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Jakarta Post

Waste-based power plants worsen air pollution, global warming: Environmentalists

  • Arya Dipa

    The Jakarta Post

Bandung, West Java   /   Thu, January 16, 2020   /   04:30 pm
Waste-based power plants worsen air pollution, global warming: Environmentalists The Bantar Gebang waste landfill in Bekasi, West Java. (AFP/Goh Chai Hin)

Environmentalists have urged against using incinerators as waste-to-energy power plants (PLTSa) to tackle garbage problem in cities across the country, saying that they would cause more environmental problems.

Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) executive director Nur Hidayati said that such a method of burning trash could aggravate pollution as it releases harmful toxins into the air.

Walhi is one of eight civil society organizations grouped under the Indonesian Zero Waste Alliance, which has raised similar concerns.

“PLTSa construction in Jakarta and 11 other cities clearly contradicts the low-carbon economy that is poised to help reach the 1.5-degree Celsius target of the Paris Climate Agreement,” Nur said in a statement, quoting the pact's intent to limit global warming to 1.5 C above the preindustrial benchmarks.

If the collective’s claims are proven true, then the PLTSa would worsen the already polluted air in some cities. 

Jakarta ranked as the city with the worst air quality in Southeast Asia in 2018 with daily average air quality being 4.5 times worse than the limit set by the World Health Organization, according to a Greenpeace study published in March last year.

The alliance also encourages the government to do lab evaluations of dioxin, a hazardous chemical emitted from burning waste, twice every year instead of every five years as at present. Simultaneously, the coalition urged the government to categorize a PLTSa’s ashes as hazardous and toxic (B3) waste and prevent them from being discarded in final waste disposals (TPAs).

Through the issuance of Presidential Regulation No. 35/2018, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's administration plans to develop PLTSas in 12 cities, including in Jakarta, Bandung and Tangerang in West Java, Semarang in Central Java and Makassar in South Sulawesi, in order to address waste problems in these areas. 

“This is a waste-to-energy concept, from trash to producing electricity. The trash processed in this plant is that which cannot be recycled,” Assessment and Application of Technology Agency (BPPT) head Hammam Riza said last year in the Bantar Gebang Integrated Waste Treatment Area in Bekasi, West Java, where a PLTSa pilot project was launched.

Indonesia dumps the equivalent of a 10-ton truckload of plastic into its waters every 20 minutes, a 2018 World Bank assessment showed, while the government estimates that about 66 million tons of trash was produced in the country in 2018.

Meanwhile, many countries in the world have shifted from incinerators to a zero-waste approach,  said environmental chemistry professor Paul Connett from the St. Lawrence University in New York, the United States, during a national tour with the coalition.

Aside from being friendlier to the environment, the zero-waste approach also reduced investment needs and operational costs that would have otherwise been high with incinerators.

“Zero waste is not a dream. It's already happening, also in Indonesia," Paul said.