Under a rule passed last year that prohibited the export of some plastic garbage, Australia would allow plastic waste to be sent overseas and burnt as fuel, according to the environment minister’s office, triggering charges of hypocrisy from opponents.
Australia was lauded for enacting a pioneering waste export ban in reaction to public outrage over affluent countries exporting rubbish to impoverished countries, where it is frequently abandoned, burnt, or leaks into the ocean.
However, only days after the Recycling and Waste Reduction Act went into force on July 1, last year, Australia awarded a permit to its largest waste-to-energy facility to export plastic trash as a fuel.
The permit awarded to Cleanaway Waste Management Limited and ResourceCo Pty Ltd. is the first assurance that Australia will transport plastic rubbish under the Processed Engineered Fuel classification. (PEF).
Waste-derived fuels, such as PEF (a shredded and compressed combination of waste such as plastic, wood, and metal), are utilised as a low-cost alternative to coal by cement businesses and incinerators, who promote its usage as a strategy to reduce fossil fuel consumption.
According to some scientists and environmentalists, using plastic as a fuel hinders a much-needed transition to cleaner energy, increases greenhouse gas emissions, and releases harmful compounds that endanger human health. Environmental groups said Australia had misled the public and ensured its waste would continue to pollute developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia which has become the main destination for the rich world’s waste.
With only 10% of global plastic waste recycled, burning plastic as a fuel is becoming increasingly popular as a way to get rid of soaring volumes of single-use plastic trash. Plastic production, a key growth area for the petrochemicals industry, is due to double over the next 20 years.
Reference- Reuters, National Geographic, Break Free From Plastic Newsletter, Down To Earth