Waste Incineration Has Many Negative Environmental, Social and Health Consequences

Malaysian Government Urged Not to Build More Incinerators

CAP calls on the Malaysian government to not build any more waste incinerators in Malaysia. A few are in the pipeline including one in Taman Beringin, Kuala Lumpur which has amassed protest by surrounding communities.  The other proposed incinerators are in Bukit Payung, Johor and Sungai Udang, Malacca.

Since the locally designed autogenous combustion technology (ACT) developed by XCN Technology Sdn Bhd. constructed in Pulau Langkawi, Pulau Pangkor, Pulau Tioman and Cameron Highlands has been fraught with problems, the government has sought bidders to design, construct, operate and finance a waste-to-energy facility to be developed adjacent to the Kepong Solid Waste Transfer Station.

The Malaysian government is making a false move, yet again.  In recent years, due to public opposition, the incinerator industry has tried to expand their sector by marketing their facilities as “Waste to Energy” (WTE), using misleading claims. It is a myth that modern incinerators efficiently produce electricity.  In fact all incinerators are a massive waste of energy. Due to the low calorific value of waste, incinerators are only able to make small amounts of energy while destroying large amounts of reusable materials.

Incinerating waste has many negative environmental, social and health consequences. Waste incinerators:

• Poison our environment, bodies, and food supply with toxic chemicals. Incinerators produce a variety of toxic discharges to the air, water and ground that are significant sources of a range of harmful pollutants, including dioxin and other chlorinated organic compounds that are well-known for their toxic impacts on human health and the environment. Many of these toxins enter the food supply and concentrate up through the food chain.

• Produce toxic by-products.  In addition to air and water emissions, incinerators create toxic ash or slag that must then be landfilled. This ash contains heavy metals, dioxins, and other pollutants, making it too toxic to reuse, although industry often tries to do so.

• Undermine waste prevention and recycling. The use of incinerators feeds a system in which a constant flow of resources needs to be pulled out of the Earth, processed in factories, shipped around the world, and then incinerated. This one-way linear system of resource extraction, production, transportation, consumption and disposal is a system in crisis. We simply cannot sustain this pattern indefinitely on a finite planet.

• Contribute to global climate change. Incinerators emit significant quantities of direct greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, that contribute to global climate change. They are also large sources of indirect greenhouse gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, non-methane volatile organic compounds, and sulphur dioxide. In fact, incinerators emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour than any fossil fuel-based power source. But their greatest contribution to climate change is through undermining waste prevention and recycling programmes, and encouraging increased resource extraction.

• Waste energy and destroy vast quantities of resources. People selling “waste-to-energy” incinerators claim that generating energy by incinerating trash is a win-win solution to our waste and energy crises. The truth, however, is that incinerators actually waste energy. When incinerating materials that could be reused, recycled, or composted, incinerators destroy the energy-saving potential of putting those materials to better use. Recycling, for instance, saves three to five times the energy that waste incinerator power plants generate. Incinerators are also net energy losers when the embodied energy of the burned materials is taken into account. For these reasons, “waste-to-energy” plants would be more aptly named “waste-of-energy” plants.

• Drain money from local economies to pay for expensive, imported technology, and provide far fewer jobs than zero waste programmes. Incinerators are bad for local economies. As the most expensive waste handling option, they compete with recycling and composting for financing and materials, and they only sustain one job for every ten at a recycling facility.

• Hide the evidence of dirty and unsustainable industries. Incinerators allow dirty industries to get rid of their toxic waste and hide the impacts of their practices. These industries depend on incineration to fuel our continued use of this system of unsustainable production and consumption.

Better alternatives to incineration exist but the Malaysian government is not actively pursuing them. Most things can and should be safely and economically recycled or reused. We also need to simply use less and manufacturers should redesign our products so that they are toxic-free and built to last.

CAP strongly urges the government to come up with a Zero Waste strategy rather than insisting on building waste incinerators.  We should learn from successful cities around the world, including Buenos Aires, Canberra, Kovalam and San Francisco that have already passed zero waste resolutions and have innovative plans to reduce their waste disposal levels to zero.

NO to waste incineration! YES to Zero Waste!

Letter to the Editor – 26 May 2014

For more information on waste incineration and zero waste initiatives, visit website of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, www.no-burn.org