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A Rejoinder to Dr. Paul Connett, Greenpeace:
The Zero Waste Dream


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Letter published in Inside Waste, Issue 1, May 2004

Dr. Michael C. Clarke, CPEng, FIEAust, MAusIMM, RPEQ,
CEO, M.E.T.T.S. Pty. Ltd. (ABN 66 050 710 015)
Email: metts[at]metts.com.au
April 5, 2004

Mr. Henry Pepper,
Inside Waste

Dear Henry,

Re: Dr. Paul Connett - and the Zero Waste Dream

I was amused at your article that provided for an airing of the views of Dr. Paul Connett and Greenpeace on waste management, WMAA News, Autumn 2004. The dream of a World with Zero Waste is a fallacy and in some cases a dangerous fallacy. Nations and societies that are desperately looking for realistic solutions to immediate waste problems can fall into the Zero Waste trap delusion, where they refuse to heed waste management solutions that provide environmentally sound and health conscious remedies for immediate and very pressing waste related problems.

Dr. Connett and his Greenpeace connections strive to have incineration, combustion and other thermal processing removed from the technologies that can be used as the final step in domestic waste management systems. Dr. Connett and Greenpeace have had some success in pressing their views on the developing world, with The Philippines being the best example.

In the Philippines, the new Clean Air Act (1999) states: 'Pursuant to Section 20 of the Act, incineration, hereby defined as the burning of municipal, bio-medical and hazardous wastes, which process emits toxic and poisonous fumes is prohibited.' The Act goes onto ban the burning of any material in any quantity that 'includes plastic, polyvinyl chloride, .., industrial wastes, ozone depleting substances and other similar toxic and hazardous substances'. Lastly the Act has penal provisions, such that, 'Any person who burns municipal waste in violation of Sections 1 and 3 of Rule XXV shall be punished with two (2) years and one (1) day to four (4) years imprisonment.'

The situation in the major Philippine cities, with Manila, population 11 million, being the worst case, is that there is only limited waste pick-up, no proper landfills, and a domestic waste that contains a considerable un-recyclable plastics content. The local's solution to not having a 'garbage service' is to burn their rubbish on vacant lots, street corners, in drains or any other spot that is conveniently away from their abode. The result is a myriad of small smouldering heaps across the Capital (and all regional cities), with the uncontrolled burning exasperating the vehicular smog that is all too much a way of life in Manila.

Recent attempts at solutions to Manila's waste problem have included giving the Mayors of Metro Manila federal funding to fix the problem. The result has been the movement of waste from municipality to municipality, the illegal dumping of waste by municipal contractors, and more 'do-it-yourself' street corner incineration. Further, the Act by banning burning of municipal waste and applying criminal penalties, has in effect turned the average citizen into a criminal (luckily there are few garbage police!).

In 1995 the Philippine Government posted an international tender for a Waste to Energy facility for Manila. Against strong competition an Australian company, Jancom, won the contract. They proposed to build a 4000 cubic metre per day energy from waste facility, that would also have generated ninety megawatts of electricity. With a change of government and the introduction of the Clean Air Act in 1999 the Jancom proposal was frozen.

The Connett/Greenpeace inspired Clean Air Act has prevented the construction of a facility that would have provided an environmental friendly - state of the art disposal system for waste, a reduction in the City's smog (and thus pollutants such as dioxins and furans), and a significant renewable power generation facility. It would also have provided an improved wastes recycling system that would have given further employment to the city's poor.

Dr. Connett advising Australia and Australian's to avoid incineration and thermally based energy from wastes systems will probably not result in the significant pollution of the environment and health problems to the population, for we still have ample opportunities for efficient landfilling. If his advice is heeded, it will however deprive Australia of, energy derived from waste, a system for sterilising domestic wastes, extended landfill operating lives, and reduced waste management costs.

I trust that my comments are useful to the waste management debate, from both a developed and developing nation perspective

Best regards,

Michael Clarke
Member: Waste Management Association of Australia, and WMAA Reference Group for Energy from Wastes

P.S. Paul Connett has visited the Philippines lecturing to government and environmental groups on his Zero waste concepts. He should have observed the mess around his feet before opening his mouth.

You are welcome to quote up to a maximum of three paragraphs from the above white paper, on condition that you include attribution to this website, as follows:
SOURCE: M.E.T.T.S. Pty. Ltd. Website http://www.metts.com.au

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Author: Michael C Clarke
(Michael C Clarke on Google+)

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