My problem, but not in my back yard: Pushing polluting technologies to the South

‘I’ve always thought that underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted’

Lawrence Summers, chief economist of the World Bank, explaining why toxic wastes should be exported to Third World countries

For years polluting technologies such as incinerators, which have been rejected in the north have been pushed to developing countries. Due to health effects and public pressure, since 1995, dirty technologies such as incinerators in the US have been stopped. Due to this rejection in their own country, incinerator makers are pushing their deadly wares into developing countries such as Africa, where health and environmental regulations are lax.

The United States has been the power dog in the globalisation arena. In fact, no other period in human history has one country had as much direct and indirect global influence as the United States does today, reaching even into the most remote areas on our own African continent. The U.S. government has even facilitated exports of incinerators under the guise of “technology transfers” and “environmental exchanges.” A number of proposals for incinerators have taken place and are currently on the table in Africa, which are being pushed and funded by the United States.

US links with incinerators in SA
It was in February that I was invited to attend a meeting by Rainbow Millennium Power Company in Richards Bay. The meeting was to introduction stakeholders to a proposal to develop a 210 Megawatt power plant in Richards Bay. The project was to be funded by the United States Trade and Development Agency (US TDA). The TDA was said to provide a $534,000 grant to Rainbow Millennium for an $889,543 study. I heard that Rainbow Millennium and the U.S. study contractor Black and Veatch Corporation of Overland Park Kansas was to cover the remaining costs.

At the meeting, I was not surprised to see that the applicant for the project had tried to cover up the fact that the technology being proposed was an incinerator by hiding it behind a label called “circulation fluidised bed technology” However, I was glad to see that civil society had raised the issue that the proposal was an incinerator. This shows that civil society is beginning to understand the environmental and health effects that incinerators pose and that industry and domineering countries such as the US should not dictate to developing nations.

I was quite impressed to hear members of civil society questioning the applicants on health effects of the proposed power plant. Mercury seemed to be one of the concerns during the tea breaks from informal discussions amongst groups. This was important considering that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently stated that 70% of mercury emissions of human origin come from coal-fired power stations. Yet the technology to eliminate most of them already exists.

Other United States links with developing incinerators in South Africa include that of Peacock Bay Environmental Services (PBES) in Sasolburg and their proposal to build a hazardous waste facility, Mondi Paper in South Durban for the construction of a fluidised bed incinerator, the possible hazardous waste incinerator at Thor Chemicals in Cato Ridge and the proposed Kwikpower incinerator at Solid Waste Technologies.

World Bank and incineration promotion
During the course of last year, I was shocked by the results conducted by Essential Action into its survey of the World Bank Group (WBG) and its promotion of incineration. What was striking was despite the known health hazards and extreme economic burdens of incineration, the WBG continues to promote this dirty technology. It was shocking to see that at least 156 projects in 68 countries since 1993 and 26 projects since 2001 have included incineration. groundWork has sent a letter to our regional WBG to highlight our concerns over the WBG promotion of incinerators in South Africa. Projects in South Africa funded by the WBG for incineration include those of Lesidi hospital Proprietary Limited, AEF Florarcadia Private Limited, AEF Dialysis Centre, HIS Technologies (PTY) Limited and Foxtrot Meat Processors CC.

The mere fact that the WBG promotes incineration undermines the objectives of the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) treaty. It is imperative that if the WBG wants to dispel its many critics that claim that it only promotes the interest of multinational corporations, then it must institute operational policies that will prohibit projects that include waste incineration as well as prohibit projects that do not comply with the U.N Convention on POPs.

Finally, as the anti-globalisation movement gathers steam worldwide, and continues to incorporate environmentalism into its general philosophy, it is hoped that through continued awareness and pressure from civil society that the concept of globalisation will be dismantled.
Developing countries cannot afford to sit back and accept the agendas of developed countries or else, our biggest environmental problems will come from our own actions and the choices we make.

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