A Historic Leap in the Fight Against Waste Colonialism, Ocean Conservancy commits to working with GAIA Network to address damages done to impacted communities
Today the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in the Asia Pacific and its member organizations have concluded the first step of a restorative justice process with the U.S.-based organization Ocean Conservancy (OC). The process aims to address the years of damage brought about by its “Stemming the Tide” report (now removed from OC’s website) by correcting the narrative, and agreeing to restorative actions requested by communities and sectors most impacted by the report.
In contrast to the 2015 report which placed the responsibility for plastic waste solely on the shoulders of five Asian countries (China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam) while ignoring the role of the Global North in plastic overproduction and waste exports, this process is leading to new common ground. Agreements include prioritizing plastic reduction policies, moving resources to Zero Waste solutions, denouncing false solutions like burning plastics in so-called “waste to energy” (WTE) incinerators and “chemical recycling,” and accountability mechanisms.
”This unprecedented report retraction is an opportunity to interrupt decades of waste colonialism,” shares Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Coordinator. “Ocean Conservancy is in a position to raise awareness among other organizations and policymakers about the false narrative propagated by the report. We call on all organizations to adhere to democratic organizing principles when interacting with communities in the Global South, and to respect solutions that are grounded in the real situation of the communities.” Grate encourages advocates to reinforce the restorative justice process.
First coined in 1989, waste colonialism is the process by which rich and developed countries show dominance over other lesser-developed countries through toxic waste exports, leaving the receiving (and often, ill-equipped) countries to deal with the waste, thus severely affecting their communities and environment.
Christie Keith, GAIA International Coordinator, expounds, “The five Asian countries mentioned in the report are not to be blamed for plastic waste. That fault lies with the corporations that make and push out ever-increasing quantities of plastic – and those fighting for Zero Waste community solutions deserve to be honored and celebrated, not attacked. We welcome OC’s commitment to repair the harm done, and uplift Zero Waste solutions. ”
Aditi Varshneya, GAIA US Membership Coordinator, adds, “‘Stemming the Tide’ also harmed communities in more ways than one. The report’s findings have undermined long-standing community efforts to achieve sustainable policies on health, waste management, and funding.”
Rahyang Nusantara of Aliansi Zero Waste Indonesia emphasizes that, “The report (‘Stemming the Tide’) has harmed our communities but we are not victims because we have the solutions.” David Sutasurya of Yaksa Pelestari Bumi Berkelanjutan (YPBB) adds, “We have Zero Waste solutions to counter waste.” Sutasurya shares that in the first year of YPBB’s Zero Waste pilot areas in Bandung, the districts successfully diverted 950 kg of waste away from landfills daily and managed to save about IDR 63 million (USD 4,300) in waste transportation costs.
According to Satyarupa Shekhar, #breakfreefromplastic movement Asia Pacific Coordinator, “OC’s report, which was drafted by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm whose clientele includes some of the world’s top plastic polluters, diluted existing restrictions on incineration and opened the doors to false solutions and controversial techno-fixes to deal with the plastic pollution crisis. Some of the glaring examples are: in the Philippines, where a national ban on incineration is threatened by new proposals to allow WTE incineration plants, and in Indonesia, where the government continues to push for waste incineration despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruling revoked Presidential regulation No. 18/2016, which speed up the development of waste-based power plants or incinerators.“
Aside from retracting the report, OC acknowledged its mistake in focusing on plastic waste management and reconsidered its position on WTE incineration and other similar technologies to deal with the burgeoning plastic waste crisis. OC has also admitted its error in failing to look at the work of local communities and the subsequent effects of the report on them.
Welcoming OC’s change of position, Aileen Lucero of Ecowaste Coalition in the Philippines and Daru Rini of ECOTON in Indonesia illustrated that the current plastic crisis is not a waste management issue, but instead the problem should be addressed by looking at the entire lifecycle of plastic. Rini states that, “the problem begins the moment fossil fuels are extracted to produce single-use plastics (SUP).”
Fighting False Solutions to Plastic Pollution
In recent years, several false solutions have been offered to counteract the plastic crisis, from burning waste to “chemical recycling,” which in no way addresses the full lifecycle of plastic.
For Sonia Mendoza, Chairman of Mother Earth Foundation in the Philippines, “Each country should be responsible for the waste it generates and not export them under the guise of ‘trade’. Burning waste is not an option as well. WTE could as well mean: waste of energy.”
Looking at the current end life of SUPs, Xuan Quach, Vietnam Zero Waste Alliance chairman, highlights that, “WTE and chemical recycling are not sustainable.” To which, Nindhita Proboretno of Nexus 3 Foundation in Indonesia adds, “Those technologies are not environment-friendly solutions and have no place in a world struggling against climate change.”
Xavier Sun, organizer of the Taiwan Zero Waste Alliance, agrees, stating that such strategies only “cause further toxic pollution (such as bottom ash, fly ash, and greenhouse gases (GHGs) that damages our climate and human health. Additionally, they encourage further plastic production, and undermine real solutions.”
Moving toward Zero Waste
Meanwhile, Merci Ferrer of War on Waste-Break Free From Plastic (WOW-BFFP) – Negros Oriental in the Philippines, adds that “This process with OC would bring justice and recognition to the work of communities engaged in Zero Waste work.”
Summarizing the sentiments of all key leaders, Nalini Shekar of Hasiru Dala in India, adds, “The report has influenced decision makers to divert valuable resources meant for decentralized Zero Waste solutions to centralized, highly-mechanical unsustainable practices and caused other harm to communities. However, the report retraction is a step towards healing and reversing the damages done – showing once again that Zero Waste is the only sustainable solution.”
About GAIA – GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped.