IPEN International Pollutants Elimination Network

Get Out of Jail Free in the Philippines: How Plastics Offsetting is Giving Industry a License to Pollute

Unwanted plastic is clogging seas and rivers in the Philippines. Instead of cutting production, polluters are backing a “green” scheme that burns it to make cement.

After a grueling day paddling along the San Juan River though downtown Manila, Boyet Tingson draws up his fiberglass boat at a shipping container on the concrete bank where Lorme Villarba and her husband Tony weigh his day’s catch.

Tingson, a 49-year-old father of four, is fishing for plastic. The bottles, bags and other refuse he has collected will today earn him 156 Philippines pesos, less than US$3—just enough to see his family through their next meal.

The container is supplied by PCX, or Plastic Credit Exchange, a Philippines-based plastic offsetting company. By collecting and disposing of plastic refuse it generates credits that some of the world’s biggest companies like Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive and Pepsi Cola Products Philippines can then claim to be “cancelling out” the waste they generate.

A SourceMaterial investigation found that more than 80% of the plastic collected by PCX’s program, marketed as “meaningful, credible and sustainable”, is delivered to cement manufacturers who burn it for fuel, generating thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases, as well as chemicals linked with cancer.

Each year the world produces about 400 million tons of plastic waste—roughly the combined weight of all the people on the planet—and just 9% is recycled. This week as the United Nations meets in Nairobi to draft a global treaty on plastic pollution, the conglomerates that account for much of the waste will be lobbying for “innovative” measures like the growing offsetting market to be part of the solution.

Instead, it’s fast becoming part of the problem, allowing polluters to buy their way out of trouble. Cement accounts for some 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions—more than aviation. A scheme that claims to be good for the environment and the climate shouldn’t be fueling a highly polluting industry, said Yuyun Ismawati, an adviser to the International Pollutants Elimination Network.

“They have just created a new hazard that didn’t exist before,” she said. “Physically we can see plastic, but when we burn it, it becomes more dangerous because it is invisible. It’s like a shapeshifter.”

Read the full story from Bloomberg/Source Material.