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Can energy from waste be the answer to the garbage problem?

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By Victor V. Saulon
Sub-Editor

SEVERAL PROJECTS at different stages of development are in the process of making use of waste to come up with a useful output, the most ambitious of which is energy, either for the proponent’s own use or to serve a small surrounding community.
Holcim Philippines, Inc., through its co-processing brand Geocycle, is among those that have hurdled the strict permitting process, as well as safety and environmental requirements to make a productive use of waste.

Jon Alan M. Cuyno, Geocycle technical manager, said the waste management arm of the listed company co-processes waste materials coming from industries and other biomass.

“[We’re] producing cement while disposing waste materials and by using it [waste] as alternative fuel or alternative raw material,” he said.

The waste material is not necessarily from cement. It may come from several industries, including manufacturing plants, and even from the agriculture sector.

An example of that waste is the un-taxed cigarettes that were ordered to be destroyed by the Finance department, or the shredded currency bills that the central bank wants to get rid of.




Private companies would prefer not be tagged with anything relating to waste disposal, but food manufacturers would often tap Geocycle to dispose of expired grocery items.

For brand security, these waste items cannot just be brought to a landfill because there is no assurance that the product will not find their way back to grocery shelves. For some, even small bits like packaging materials cannot be brought to a regular landfill, again for brand security. Many multinationals also have a strict no-landfill policy, thus the need for entities such as Geocycle.

“If we talk about industries, what we offer is waste management services. It being services, pag may problema sila sa waste materials nila, nagbabayad sila. Si Geocycle ang binabayaran (if they have a problem with waste material, they pay. Geocycle is paid),” Mr. Cuyno said.

Geocycle’s co-processing plant is not incineration, he said, pointing to the temperature that reaches 2,000 degrees Celcius to turn waste into ash. Incineration reaches a temperature of only 300-600 degrees Celcius, he added.

He said waste material that goes through an incinerator will not have any useful output.

“[It’s] basically size-reduction,” he said, adding that the waste material is simply reduced in size but will still be placed in a landfill.

In cement co-processing, the ash is chemically bound with the cement, thus Geocycle has strict standards in prequalifying the waste materials that go into its plant. These are run under laboratory tests before going through a simulation if the material would affect the produced cement and at the same time pass emission and safety standards for the workers handling them.

Mr. Cuyno said these standards are not set locally. Global standards are used for co-processing as Holcim traces its origins from Switzerland, which has stricter environmental and safety regulations.

Even countries outside the homebase follow the same standards “as if they were in Switzerland,” he said. Given a lax local standard and a strict Swiss standard, the foreign one is followed, he added.

Geocycle started lobbying for approval of its co-processing facility as early as 2003, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Science and Technology. Its co-processing plants in Bulacan and La Union started operating after Holcim secured its treatment storage disposal permit in 2003, Mr. Cuyno said.

Like Geocycle, other entities are on their way to harnessing energy from waste. One of them is Metro Clark Waste Management Corp., which is looking at a waste-to-energy project once the cost of putting up a facility would become a profitable business proposition.

Several local government units are also looking at similar projects. For instance, Davao City is planning to build a waste-to-energy facility that can produce around 12 megawatts of electricity once completed in the next four years.

But the coast is not yet clear for them. There will always be a threat of a court-issued restraining order that could halt a project and cause costly delays.

Environmentalists are also watching closely. Jorge A. Emmanuel, energy technology specialist at Silliman University, said waste-to-energy facilities would encourage communities to produce more waste instead of doing the opposite.

“My fear is that this will enable this vicious cycle of continuing more and more waste in our society instead of actually reducing it,” he said.

“There have been successes of zero-waste around the world,” he said. “It can be done. It has been shown to work here in the Philippines.”