Life After Incineration – How to Embrace Zero Waste

May 29 , 3:00 pm 4:00 pm EDT

Join GAIA, Ironbound Community Corporation, and Friends of the Earth for a webinar on zero waste and how it’s the answer to the question: What do we do with all our waste once we close an incinerator?

Despite being a major contributor to climate change, the incinerator industry stays afloat by relying on renewable energy credits, costly subsidies, and externalized costs. The Treasury Department is beginning to determine whether incineration should qualify as a “zero emissions” technology under the 45Y Clean Electricity Production Tax Credit. If they determine it falls under this category, this would open up billions of dollars in funding for the incinerator lobby through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

This session will feature experts Marcel Howard, Zero Waste Program Manager – US/CAN at GAIA; Greg Sawtell, Zero Waste Just Transition Director at the South Baltimore Community Land Trust (SBCLT); Krystle D’Alencar, Environmental Justice Organizer, Minnesota Environmental Justice Table (MNEJT); and KT Morelli, Organizer at Breathe Free Detroit

April 17 , 3:00 pm 4:00 pm EDT

Join GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), Ironbound Community Corporation, and Friends of the Earth for a webinar on zero waste and how it’s the answer to the question: What do we do with all our waste once we close an incinerator?

Despite being a major contributor to climate change, the incinerator industry stays afloat by relying on renewable energy credits, costly subsidies, and externalized costs. The Treasury Department is beginning to determine whether incineration should qualify as a  “zero emissions” technology under the 45Y Clean Electricity Production Tax Credit. If they determine it falls under this category, this would open up billions of dollars in funding for the incinerator lobby through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

This session will feature experts Marcel R. Howard, Zero Waste Program Manager – US/CAN at GAIA; Greg Sawtell, Zero Waste Just Transition Director at the South Baltimore Community Land Trust; Bianca Lopez, Co-Founder & Project Director at Valley Improvement Projects; and KT Morelli, Organizer at Breathe Free Detroit.

MODERATOR: JV Valladolid, EJ Organizer & Comms Lead at Ironbound Community Corporation

January 23 , 3:00 pm 4:00 pm EST

GAIA invites you to a special webinar on the methane and climate impacts of incineration co-hosted by Ironbound Community Corporation and Friends of the Earth (register here). Despite being a major contributor to climate change, the incinerator industry stays afloat by relying on renewable energy credits, costly subsidies, and externalized costs. The Treasury Department is beginning to determine whether incineration should qualify as a “zero emissions” technology under the 45Y Clean Electricity Production Tax Credit. If they determine it falls under this category, this would open up billions of dollars in funding for the incinerator lobby through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). This session will be the first in a series of webinars and will feature climate and incineration experts Dr. Neil Tangri (GAIA), Dr. Ana Baptista (The New School), and Chloe Desir (ICC).

January 28 , 9:30 am 11:00 am EST

Burning Injustice is a powerful short documentary from The Story of Stuff Project that follows the inspiring journey of Latino activists, John Mataka and Bianca Lopez of Valley Improvement Projects, as they lead a tireless effort to permanently close one of the last trash incinerators in California. The film exposes the devastating health consequences of incinerator pollution in California’s Central Valley, and amplifies activists’ calls for environmental justice and a safer future for their community. Doors open at 12:30 pm (Pacific Time), film starts at 1pm, State Theatre of Modesto, 1307 J St., Modesto, CA 95354. Get tickets.

1307 J St.
Modesto, California 95354 United States
+ Google Map

Report: ‘Chemical Recycling’ Will Make the Plastic and Climate Crises Worse

Amid overwhelming plastic pollution and an exponential rise in plastic production, the fossil fuel industry has touted chemical or “advanced” recycling as a solution to the plastic crisis. “Solving the Climate Crisis: The Congressional Action Plan For a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient, and Just America” by the House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, unveiled on June 30th endorses “chemical recycling,” using much of the same language also pushed by the American Chemistry Council and other players. Similar language made it into the Federal RECOVER Act, and states across the country are passing or considering industry-backed bills that would pave the way for “advanced recycling” to take root.

However, a new report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) reveals that what industry in the U.S. calls “advanced recycling” is largely the opposite turning plastic into fuel to be burned. This network of waste and burn facilities overburden low-income communities and communities of color. 

The report finds other fatal inconsistencies in how the industry markets “chemical recycling” versus the reality: millions of dollars have been invested in “chemical recycling” projects, yet based on public information, out of the 37 facilities proposed in the U.S. since 2000, only 3 are currently operational and none have been proven to successfully recover plastic to make new plastics on a commercial scale. The report follows a technical assessment of chemical recycling, which found the technology to be polluting, carbon intensive, and riddled with system failures, disqualifying it as a solution to the escalating plastic problem, especially at the scale needed. 

Denise Patel, GAIA US/Canada Program Director, states, “Plastics are the new villain of the climate fight, and elected officials can’t fall for industry’s claims that they have a silver bullet solution, especially when the evidence does not back up those claims. With the rising crises of climate change, pollution, and economic insecurity under the backdrop of a global pandemic, we have no more time or money to waste on dangerous tech-fixes. Policymakers need to fight climate change at the source, by pursuing policies that place limits on production and support zero waste systems.” 

Key Findings: 

  • Industry misuses the terms “chemical recycling” or “advanced recycling,” when in fact, most facilities are not operational, and the few that are are primarily Plastic-to-Fuel (PTF). Plastic-derived fuels are fossil fuels that spend a very small portion of their lifecycle as plastic. This is not recycling, it is an expensive and complicated way to burn fossil fuels. 
  • “Chemical Recycling” is an industry greenwashing tactic, undermining real solutions to the plastics crisis. The fossil fuel industry is investing over $164 billion in expanding plastic production in the U.S., 35 times the amount that they claimed to invest in “chemical recycling.”
  • “Chemical Recycling” is a bad investment. “Chemical recycling”(aka plastic-to-fuel) is competing against, and losing to, virgin plastic production. High likelihood of technical failure has also squandered investment. As of 2017, similar technologies have wasted at least $2 billion of investments with canceled or failed projects across the globe.
  • “Chemical recycling” has a large carbon footprint, and poses a climate risk. Over half of the plastic that is processed in these facilities is released as climate pollution (CO2). That’s on top of the emissions from burning the resulting fuel.
  • “Chemical Recycling” is an environmental health risk, particularly to already overburdened communities. Every step of the process produces toxicants, from the sites themselves, where the product is burned, and at the facilities where the waste from the process goes, oftentimes in environmental justice communities. The chemical recycling industry is looking to expand into the same neighborhoods suffering from fossil fuel industry pollution. 

Dr. Andrew Neil Rollinson, chemical reactor engineer, specialist in alternative thermal conversion technologies, and author of a Technical Assessment of chemical recycling states, “Sound engineering practice and common sense shows that chemical recycling is not the answer to society’s problem of plastic waste. It represents a dangerous distraction from the need for governments to ban single-use and unnecessary plastics, while simultaneously locking society into a ‘business as usual’ future of more oil and gas consumption.” 

“Industry-promoted ‘chemical recycling’ gives the false impression that we can chemically recycle our way out of this crisis, and detracts from what the US should be doing:  reducing the use of plastics. This technology has not worked in the past, cannot survive without significant taxpayer subsidies, creates few jobs and brushes aside the serious climate change and air toxics issues associated with plastic production. We urge the authors of the House report to remove the chemical recycling recommendation if they are serious about addressing climate change,”  said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Regional Administrator.

According to the Association of Mission-Based Recyclers, “The fact that plastic-to-fuel is being labeled as “recycling” is just plain wrong, and threatens the legitimacy of the recycling industry. However, even if plastic-to-plastic chemical recycling was feasible, the sad truth is that 30 years of plastics recycling in the U.S. has failed to significantly stem the tide of plastic waste as more and more new plastics come onto the market. Chemical recycling is just another shiny new toy and is subject to failure for all the same reasons that plastics recycling has failed to scale to date.”

Read the report.

Read the fact sheet.

14

Study Recommends Solutions, Including Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics 

WASHINGTON, DC — In 2019 alone, the production and incineration of plastic will add more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere—equal to the pollution from 189 new coal-fired power plants, according to a new report, Plastic & Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet. The rapid global growth of the plastic industry—fueled by cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing—is not only destroying the environment and endangering human health but also undermining efforts to reduce carbon pollution and prevent climate catastrophe.

This is the conclusion of a sweeping new study of the global environmental impact of the plastic industry by the Center for International Environmental Law, Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 5 Gyres, and Break Free From Plastic.

The new report gathers research on the greenhouse gas emissions of plastic at each stage of the plastic lifecycle—from its birth as fossil fuels through refining and manufacture to the massive emissions at (and after) plastic’s useful life ends—to create the most comprehensive review to date of the climate impacts of plastic. 

With the ongoing, rapid expansion of the plastic and petrochemical industries, the climate impacts of plastic are poised to accelerate dramatically in the coming decade, threatening the ability of the global community to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C degrees. If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2030, emissions could reach 1.34 gigatons per year—equivalent to the emissions released by more than 295 500-megawatt coal power plants. By 2050, the production and disposal of plastic could generate 56 gigatons of emissions, as much as 14 percent of the earth’s entire remaining carbon budget.

The rapid growth of the industry over the last decade, driven by cheap natural gas from the hydraulic fracturing boom, has been most dramatic in the United States, which is witnessing a dramatic buildout of new plastic infrastructure in the Gulf Coast and in the Ohio River Valley.

For example, in western Pennsylvania, a new Shell natural gas products processing plant being constructed to provide ingredients for the plastics industry (called an “ethane cracker”) could emit up to 2.25 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution each year (carbon dioxide equivalent tons). A new ethylene plant at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery along the Texas Gulf Coast will release up to 1.4 million tons, according to the Plastic and Climatereport. Annual emissions from just these two new facilities would be equal to adding almost 800,000 new cars to the road. Yet they are only two among more than 300 new petrochemical projects being built in the US alone, primarily for the production of plastic and plastic additives.

Plastic in the environment is one of the least studied sources of emissions—and a key missing piece from previous studies on plastic’s climate impacts. Oceans absorb a significant amount of the greenhouse gases produced on the planet—as much as 40 percent of all human-produced carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial era. Plastic & Climate highlights how a small but growing body of research suggests plastic discarded in the environment may be disrupting the ocean’s natural ability to absorb and sequester carbon dioxide.

Plastic & Climate uses conservative assumptions to create a projection of plastic’s climate impacts under a business-as-usual scenario, meaning that the actual climate impacts of plastic are likely to exceed these projections.

The report identifies a series of actions that can be taken to reduce these climate impacts, concluding that the most effective way to address the plastic crisis is to dramatically reduce the production of unnecessary plastic, beginning with national and global bans on nearly all single-use, disposable plastic.

The proposed solutions include:

  • ending the production and use of single-use, disposable plastic;

  • stopping development of new oil, gas, and petrochemical infrastructure;

  • fostering the transition to zero-waste communities;

  • implementing extended producer responsibility as a critical component of circular economies; and

  • adopting and enforcing ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors, including plastic production.

Carroll Muffett, President, Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL):

“Humanity has less than twelve years to cut global greenhouse emissions in half and just three decades to eliminate them almost entirely. The massive and rapidly growing emissions from plastic production and disposal undermine that goal and jeopardize global efforts to keep climate change below 1.5 degrees of warming. It has long been clear that plastic threatens the global environment and puts human health at risk. This report demonstrates that plastic, like the rest of the fossil economy, is putting the climate at risk as well. Because the drivers of the climate crisis and the plastic crisis are closely linked, so to are their solutions: humanity must end its reliance on fossil fuels and on fossil plastics that the planet can no longer afford.”

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO, Plastic Pollution Coalition:

“We commend CIEL and partners’ new report Plastic and Climate: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet for demonstrating the alarming climate impacts of plastic. Plastic pollution is an urgent global crisis, and plastic pollutes at every stage: from extraction to disposal and incineration. This is a decisive moment when we will no longer accept business as usual. Join us in demanding a shift in the system for the health of the Earth and all its living creatures.”

Visit Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), Environmental Integrity Project, FracTracker Alliance, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) Sound Resource Management Group, Inc., 5 Gyres, or #breakfreefromplastic.