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Plastic Waste, Refuse Derived Fuels (Rdf) And Cement Kilns Report In Uganda
Overall, the widespread recycling of plastic has been a failure. Globally, only about 9% of all plastic produced is recycled with the rest incinerated, dumped in landfills or burned in open air (OECD, 2022). Many governments are now turning to burning plastics to claim they are either recycling plastic waste through energy recovery or diverting it from landfills. The main reasons recycling has failed is due to most plastics containing a range of toxic additives that make them difficult to recycle or not being designed to be recycled. The more difficult it is to recycle a plastic, the more it costs. The cost of recycled plastic is often a lot higher than virgin plastic, discouraging further recycling investment as the business model is rarely viable when competing against new plastic. Recent stricter regulation of plastic waste exports has exacerbated this situation and countries are seeking ways to continue to export their waste, generally from wealthy countries to less developed countries. Plastics contributed 3.4% of the global greenhouse emissions in 2019, 90% of it from "production and conversion from fossil fuels” (OECD, 2022).
One approach that has been taken by a number of countries, including Australia, is to manufacture, use and export Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) which is a mix of plastic waste (about 25-35%), timber waste, textiles, paper and other combustible materials. The materials are shredded and turned into either compressed bales or pellets, and are burned in cement kilns, incinerators and industrial boilers as ‘alternative fuel’ to fossil fuels (even though plastic is made from fossil fuels). Sometimes it is not baled or pelletized but simply shredded. This is called ‘loose RDF’, or in some countries, ‘fluff’. It has been reported that cement kilns across the world now use up to 50% RDF as part of their fuel needs and have been claiming carbon credits and similar benefits from what they claim is ‘low carbon ‘fuel. Exporting plastic waste as RDF means it is categorized as ‘fuel product’ and not waste, thereby, not falling under the Basel Convention. This project is designed to help reveal the scale and extent of RDF use in Uganda, its origins and fate.
This report relates to the Sustainable Development goals 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12 and 16.
Special thanks to IPEN's Anglophone Africa’s Regional Silvani Mng'anya, IPEN's Anglophone Africa Regional Hub AGENDA for their support to the project and the lead organization developing this report, NESMAC Kitara, for their important contributions to the development and finalization of the project.