges to reduce emissions put forward by well-meaning governments around the world. Most importantly, pledges to reduce CO2 emissions need to spell out the actual strategies that will be implemented o reduce emissions, paying special attention to support the right sustainable strategies in all sectors, including zero waste strategies in the waste sector, which is the easiest, fastest and quickest way to deliver climate mitigation.


Cement industry in the spotlight in Spain

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Between the 11th and 13th of November the VII Gathering of Spanish Network of Platforms Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns took place in Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain. This gathering coincided with the release of a statement from 55 civil society organisations calling for an immediate end to the burning of waste in cement kilns.

A hundred participants from 50 different municipalities spent the weekend working on the topic of waste incineration, learning about its impact and the potential of zero waste alternatives to incineration, as well as sharing campaign strategies and discussing common actions for the future. The meeting ended with a demonstration in the “La Liebre” neighborhood, where a manifesto was read at the door of the Portland Valderrivas cement factory.

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It is worth noting that representatives from the Platform of Impacted Communities in Mexico and Zero Waste Europe/GAIA were present, in addition to all the platforms against waste incineration in Spain. This made Alcalá de Guadaíra the temporary capital of the fight against waste incineration in cement plants for the weekend. Moreover, the meeting provided new impetus to the Andalusian Network Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns, as they met for the second time to discuss their campaigns strategies.

The successful opening of the gathering at the House of Culture of Alcalá included a panel of experts with José Luis Conejero, a member of the Platform Against the Incineration of Montcada and Reixac (Catalonia), Daniel López, former coordinator of the Waste Programme of the Andalusian Federation of Ecologists in Action, and Carlos Arribas, coordinator of the Waste Programme of the State Federation of Ecologists in Action. The three, together with Ruth Echeverría, biophysics expert from the Foundation Alborada, carried out a technical analysis of waste incineration in cement kilns from the perspective of employment, the environment and public health.

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On Saturday, the day was opened by a panel including Mariel Vilella, ZWE’s lead on Climate, Energy and Air Pollution Programme, who provided an overview of the global situation in on waste incineration in cement kilns, including recent research demonstrating how European climate finance is wrongly driven to promote these polluting activities. The panel included an expert researcher on an innovative system of monitoring health impacts from cement plants in Mexico.

The network spent time on Saturday discussing campaigning strategies and potential common actions agreeing on a number of conclusions:

On Communication and Outreach:

  • Creation of a communications team to facilitate coordination between all groups in Spain and improve outreach tools to the general public.
  • Design and dissemination of a common slogan that summarises and makes visible the position against the incineration of waste shared by all the platforms of the Spanish State.
  • Support the declaration of an International Day of Action Against Waste Incineration, and propose to hold it on May 13, in memory of the fire in the cemetery of used tires in Seseña.

Campaign strategy, research and publications of studies:

  • Promotion of municipal ordinances against the incineration of waste in cement plants.
  • Promotion of studies on the economic costs of health impacts from waste incineration.
  • Performing a constant monitoring and control of data from the State Registry of Emissions and Contaminant Sources (PRTR-Spain) regarding the activity of the cement industry.
  • Present a report to Congress Members with the basic principles of the sustainable waste management: the waste hierarchy, proximity principle, precaution principle, zero waste, ecodesign and especially the non-consideration of residuals as raw material or products.
  • Strengthen ties with universities and educational centers and explore forms of active cooperation with these entities.

On support to Zero Waste and specific alternatives to Waste Incineration:

  • Support the work of the network Retorna and the proposals on Deposit Return System (SDR) as well as reporting the pressure exerted by the corporation Ecoembes against the implementation of SDRs in Spain.
  • Support the implementation of organised community composting systems.
  • Promoting door-to-door waste collection systems, according to the model already implemented in localities such as Usúrbil and Argentona, as an alternative to the monopoly of large companies in the waste management sector.

Once more, the weekend showed that the coordinated work of all platforms at the Spanish level is a consolidation of activism against this type of techniques and a boost to the struggle for the implementation of more sustainable and ecological measures in waste management.

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The Platform Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns includes:

Bierzo aire limpio (Ponferrada, León), Plataforma contra la incineración de residuos en Los Alcores (Alcalá de Guadaira, Sevilla), 3mugak Batera, Olazagutia (Alsasua, Navarra) GOB- Grup Balear d’Ornitologia i defensa de la Naturalesa (Illes Balears), Residuo Zero Madrid (Madrid) A.VV de Morata (Morata de Tajuña, Madrid), Arganda (Madrid) Toledo Aire limpio (Toledo), Plataforma Albentosa Natural (Teruel), Lemoa Garbi (lemona, Bizkaia), Plataforma Almendralejo sin Contaminación (Badajoz), Plataforma contra la incineración de residuos de Niebla, A.VV. Palleja (Palleja, Barcelona), AVV. Trevol (san Vicents del Horts, Barcelona),  Moviment contra la incineració a Uniland de Santa Margarida i Els Monjos (Santa Margarida i Els Monjos, Barcelona), CEPA-EdC (Catalunya), Sant Feliu aire net (Sant Feliu, Barcelona) APMA (Vilanova i la Geltru, Barcelona), Colectivo de Vecinos barrio de Sant Josep (Sant Viçent dels Horts, Barcelona) A.VV. Trevol (Sant Viçents del Horts, España) Vall de Ges, (Vall de Ges, Barcelona), Plataforma Buñol – Chiva,Molins de Rei, Plataforma Antiincineració del Congost (La Garriga, Barcelona) APQUIRA (Barcelona), CAPS, TELEMIR (Montcada i Reixac), FAVMIR (Federació de Associacions de Veïns de Montcada), Hoja Informativa (Montcada i Reixac), Plataforma anti-incineración de Montcada (Montcada i Reixac, Barcelona), A.VV. de Can Sant Joan (Montcada i Reixac- Barcelona), Plataforma Morata de Jalón, Aire Limpio Córdoba, GAIA, Zero Waste Europe.


PRESS RELEASE: Valencia’s commitment to introduce a container deposit scheme, a step forward for Circular Economy in Europe

For immediate release: Brussels, November 30, 2016

In an extremely well attended conference held in Valencia on November 29th the regional government of Valencia (Eastern Spain) showed its commitment to forge ahead with the project of creating a law where beverage containers will be sold with a deposit across the whole region. With this law the government aims to reduce litter while significantly increasing the recycling rates for bottles, cans and cartons, which currently stagnates at under 30%.

The region of Valencia, accounting for 5 million inhabitants, is the first in Spain to move in this direction, following the successful examples of Germany and Norway and, more recently, Estonia and Lithuania. The government expects, after the approval in Parliament, to start selling beverage containers with a deposit as of January 2018. Other Spanish regions such as Baleares, Catalonia and Navarra have expressed an interest to follow suit.

Zero Waste Europe congratulates the Valencian government for this commitment to build a circular economy and for the reduction of litter both on land and in the ocean.

Joan Marc Simon, Executive Director of Zero Waste Europe said “Deposit systems have proven to be the most effective tool to implement Extended Producer Responsibility on beverages and we are happy to see Valencia joining progressive regions in Europe in increasing recycling and reducing litter.”


Press Release: International NGOs State Support for Impacted Communities from Waste Incineration in Cement Plants

For immediate release: Brussels, November 16, 2016

In a statement coordinated by Zero Waste Europe, 55 NGOs from all over the world have expressed their support for impacted community groups from waste incineration in cement kilns, claiming that the use of waste as fuel in cement plants has severe consequences for the environment, economy and public health and that it should be ended immediately.

The statement highlights that cement production is one of the most energy intensive industrial processes and is a major contributor to climate change, but efforts to curb these emissions have centred around the use of so called ‘alternative fuel’ which is invariably different types of waste (municipal solid waste, hazardous waste, industrial waste, etc), with very significant negative impacts on air pollution, resource-depletion and climate change.

Mariel Vilella, Zero Waste Europe Managing Director, who coordinated the statement put emphasis on the fact that: “there is a far greater potential to have a positive impact on climate change by focussing on the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy, giving priority waste prevention, reuse and recycling and following the principles of a zero waste strategy.”

The statement is one of the outcomes of the 7th Annual Gathering of the Spanish Alliance Against Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns, which took place in Alcala de Guadaira (Sevilla) on 11-13 November.

The successful event, saw the participation of representatives from 50 municipalities and 14 groups from all over Spain, México and European level, was organized by the Plataforma contra la incineración de residuos en Los Alcores (Alliance against Waste Incineration in Los Alcores), the local coordination group opposing the burning of waste in the cement plant of Portland Valderribas. The event included multiple experts on environmental health, waste management and zero waste strategies (see the full programme here).

On Sunday 13th, 300 people marched under the slogan “No to incineration, yes to recycling” through the streets of the local neighbourhood to the cement plant.

“The meeting was a great opportunity to share experiences, analyse the implementation of incineration in cement plants, its current legal framework, study policies to combat this process and develop coordination amongst groups in this field of action. Moreover, different waste management alternatives have been addressed”, said representatives from Al Wadi-Ira/Ecologistas en Acción.

In conclusion, there is a growing social movement against waste incineration in cement kilns which is demanding zero waste alternatives for the protection of the environment, public health and local economies.

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NOTES

  1. Full Statement: Civil Society Statement on the Practice of Waste Incineration in Cement Kilns – with full list of signatories
  2. Versión en castellano: Declaración de la Sociedad Civil Frente la Incineración de Residuos en Cementeras.
  3. Photos from the gathering
  4. Zero Waste Europe is an umbrella organisation empowering communities to rethink their relationship with resources. It brings together local Zero Waste groups and municipalities present in 20 EU countries. Beyond recycling, the Zero Waste network aims at reducing waste generation, close the material loop whilst increasing employment and designing waste out of the system. www.zerowasteeurope.eu
  5. Local news coverage of the gathering: Europa Press: Debates, conferencias y una manifestación en Alcalá por el VII Encuentro contra la incineración en cementeras
    Europa Press: “Éxito” en el VII encuentro celebrado en Alcalá contra la incineración en cementeras
    Local TV video: https://www.facebook.com/noincineracionbasuralosalcores/?fref=ts

DECLARACIÓN DE LA SOCIEDAD CIVIL FRENTE A LA INCINERACIÓN DE RESIDUOS EN CEMENTERAS

Alcalá de Guadaira – 13th Noviembre 2016

En inglés aquí

Los abajo firmantes creemos que los residuos son un recurso que debe ser tratado ante todo de acuerdo con el principio jerarquía de residuos, dando prioridad a los niveles superiores para la prevención de residuos, la reutilización, el reciclado, el rediseño. En vista del aumento del uso de residuos como combustible para la producción de cemento y las graves consecuencias que ello tiene sobre las comunidades locales en todo el mundo, afirmamos que la quema de residuos en cementeras no es una solución al cambio climático y la gestión de residuos, sino un lavado de cara verde de la industria del cemento que debe finalizar inmediatamente.

La producción de cemento es uno de los procesos industriales más intensivos energéticamente y con mayor contribución al cambio climático, consumiendo grandes cantidades de energía. Los datos de 2006 muestran que la industria del cemento contribuyó con alrededor del 8% de las emisiones antropogénicas de CO2, o el 6% de las emisiones totales de gases de efecto invernadero. En los últimos años, los esfuerzos para reducir estas emisiones se han centrado en el uso de los llamados “combustibles alternativos”, que son, invariablemente, distintos tipos de residuos (municipales, peligrosos, industriales, etc).

Por otra parte, informes del sector indican que las cementeras han estado quemando materiales de biomasa mezclados con residuos que no son biomasa, tales como pesticidas o lodos de depuradoras que contienen metales pesados. Al usarlo juntos bajo la misma etiqueta de ‘biomasa’, las plantas de cemento estan maquillando de verde el uso de residuos peligrosos como combustible. Además, las cementeras incluso usan neumáticos usados y coches fragmentados como “combustibles parcialmente de biomasa”, lo cual resulta falso ya que son en su mayoría plásticos hechos a partir de combustibles fósiles.

Mediante el uso de residuos como estos sustitutos de los combustibles fósiles, la industria del cemento está tratando de maquillar de verde sus tecnologías, las cuáles han sido denunciadas como un peligro para la salud pública y hacen poco para reducir el impacto ambiental de la industria del cemento.

La premisa ambiental de la quema de residuos se basa en el argumento incorrecto de que las emisiones de la fracción orgánica de los residuos son ‘neutrales’ en cuanto a emisiones de carbono, y éstas por lo tanto no necesitan ser contadas. Esta afirmación ha sido efectivamente refutada por el Comité Científico de la Agencia Europea del Medio Ambiente que definió ésta metodología como ‘un grave error metodológico”, así como el propio informe de Basura Cero Europa, que hace hincapié en que” todos los gases de efecto invernadero … “contribuyen al calentamiento global, independientemente de su origen”.

Los hornos de cemento, que no tienen forma de filtrar las emisiones gaseosas de sustancias peligrosas, entre otras los metales pesados volátiles (mercurio, talio, cadmio, etc.) son los segundos mayores emisores de mercurio en general. El impacto que tiene este tipo de contaminación en las comunidades de los alrededores ha sido bien documentado en los estudios científicos independientes que vinculan la incineración de residuos con una mayor morbilidad y mortalidad incluyendo incrementos en las tasas de cáncer, enfermedades respiratorias y aborto involuntario.

Se ha demostrado que existe un potencial para reducir las emisiones de efecto invernadero mucho mayor centrándose en los niveles más altos de la jerarquía de residuos y del tratamiento de los residuos como recurso valioso, es decir, gestionado de una manera consistente con los niveles prevención, reutilización, reciclaje y rediseño, siguiendo los principios de una estrategia de basura cero.

En lugar de quemar neumáticos, debemos reclamar los recursos para que sean reutilizados en otros usos. Asimismo, los residuos biológicos deben ser tratados de acuerdo con la jerarquía de residuos orgánicos, utilizarlo prioritariamente para elaborar compost o en su defecto, digestión anaeróbica.

La quema de los residuos en los hornos de cemento para el maquillaje verde de la industria es una laguna en la agenda medioambiental global, y es vital que esta opción se descarte. Hacemos un llamamiento para que la quema de residuos sea excluida de las definiciones de energía renovable, y los métodos de contabilidad para las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero se actualicen a este efecto. Las subvenciones que han estado apoyando los hornos de cemento para quemar los residuos deben ser revocadas inmediatamente. Debemos en primer lugar recuperar los recursos en los flujos de residuos, siguiendo el principio de la jerarquía de residuos de acuerdo con la legislación de la UE.

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Firmantes:

  • Alliance for Zero Waste Indonesia
  • Alliance for Zero Waste, Indonesia
  • Alwadi-ira, Spain
  • Alwadira, Spain
  • AMAR Environment Defense Association
  • Amigos de la Tierra, Spain
  • APROMAC Environment Protection Association
  • Asociacion de vecinos de Pallejà, Catalunya
  • BaliFokus Foundation, Indonesia
  • CESTA Amigos de la Tierra, Salvador
  • Centre d’Ecologia i Projectes Alternatius-Ecologistes de Catalunya
  • CHASE, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, Ireland
  • Citizens for a Safe Environment (CSE) Foundation of Toronto (Canada) Inc.
  • COLLECTIF 3R (Réduire, Réutiliser, Recycler), France
  • Consumers’ Association of Penang, Malaysia
  • Durham Environment Watch, US
  • Earthlife Africa Cape Town, South Africa
  • Eco-Cycle International, US
  • Ecological Recycling Society, Greece
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • Ecowaste Coalition, Philippines
  • Ekologi brez meja / Zero Waste Slovenija
  • Environmental associatino Za Zemiata (Bulgaria)
  • Equo Sevilla, Spain
  • Friends of the Earth Europe
  • FUNAM – Fundación para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente, Argentina
  • Fundacion Basura
  • Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, US
  • Greenpeace Spain
  • groundWork, South Africa
  • HCWH Europe
  • Instituto Polis, Brasil
  • JA!Jusica Ambiental/FOE Mozambique
  • Let’s do it Macedonia
  • Mother Earth Foundation, Philippines
  • Moviment Contra la Incineració a Uniland, Catalunya
  • No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo Cero, Spain
  • ODESC, Brasil
  • Paul Connett, PhD, American Environmental Health Studies Project Inc (AEHSP), US
  • Plataforma Cívica per la Salut i el Medi Ambient, Catalunya
  • Plataforma No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo 0
  • Platraforma contra la Incineración de residuos en la cementera de los Alcores
  • Red de Accion por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA)
  • Texas Campaign for the Environment & TCE Fund, US
  • TOXISPHERA Environmental Health Association
  • UK Without Incineration Network, UK
  • Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia
  • Zero Waste in Africa, South Africa
  • Zero Waste 4 Zero Burning
  • Zero Waste Italy
  • Zero Waste Montenegro
  • Zero Waste Romania
  • Zero Zabor Ingurumen Beserako Elkartea, Basque Country
  • ZWNW

CIVIL SOCIETY STATEMENT ON THE PRACTICE OF WASTE INCINERATION IN CEMENT KILNS

Alcalá de Guadaira, Spain – 13th November 2016

In Español acquí

We the undersigned believe that waste is a resource which should be treated foremost according to the Waste Hierarchy, with priority being given to the upper tiers of waste prevention, reuse, recycling and redesign. In light of the increased use of waste as fuel for the production of cement and the severe impacts this is having on local communities worldwide, we state that the burning of waste in cement kilns is not a solution to climate change and waste management but greenwashing by the cement industry which should be stopped immediately.

Cement production is one of the most energy intensive industrial processes and is a major contributor to climate change. Data from 2006 shows that the cement industry contributed about 8% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, or 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, efforts to curb these emissions have centred around the use of so called ‘alternative fuel’ which is invariably different types of waste (municipal solid waste, hazardous waste, industrial waste, etc).

By using waste as replacement for fossil fuels, the cement industry is attempting to greenwash their technologies which have reportedly been a public health hazard and do little to reduce the environmental impact of the cement industry.

The environmental claim of waste burning is premised on the incorrect argument that emissions from the organic portion of waste are ‘carbon neutral’ and therefore do not need to be counted. This claim has been effectively refuted by the Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency who called such accounting ‘a serious methodological mistake’ as well as Zero Waste Europe’s own report which emphasises that ‘all greenhouse gases… have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin’.

Moreover, cement plants have reportedly been burning biomass materials mixed with non-biomass residues such as pesticides or sewage sludge containing heavy metals. By using it together under the same ‘biomass’ label, the cement plants are greenwashing the use of hazardous waste as a fuel. Most worryingly, used tyres and fragmented cars are considered “partially biomass fuels” which is the greatest deception, as they are mostly fossil-fuel based plastic.

Cement kilns, which have no way to filter volatile heavy metals (mercury, thallium, cadmium etc.) are the second largest emitters of mercury overall. The impact that this pollution has on surrounding communities has been well documented with independent scientific studies linking waste incineration with increased morbidity and mortality including high rates of cancers, miscarriage and respiratory disease.

It has been shown that there is the potential to have a far greater positive impact on climate change by focusing on the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy and to treat waste as valuable resource, managed in a way consistent with the higher tiers of the waste hierarchy and following the principles of a zero waste strategy.

Instead of burning rubber tyres, we must reclaim the resources to be reused in other products. Likewise, biowaste should be dealt with according to the biowaste hierarchy, where possible first going to feed humans, then animals and only then be used for compost or anaerobic digestion.

The misguided burning of waste by cement kilns in order to improve their green credentials is a loophole which is being used to greenwash the industry, and it is vital that this option is ruled out. We call for the burning of waste to be excluded from the definition of renewable energy, and accounting methods for greenhouse gas emissions to be updated to reflect this. The subsidies which have been supporting cement kilns to burn waste need to be immediately revoked. We need to aim to first conserve resources from waste, by following the waste hierarchy according to EU legislation.

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LIST OF SIGNATORIES

  • Alliance for Zero Waste Indonesia
  • Alwadira, Spain
  • AMAR Environment Defense Association
  • Amigos de la Tierra, Spain
  • APROMAC Environment Protection Association, Brazil
  • Asociacion de vecinos de Pallejà, Catalunya, Spain
  • BaliFokus Foundation, Indonesia
  • BaliFokus Foundation, Indonesia
  • CESTA Amigos de la Tierra, Salvador
  • CHASE, Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment, Ireland
  • Citizens for a Safe Environment (CSE) Foundation of Toronto (Canada) Inc.
  • COLLECTIF 3R (Réduire, Réutiliser, Recycler), France
  • Consumers’ Association of Penang, Malaysia
  • Durham Environment Watch, US
  • Earthlife Africa Cape Town, South Africa
  • Eco-Cycle International, US
  • Ecological Recycling Society, Greece
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Alcalá de Guadaíra, Spain
  • Ecologistas en Acción, Spain
  • Ecowaste Coalition, Philippines
  • Ekologi brez meja / Zero Waste Slovenija, Slovenia
  • Environmental associatino Za Zemiata, Bulgaria
  • EQUO Sevilla, Spain
  • Friends of the Earth Europe
  • FUNAM – Fundación para la Defensa del Medio Ambiente, Argentina
  • Fundacion Basura, Chile
  • Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, US
  • Greenpeace Spain
  • groundWork, South Africa
  • HCWH Europe
  • Instituto Polis, Brazil
  • JA!Jusica Ambiental/FOE Mozambique
  • Let’s do it Macedonia
  • Mother Earth Foundation, Philippines
  • Moviment Contra la Incineració a Uniland, Catalunya
  • No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo Cero, Spain
  • ODESC, Brazil
  • Paul Connett, PhD, American Environmental Health Studies Project Inc (AEHSP), US
  • Plataforma Cívica per la Salut i el Medi Ambient, Catalunya, Spain
  • Plataforma No Macrovertedero, Sí Residuo 0, Spain
  • Platraforma contra la Incineración de residuos en la cementera de los Alcores, Spain
  • Red de Accion por los Derechos Ambientales (RADA), Chile
  • Sahabat Alam (Friends of the Earth) Malaysia
  • Texas Campaign for the Environment & TCE Fund, US
  • TOXISPHERA Environmental Health Association, Brazil
  • United Kingdom Without Incineration Network, UK
  • Zelena akcija / Friends of the Earth Croatia
  • Zero Waste 4 Zero Burning
  • Zero Waste in Africa, South Africa
  • Zero Waste Italy
  • Zero Waste Montenegro
  • Zero Waste Romania
  • Zero Zabor Ingurumen Beserako Elkartea, Basque Country
  • ZWNW, Ireland

UNFCCC approved incinerator reveals double standards in climate finance that undermine European climate policy

Waste pickers protest Okhla incinerator in 2011
Waste pickers protest the Okhla incinerator in 2011

A waste incineration plant in Delhi, India has been called a ‘multi-faceted disaster’ after local groups have uncovered evidence that the project may have been fraudulently claiming carbon credits for technologies that do not exist. Over the entire period of its operation the project has faced consistent criticism and protest from residents of the surrounding areas for pollution violations including the release of dangerous dioxins.

The incineration plant is radically different to the original plan approved by the Indian Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). The original plans included the establishment of an integrated Municipal Solid Waste Plant (MSWP), an industrial complex that would include two Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plants, a bio-methanation plant and a waste-to-energy incinerator plant. This plan would in itself have been a disaster, and was strongly opposed from the outset by local residents and environmentalists as an unsustainable waste management plant. However, the reality of the project falls well short of these original plans with the absence of the Bio-methanation plant and Refuse Derived Fuel plants. Originally approved on the basis that the project would avoid the need for landfills, which are a major social, health and environmental problem in India, the Okhla incinerator project has been allowed to claim carbon credits from the UNFCCC (under the former Clean Development Mechanism) for claimed, yet unproven, GHG emissions reductions.

Local residents, concerned about the health impacts of the incinerator have voiced strong objection to the project, and have gained the support of two major hospitals in the area. In 2009 the Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Company (responsible for running the project) was taken to the Delhi High Court over claims of toxic emissions of heavy metals and dioxins several times the permissible limit, since then the case has been heard 28 times in the High Court and in 2013 the case was transferred to the National Green Tribunal (the fast track court for environmental cases) where it has been heard a further 21 times.

The Timarpur-Okhla wasteto- energy incinerator near Sukhdev Vihar. Photo: V. Sudershan
The Timarpur-Okhla wasteto- energy incinerator near Sukhdev Vihar. Photo: V. Sudershan

A representative of local residents of Sukhdev Vihar said “It is unfortunate that there is such blatant fraud on the UNFCCC’s carbon credit mechanism as well as on the conditions on which the environment clearance was granted by Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change,” said Umesh C. Bahri, a resident of Sukhdev Vihar and a scientist familiar with accreditation processes. “While both entities have been notified of the fraud no action has been taken by either bodies or by the NGT.”

The project was originally received with strong criticism and opposition from the local and international community due to its poor climate credentials, in the context of increased questioning over the Energy Policy agenda in India. Scandalously, the project proponents have failed to deliver the very technologies that would supposedly assist in reducing GHG’s and utilise the resources contained in the waste stream in a more ecologically sustainable way. Instead, lesser quality and more polluting technology components have been included such as ‘Chinese Stoker Boilers’ which have been associated with massive protests across China.

The case of the Okhla incinerator seems to be a key example of misdirected carbon credits. The plant which claims to process 2,050 tonnes per day of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) has been accused of submitting a false monitoring report to the UNFCCC by including the bio-methanation and RDF plants in the Validation and CDM Monitoring reports when this technology is not actually included in the plant.

This has sparked outrage from environmental groups and local citizens in India who have launched a petition to the UNFCCC CDM Board. The petition calls for an immediate investigation into the plant, compensation for local residents and assurance that future credits will not be allocated to such polluting projects.

Bharati Chaturvedi, the founder and director of Chintan, an organisation that works with waste-pickers and recyclers for environmental justice said:“Climate change is about justice and sustainability, not about poisoning people and snatching away livelihoods. But this is what the Okhla waste-to-energy plant has done-displace nearly 300 waste pickers, and consequently, 63% of their children out of school. For this, it has received carbon credits. Is this how the world will fight climate change? By funding poverty creation? The new climate finance regime must put decent, sustainable livelihoods and the poor at its centre rather than expect technologies alone  to make the world cooler.”

Waste burning technologies are often misleadingly classified as generators of “renewable-energy” and are therefore categorised as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is based primarily on the flawed accounting method for the burning of the organic portion of waste whereby it is claimed that ‘emissions of CO2 of non-fossil origin can be ignored’. This is simply untrue. The atmosphere simply does not differentiate between sources of GHGs. Zero Waste Europe’s report ‘The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy’ demonstrates that  ‘the only correct way to proceed is to account for emissions of all greenhouse gases since they all have ‘warming potential’, irrespective of their origin’.

“Incinerating waste, which are actually recyclables, deprives us of our already meagre livelihoods,” say Zainab Bibi one of an army of waste pickers engaged in collecting and recycling plastic waste in the Okhla area. “There is no alternate employment available to us.”

With incineration sitting firmly at the bottom of the waste-hierarchy it is clear that waste-to-energy incinerators such as the Timarpur-Okhla plant are net contributors to climate change. Their categorisation as ‘renewable-energy’ is based on a flawed accounting method which ignores the true climate impact of emissions from the burning of organics.

Smog over Delhi
Smog over Delhi

There are well documented and serious health impacts from waste to energy incinerators which emit heavy metals (such as lead & mercury) and dioxins which are classified persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and banned under the Stockholm Convention. POPS pose a global threat to human health and the environment due to their specific characteristics. They are toxic and persistent in the environment, can travel long distances and accumulate in the food chain.The promotion of waste incineration, the second largest emitting source of dioxin, is contrary to the intent of the convention.

Research has shown that for those living close to incinerators the risk of sarcoma (a type of cancer) is 3.3 times higher than those who do not live near a plant. The risk extends to other types of cancer, miscarriage, birth defects and preterm births as well as heart and respiratory disease. In India it is estimated that 1.59 million premature deaths happen every year due to air pollution.

The trade in carbon credits has consistently been shown to undermine European climate and waste policy, directing climate finance towards dirty-energy projects. The carbon market is regulated through the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is a greenhouse gas emissions offset scheme created under the Kyoto protocol. The scheme involves the trading of carbon credits called Certified Emission Reductions (CERs). The CDM is supposed to encourage sustainable development and help reduce overall emissions, however as GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives) have noted the CDM frequently ends up supporting dirty energy, incinerators and landfills in the Global South, often far worse than would be permitted in the Northern countries. A replacement for the CDM was agreed upon at the COP21 in Paris, and will be negotiated at the COP22 in Marrakech in November.

In Europe the trading of carbon credits issued by the CDM has been regulated by the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) legislation which allows member states to purchase the credits. This has seen landfill gas systems, and waste incinerators, both at the bottom of Waste Hierarchy, sell credits into the EU market, undermining progressive EU legislation on waste.

Paris, the location of the UNFCCC COP21. Photo: B. Giambelluca
Paris, the location of the UNFCCC COP21. Photo: B. Giambelluca

With the Paris treaty being agreed last December at the COP21 summit, a new offset mechanism is being developed. The Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) aims to supersede the CDM and ‘contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development’. Many aspects of the SDM are currently undefined and will be clarified at the COP22 summit taking place in Marrakech, Morocco in November.

Critical to the success of  the Sustainable Development Mechanism will be the credibility and reliability of ‘sustainable development definitions’ particularly related to waste management. It is therefore essential that any future definition excludes landfill gas systems, and waste to energy incinerators including cement kilns burning waste, from generating credits. If such a definition is adopted it will prevent a repeat of the cases where EU member states effectively supported waste management projects which would not have been approved in their own countries.

The case of the Timarpur-Okhla waste-to-energy incineration plant demonstrates why it is so important that the future of carbon trading accounts for the climate and social impacts of waste management technologies. Furthermore, the social and environmental justice of communities in the global south must be upheld and protected from the misguided trade of carbon credits and false carbon accounting related to any UNFCCC subsidised waste management project. It is clear that any future implementation of emissions trading in Europe needs to ensure compatibility with existing EU legislation on waste, giving primacy to the waste-hierarchy and ensure that the projects can demonstrably prove their GHG emissions reductions. Anything less simply risks repeating historical and colonialist approaches to well intentioned aid and support for developing nations.