JAPAN: Officials Blamed for Promoting Toxic Incinerators in Thailand

Japan is using official lending agencies which provide development aid to promote the export of Japanese incinerators to Thailand, Greenpeace alleges. The environmental group says Japan is seeking new markets for its incinerators because the market at home has diminished due to public concern over pollution levels.

Protesting the toxic ash created by burning Thai garbage in Japanese incinerators, Greenpeace activists brought a barrel of contaminated residue to the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok on Tuesday.

A current project proposes to burn Bangkok's waste in four Japanese funded incinerators, each with a daily capacity of 1,300 tons, at a cost of 20,000 million Thai baht ($US540 million). The amount would be given as a soft loan to the Thai government for the purchase of Japanese incinerators, Greenpeace says.

Municipal waste incinerators can release dangerous levels of heavy metals and toxic byproducts of combustion such as known carcinogens dioxins and furans.

The Japanese incinerators have been used as a means to cut down on the garbage problem in places such as the tourist destination of Phuket, Thailand, a tropical island province with a population of 200,000.

In January, Greenpeace Thailand released a scientific report which found toxic substances in ash dumped beside the Phuket incinerator facility. The study showed elevated levels of toxic heavy metals like lead, cadmium and copper in the incinerator ash dumped in open pits. Lead and cadmium levels in the ash of the Phuket incinerator were found to be 30 to 100 times higher than background levels, said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Tara Buakamsri.

As alternatives to incineration, Greenpeace advocates increased recycling and community waste reduction strategies. Greenpeace has urged the Thai government to declare a moratorium on the construction of new incineration projects and develop alternatives to existing plants.

The White Pearl Group has been meeting in Phuket since November 1997 to discuss waste management issues and plan public awareness campaigns to reduce waste produced in Phuket. Members include municipal and provincial government officials, private sector groups, representatives of the Phuket Tourist and Hotel Associations, and local non-government organisations. A pilot composting project with three hotels has been declared an enormous success, producing garden-ready compost fertiliser within seven weeks.

In 1998, Japan provided Thailand with 117,562 million yen in broad economic development loans targeted to aid in the economic recovery of Thailand after the Asian economic crisis. In 1999, further large loans were provided by Japan's Overseas Development Assistance program.

The long-term loans, payable over 25 and 40 years at very low interest rates, cover mass transit development, social services, electric power and gas infrastructure development, mining and manufacturing, telecommunications, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, irrigation and flood control projects.

Greenpeace claims that Japan is using these and other loans as leverage to place Japanese made incinerators in Thailand.

"Japan can't fool the Thai public by giving incinerators as hand-outs just to expand their markets. Peddling discredited and environmentally polluting technologies such as incineration is tantamount to a toxic invasion," said Buakamsri.

Greenpeace claims that studies show Japanese people carry some of the highest levels of life threatening chemicals such as dioxins in their bodies as a result of the widespread, but now discouraged practice of incineration.

Ayako Sekine, Greenpeace Japan toxic campaigner currently in Thailand, said, "It is ironic that after polluting Japan, Japanese incinerator companies supported by the Japanese government are taking their toxic trade to poorer Asian nations like Thailand. Japan should be assisting Thailand to move towards progressive waste reduction, segregation and recycling programs."

Thailand disposes of about 80 percent of its municipal wastes by landfilling, says the newly published report "The State of the Environment in Asia: 1999-2000." Yoshida Fumikazu writes, "Incineration rates in Japan and Singapore are high at around 70 percent, but landfilling is more common in other countries. In Asia as a whole the greatest concern is environmental and sanitation problems caused by inappropriate waste management, but other major problems include collection systems that cannot keep pace with increasing municipal solid waste amounts, inadequate processing, and too few landfill sites."

The Thai Pollution Control Department announced plans in early 1998 to reduce community waste by 10 percent within two years through recycling. Nisakorn Kositrat, chief of the department's Solid Waste and Hazardous Substance Management Division, said that recycling is necessary because of the soaring cost of waste disposal due to landfill site shortages, among other problems. "Urban communities nationwide are expected to generate more than 26,000 tons of waste daily between 1998-2002, and 10 percent of that total is targeted for recycling," said Nisakorn.

Japanese incinerator technologies have been developed that greatly reduce acid gases, particulate matter, and heavy metals such as mercury. In some systems, advanced combustion control is introduced to reduce dioxin generation, and specialized filters remove about 90 percent of the dioxins generated.

Japan's Global Environment Centre Foundation provides technical descriptions about a range of incineration technologies at: http://www.unep.or.jp/CTT_DATA/index_waste.html

AMP Section Name:Environment
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