Why incineration of municipal waste to energy is not the solution for NZ’s plastic waste problem
Since China closed its market, 58% of New Zealand’s waste plastic now goes to Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam – all countries with poor regulations and high rankings in global sources of marine pollution.
Incineration of waste-to-energy has been proposed as a possible solution. Although it may sound like a good idea, turning plastic waste into electricity creates even more pollution. Also delays the necessary transition to a Circular Economy.
Read more: We need a legally binding treaty to make plastic pollution history.
Shipments of recycled plastic often arrive unsorted and contaminated in developing countries. Material that can’t be recycled is usually burned. This releases dioxin in the air, soil, and water. South-East Asian nations have responded by redistributing dirty plastics to developed countries.
A number of New Zealand councils stopped collecting certain types of plastics to be recycled offshore. They send them to landfills instead. Data available suggests that before the China ban, plastics accounted for about 15% of waste at municipal landfills. That’s around 250,000 tonnes per year. Most of it is plastic packaging imported from China.
New Zealanders are extremely or very concerned about the impact of plastic waste. We can’t continue to ignore our role in the plastic pollution crisis in the world while we dump plastic waste in landfills in New Zealand or developing countries.
Read more: We organized a conference for 570 people without using plastic. Here’s how it went.
In the scramble to find alternatives, waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration has become a hot topic, particularly as foreign investors look to establish WtE incinerators on the West Coast and [ other centers]in New Zealand. Some local government representatives have endorsed WtE proposals or raised WtE as an election issue .
Climate change: Less plastic goods
WtE incinerators, like landfills, symbolise a linear economy of “take, make, waste”, which destroys resources and perpetuates waste production.
The ” Zero Waste Hierarchy” is now the global standard. The zero waste hierarchy is based on a circular approach that prioritizes prevention, reduction and reuse.
According to some New Zealanders, Nordic countries have shown that incineration can be an environmentally friendly solution to waste problems. A recent study revealed that these countries would not be able to meet EU circular economy targets unless they replaced WtE with policies aimed at reducing waste production. These policies include packaging tax, recycling and recover rate targets, landfill banning biodegradables, deposit return scheme, and extended producer responsibility.