Landfills of hope
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - September 2, 2019 - 12:00am

In July 2018, about 51,000 tons of garbage mis-declared as plastic synthetic flakes arrived at Mindanao International Container Terminal. The shipment originating from South Korea actually contained plastics, used batteries, diapers and dextrose tubes. Quoting records of the Korean Customs, environment activists Greenpeace claimed South Korea has been exporting tons of plastic wastes to the Philippines since 2017.

As investigations unfolded, it turned out 103 containers of garbage and other waste materials from Canada were also found at the Manila International Container Terminal that arrived in batches from 2013 to 2014. Trash from at least 26 containers out of the 103 have already been buried in a Tarlac landfill. In 2016, a Manila court ordered the importers to take back to Canada the remaining garbage-filled containers.

The consignee was accused of violating Republic Act (RA) 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, and the 1995 Basel Convention on the Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Disposal. The international convention, to which both Canada and the Philippines are signatories, provides that “the exporting country must take back the waste materials if the receiving country refuses to accept them.”

At least 69 containers of these mixed wastes from Canada were finally shipped last June back to Ottawa. But this was not after President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly attacked and ridiculed Canadian authorities led by its Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for dilly-dallying on the retrieval of their garbage exports to the Philippines.

Despite these efforts to return them back to senders, garbage “exports” continue to come into the country from Hong Kong and other countries. While these maybe a cause of concern, something else caught my interest about garbage that could turn these waste materials to more productive, if not profitable, venture here in our country.

This we found out in a dinner reception where I met a couple who turned out to be involved in a California-based company aptly called Wasteful Inc. In an executive brief, Wasteful Inc. described their firm as specializing in converting municipal solid waste into “synthetic” fuel, or “syn” crude for short, for use as either aviation fuel or diesel.

Trevor Nielson, chairman of Wasteful Inc. along with his Filipina wife, Evelyn, flew all the way to the Philippines to personally look and check out garbage sites here that would become their primary source of raw materials for “syn” fuel. In fact, the couple was accompanied by their Wasteful Inc. country manager in the Philippines, Andrew Masigan, in visiting the Rodriguez landfill in Montalban which will be one of their project sites here in Metro Manila. 

Nielson, co-founder and chief executive officer of I(x) Investments, disclosed that Wasteful will infuse about $800 million worth of investments to put up the first-ever “syn” fuel plant in Metro Manila and another in Cebu. An excited Masigan interjected that their project is also seen to generate some 200 jobs for Filipino engineers and chemical scientists who would operate the Wasteful Inc.’s bio-refinery plant.

With existing plants in various stages of development in the United States, Mexico, Columbia, Panama and Brazil, among others, Nielson echoed the confidence of their investment group that the Philippines is a prime destination for this pioneering project of Wasteful Inc. in this part of the world. Nielson disclosed that the Philippines is singled-out by their company for their project due to its seeming not-so-good image abroad because it is an export destination of other country’s garbage.

 “It’s abundance of waste,” sadly or rather fortunately, that qualified the Philippines as a highly recommended nation for this kind of investment project.

According to Nielson, Wasteful Inc. intends to build a bio-refinery with the capacity to process 3,500 tons of plastic and other carbon-rich wastes a day that will yield approximately 22.9 million gallons of aviation fuel a year. Initially, he disclosed, their company would sell the aviation fuel to California because of the tax carbon credit given to environment-friendly fuels.

This is because, Nielson explained, Wasteful technology is fully compliant with the Clean Air Act and that its process does not involve incineration or combustion. It uses steam and pressure to convert waste into gaseous form and then using the “Fischer-Tropsch method,” it converts the gas to liquid. The outcome is what is called a “syn crude,” which is refined into aviation fuel.

Nielson stressed that Wasteful’s technology produces aviation fuel from this method with a carbon content that is less than 20% of that made from fossil fuel. “This means that for every minute of commercial flight using fuel made from garbage, we prevent one ton of trash from inundating our landfills and avoid the equivalent of 4 truckloads of CO2 (carbon dioxide) from polluting our air,” Nielson pointed out.

Perhaps by stroke of luck, there is a fresh initiative from Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian who is pushing for a law that would encourage both national and local government units (LGUs) to participate in promoting waste management and the development of waste-to-energy (WTE) projects all over the Philippines. In fact, Gatchalian initiated his proposed Waste-to-Energy Act (WTE Act) in filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 363 that seeks to provide a framework for the entire value chain of WTE facilities and ensure the uninterrupted supply of waste as feedstock.

He announced this during the Forum on Renewable Energy and Waste-to-Energy Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) held last Friday. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on energy disclosed he had done already several consultation meetings with stakeholders and other interested parties. “Hopefully, within a few months we can pass this bill,” he cited.

With such technology of turning garbage into synthetic fuel, this could break the “not-in-my-backyard” policy of some LGUs. There is hope, after all, to host landfills. Or accept garbage “exports” again.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with