Waste Pickers Protest CDM Incinerator in Delhi
New Delhi, 24 October 2011
More than 300 representatives of waste pickers organizations, citizens groups, environmental organizations and resident welfare associations gheraoed the office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator at Lodhi Estates. They demanded an immediate end of climate subsidies to Waste to Energy (WtE) incinerators under UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the cancellation of the registrations made by two upcoming WtE projects at Okhla and Ghazipur.
CDM (Clean Development Mechanism), the UN body which oversees the global carbon market, is supporting various waste-to-energy schemes. These plants burn waste, creating even more greenhouse gas emissions and toxic pollution. Since wet waste does not burn well, they also burn recyclable waste, which means they compete directly with the wastepickers and reduce their earnings.
The CDM’s flagship waste management project in India, the Timarpur-Okhla venture is turning into a all-around disaster, revealing flaws in both, the CDM as well as the technology-focused approach to waste management. It has been facing stiff opposition from citizens and waste picker groups because of the environmental and social fall outs.
Apart from the project impacted citizens, the strongest opponents of WtE projects are the waste pickers of Delhi. It has been proven through earlier unsuccessful experiments in Timarpur (1989) and Vijaywada that Indian waste cannot be incinerated as it contains more than 50% of organic material which is high in moisture and low in calorific value. Hence, a high proportion of plastics, paper and cardboard must be included for the incinerators to function; but these are precisely the materials which the informal sector recycles.
If implemented, these plants would displace approximately 100,000 wastepickers, thus reduce recycling, increase unemployment and increase greenhouse gas emissions, all while adding costs to the public. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions due to recycling is at least 3.5 times that offered by any alternative. For instance, according to the project documents, the Timarpur-Okhla project will reduce emissions by an average of 262,791 tons of CO2e per year. In comparison, Delhi’s wastepickers are responsible for annual reductions of approximately 962,133 TCO2e.[i] However, this contribution by wastepickers is not given recognition nor support while the waste management companies make undeserved profits.
Apart from livelihood threats the incinerators also are serious environmental hazard. They are a major source of toxic air emissions, including dioxins, mercury, heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic, etc.), particulates (including ultrafine particulates that escape filters), acid gases (hydrochloric acid and sulfur oxides) and others.[ii] In December 2010, a waste incinerator in Crymlyn Burrows in Neath Port Talbot (South West Wales) was shut down for breaching Dioxin emission limits. Similarly, the world’s largest incinerator in Detroit also faced closure in October 2010 due to economic losses. “In addition to growing public opposition, a series of economic pitfalls had plagued Covanta, including: being shut down and sued for excessive pollution by the State of Connecticut; litigation with Harrisburg, Pennsylvania over the State Capitol’s incinerator construction debt; settling a lawsuit over community health impacts in Ironbound, New Jersey; and, having their NYSE stocks downgraded by Bank of America.”[iii]
In the case of Indian incinerators, a severe discrepancy in cost exists in all proposed projects which in comparison to incinerators in western countries. For instance, the Timarpur-Okhla facility’s total price tag is Rs.200 crores (USD 45 million) which is a fraction that of a RDF incinerator one-third as large in Rostock, Germany at the cost of USD 140 million.[iv] The obvious casualty will be the pollution control mechanism as there cannot be any compromise with the energy generation technology if the project has to be economically viable.
For more information – Shashi B. Pandit (AIKMM) 8010322545/9968413109
i “Cooling Agents: An Examination Of The Role Of The Informal Recycling Sector In Mitigating Climate Change,” Chintan 2009.
ii Allsopp et al, “Incineration and Human Health,” Greenpeace Research Laboratories, March 2001.
iii Extract from Press Release issued by GAIA, October 21 2010 http://justicenecology.posterous.com/forimmediate-release-shutdown-of-worlds-larg