Debunking Waste-To-Energy Incineration

Marking the International Zero Waste Month 2024, the Symposium: Debunking Waste-To-Energy Incineration


written by Yuenmei Wong1 , independent researcher

Photo credits: Wong Chiew Kung, ECO Sustainable Resources

“This year, 2023, marks the 20th anniversary of the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP), Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) involvement in promoting zero waste and supporting community protests against the construction of waste-to-energy (WtE) incinerators in peninsular Malaysia, since Waste Not Asia conference in 2003 in Penang, bracing the community impacted by the first waste-to-energy municipal solid waste proposal in Broga-Semenyih, Selangor to the community affected by the Sultan Idris Shah (SIS) waste-to-energy (WtE) Selangor Green Energy Eco Park (SGEEP) proposal in Batu Arang/Bandar Tasik Puteri in Rawang, Selangor .” Announced by the Convener of the Symposium, Yuenmei Wong.

In conjunction with International Zero Waste Month 2024, the Symposium: Debunking Waste-To-Energy Incineration, co-organized by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM – Friends of the Earth Malaysia), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Mageswari Sangaralingam, senior research officer of CAP and honorary secretary of SAM, affirmed in her Welcome Remarks and Opening Speech, “We are non-governmental organizations working on environmental and social justice issues. CAP and SAM are members of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), a network of grassroots groups and national and regional alliances representing over 1000 organizations from 92 countries whose ultimate vision is a just, toxic-free world without incineration.”

“GAIA is currently coordinating the Zero Waste Cities Project – a collaboration between 15 organizations implementing zero waste programs in more than 20 cities in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and India, including the Zero Waste Island Project funded by the Blue Partnership Action Fund (BPAF), a global movement of more than 1600 organizations, whose vision is a future free from plastic pollution.” Announced by Froilan Grate, the Regional Coordinator of GAIA Asia Pacific, in his keynote delivery.

“Why is debunking waste-to-energy incineration for Malaysia crucial and critical at the dawn of 2024?” The question was raised by Yuenmei Wong, the Convener of the Symposium. “On 14 December 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution 77/161 entitled “Promoting zero-waste initiatives to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” at its seventy-seventh session to establish Zero Waste for making fundamental changes in how societies produce and consume goods and services, addressing the root causes for ending the waste crisis. UN resolution 77/161 aims to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, support the societal shift towards circularity and raise awareness about how zero-waste initiatives contribute to advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” To follow on, Yuenmei Wong highlighted that “under General Assembly resolution 77/161, the President of the General Assembly, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme and UN-Habitat, convened a high-level meeting on “The Role Of Zero Waste As A Transformative Solution In Achieving The SDGs” on Thursday, 30 March 2023 in New York, the USA. As a Malaysia delegate, Mr Sofian Akmal Abd Karim, the Deputy Permanent Representative Of Malaysia To The United Nations, reiterated Malaysia’s commitment to embracing the circular economy model in the National Development Plan (12th Malaysia Plan, 2021-2025) and Malaysia’s Cleanliness Policy 2019, in which Malaysia’s solid waste management will be strengthened to ensure compliance with existing standards set by the local, state and federal governments. Waste will be managed holistically and sustainably by intensifying the reduce, reuse and recycle (3R) initiative. Domestic waste separation and recycling facilities will be improved to support the initiative, particularly in residential, institutional and commercial areas.”

Yuenmei Wong further explained, “Prior to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 77/161, the European Union withdrew financial support to the construction of WtE incinerators due to CO2 emission problems:

  • In 2017, the European Union called for a ban on investment in WTE and tax changes in the EU removed public support for WTE investment.
  • In 2018, the Sustainable Finance Investment Guide for the European Investment Bank excluded WTE as an acceptable investment.
  • In 2019, the European Green Deal (European Green Deal), established by the European Commission, requires waste reduction (waste reduction), increasing the level of recycling and preserving the right to repair (repair for reuse).
  • In 2020, the EU Taxonomy Regulation 2020 removed incinerators (WTE) from the definition of environmentally sustainable and denied incinerators as a cyclical economic activity. The European Environmental Bureau Climate Action Plan adopts a new circular economy action plan (CEAP) and calls for the end of WTE by 2040.
  • In 2022, the European Parliament included municipal incinerators in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) scope, which sets a price for CO2 emissions from municipal waste incinerators until 2026.

Aligning to the themes of the International Zero Waste Month, the Symposium is dedicated to exposing and debunking false solutions. The Symposium will be a platform for international and regional researchers, activists and non-governmental organizations to gather situation analysis and updated knowledge on waste-to-energy incineration from key Asia Pacific countries, namely China, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and share experiences of Zero Waste Europe.”

Mr Timo Goosmann, the Counsellor and Head of the Section for Political Affairs, Press and Information, of the Delegation of the European Union to Malaysia, in his keynote address, underlined that the European Green Deal comprises 165 legislation and guidelines is a complex legislative framework which require not only compliance in legislations but also the mindset and behavioural change (in attaining a zero waste future).”

Albrecht Arthur N. Arevalo, the Climate and Anti-Incinerator Campaigner of GAIA Asia Pacific, provided much evidence on the impact of waste incinerators on humans and the environment in the Asia Pacific region. Dr Jorge Emmanuel from the Environmental Science and Engineering at Silliman University in Dumaguete, the Philippines, emphasized the international mechanism, measurement and guidelines for waste incineration regulations and highlighted the primary and secondary procedures in the Stockholm Convention in which Malaysia is a signatory.

Yuenmei Wong, an independent researcher from Malaysia and the symposium convener pointed out that Malaysia’s limited legislations focus on essential solid waste management, including collection, disposal, and infrastructure necessities, and lack of enforcement on waste minimization of resource extraction. While the first pilot fluidized-bed gasification technology and the ash-melting system in Broga, Semenyih was cancelled in 2006 by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Municipal Council of Kajang initiated the first Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) plant in Kampung Pasir Baru in Semenyih, finally closed down permanently in 2015 after nine years of public complaints of its environmental pollution. Between 2012 and 2022, the Cabinet has approved seven WtE incinerators tendered by the Ministry in the states of Johor, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Penang and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. The Selangor State Executive Council has approved six (6) WtE incinerators with a daily burning capacity of 9,000 tonnes of MSW and 100 tonnes of scheduled waste in northern Selangor. Abdul Ghofar, the Campaign Manager for Pollution and Urban Justice at WALHI (The Indonesian Forum for Environment) or Friends of the Earth Indonesia, identified communities affected by the WtE projects in twelve cities in Indonesia, and three cities have cancelled their projects in response to the public demand, community protests and potential financial loss. Ninya Sarmiento, the Campaigner of the Plastic Free Pilipinas Project of the EcoWaste Coalition, spotted politicians in the Philippines lobbying to legalize waste incineration despite the ban on general waste incineration in 1999 and medical waste in 2003.

Lee Jiacheng, a Wuhu Ecology Centre researcher, warned that China needs standardization and redefinition of waste-to-energy (WtE) incineration policy. Municipal WtE incinerators have increased tremendously from 130 in 2011 to 927 at the end of 2022. However, more than forty Not-In-My-Backyard Movement (NIMBY) in the past decade compelled the China government to improve regulations on waste-to-energy incineration. “When most of China’s big cities enforced mandatory waste sorting, the operational data from waste-to-power plants between 2020 and 2023 revealed that “planned stoppages” often occurred. According to their study of 29 province-level administrations, the national overcapacity figure for 2022 was 100.99%, with overcapacity found in 12 administrations.” Yuichiro Hattori, Researcher and former Solid Waste Management Officer in Japan, highlighted that despite Japan’s overreliance on waste-to-energy incineration and compromised recycling efforts; it is found that WtE incineration only contributes to about 3% of the national electricity grid. Coupled with the compliance requirement for high environmental standards, WtE has become a less cost-effective industry. In the last century, WtE incinerators have closed down and decreased from 1965 WtE incinerators in the 1975 to 1028 WtE incinerators in 2024.

Jane Bremmer, the Campaign Coordinator of Toxics-Free Australia, sadly pointed out the regression in waste minimization in Australia. “On the eve of the new global Plastics Treaty negotiations in Paris, the Australian Environment Minister has decided to reopen plastic waste exports after the previous federal government introduced a five-year ban. The 2019 ban on waste exports came in response to China and Southeast Asian countries` exposure to waste dumping.” Janek Vahk, Zero Pollution Policy Manager of Zero Waste Europe, highlighted the milestone achieved by the European Union since 2015, excluding WtE incineration from financial support and shifting to prioritizing waste minimization. Janek doesn’t want Asia Pacific or Malaysia to repeat the mistakes that Europe made in the past.

During the press conference, the convener of the symposium, Yuenmei Wong called upon the Malaysian government and the ASEAN regional governance to embrace zero waste, enforce waste minimization in the immediate future, review all relevant public policies to ensure responsible consumption and production and end all WtE incineration proposals or plans.

Yuenmei Wong, in her closing remarks, expressed her heartfelt appreciation to the organizers, GAIA, CAP and SAM, for never giving up on the community affected by WtE incinerators in the country and the region. “To journey on in this fight, you are not alone”, a beautiful remark made by Froilan Grate, the Regional Coordinator of GAIA Asia Pacific, concludes the ending of the symposium.


Yuenmei Wong is a feminist researcher and consultant investigating gender equality, environmental justice, climate change, and labour. She has conducted research on the proposed thermal treatment plant [incinerator] for solid waste management at Broga, Mukim Semenyih, Daerah Hulu Langat, Selangor Darul Ehsan (between 2002 and 2007), and on the proposed Sultan Idris Shah [Waste-To-Energy] Green Energy Plant or Selangor Green Energy Ecopark (SGEEP) (between 2023 and 2024) Between 2002 and 2007, she was a member of the Broga-Semenyih No Incinerator Protem Action Committee, participated at the Waste Not Asia Conference 2003 (Penang, Malaysia), Waste Not Asia Conference 2005 (Seoul, South Korea), Waste Not Asia Conference 2007 (Kerala, India) and presented at the Waste Not Europe 2007 (Hondarribia, Spain). In 2005, with a small grant from the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), the documentary Alice Lives Here was produced for a national campaign and was screened at the 10th Association for Women’s Rights In Development’s International Forum on Women: How Does Change Happen? in Bangkok, Thailand.