photo by Al via flickr
Here's one that shows that municipal waste-to-energy programs can sometimes be dirty business. Mother Jones is running an article about how, in Delhi, Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism is being twisted around to build a waste incinerator which not only likely cause more pollution, but will also put tens of thousands of people out of work.
Waste Picking in a Nutshell
It's estimated that 59% of Delhi's waste is recycled courtesy of waste pickers, who sift through trash to recover salable waste. It's hardly a glamorous, clean, or particularly lucrative life, but for approximately 1% of the population it's all they have. In the process of making a meagre income, they also provide a public service.
The result of all this is that for over a decade waste incineration projects in Delhi have been considered un-viable, due to the quality of the trash. In short, waste-pickers have removed all of the burnable material with what remains containing "too much ash and sand and noncombustible inert materials".
Enter the Incinerator
Nonetheless, a new incinerator is planned to be built in the Delhi suburb of Timarpur. Using some skewed logic, it will receive carbon credits—which can ultimately be sold on to a country wishing to reduce their on-paper carbon emissions—because of the amount of methane released from the landfill will be reduced as the waste is turned into electricity.
In order that the trash remains of high enough quality to actually be used in the incinerator, waste-pickers are being denied access to the landfill.
Valuable Recycling Skills Being Wiped Out
Bharati Chaturvedi, director of an NGO which provides education for waste-pickers:
They are effectively denying a livelihood to the poorest of the poor in setting up this incinerator. To take that miserable existence away, it's criminal. And now we're seeing skyrocketing food prices. What will these people do? Huge local skills in recycling are now being wiped out, skills essential for a sustainable society.
Please read The Waste Pickers of Delhi for a more complete picture of one example of some pretty severe unintended consequences and government shenanigans.
NOTE: A commenter has pointed out that the 1% figure of the population sifting through the trash to make a living is probably a high estimate. Investigating the Chintan website, the source of the statistic, I could not come up with how the statstic was derived, but suspect they are referring to the entire informal recycling sector, and not strictly waste-pickers, being 1% of the Delhi population.
FURTHER CLARIFICATION: For more information on the specifics of the Timarpur incinerator, :: Down to Earth has some more details. Though they do seem to contradict the notion that this will be a new plant, rather it is a revival of a failed plan from 18 years ago: Designed to turn 300 tonnes of municipal waste per day into 3.75 MW of electricity, the plant was closed after only 21 days.