The Philippines Tackles Plastic Pollution Through Upcycling Waste into Building Materials
The Philippines has long been recognized as one of the world’s biggest contributors to plastic pollution. Landfills are overflowing with plastic waste, and these non-biodegradable materials have been infiltrating natural resources, waterways, and surrounding seas. Simply disposing of these plastics is not enough, as plastic packaging continues to be the most practical means of protecting and distributing goods.
However, AC Energy (ACEN), the energy platform of the Ayala group, has found a revolutionary solution to this problem. Rather than creating new packaging from plastic waste, ACEN has discovered a way to transform plastic waste into building blocks for the future.
ACEN collects, shreds, and upcycles plastic waste to create eco-products that can be used for construction. These materials are not just for any buildings, but for structures that contribute to a better environment. ACEN uses this recycled construction material to build renewable energy facilities, further reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels and carbon emissions.
ACEN refers to this approach as its circular strategy. By collecting plastic waste and diverting it from landfills, ACEN provides green jobs to the communities where it operates. This system benefits the company, its host communities, and the environment by reducing waste, creating building materials, generating employment opportunities, and emitting less waste and carbon into the environment.
The circular approach was first piloted by ACEN during the construction of its 120 MW Alaminos Solar farm in Laguna and its 63 MW Palauig Solar farm in Zambales in 2020. Working with Green Antz Builders, an environmental solutions company, ACEN installed recycling facilities at the construction sites to shred plastic waste into eco-bricks, which were then used as construction materials for the solar plant facilities. These eco-products will also be made available to other clients and the local community for purchase.
ACEN continued to implement this approach in 2021 during the construction of its latest solar project, the 283 MW SanMar Solar in Zambales, set to become the country’s largest solar farm. So far, close to 42,000 kg of plastic waste from ACEN’s Alaminos and San Marcelino solar plants has been converted into approximately 309,000 eco-products, equivalent to the weight of 33 compact-sized cars.
Expanding its circular approach, ACEN’s three wind farms up north also adopted the same strategy. Together with Green Antz, ACEN inaugurated the Ilocos Norte Community Eco Hub in Piddig on July 30, 2021. The hub converts plastic waste from various collection points across the community into eco-products, which are then used as sustainable construction materials for the Ilocos Norte wind farms.
Approximately 60,500 eco-products from the Ilocos Norte Eco Hub have already been integrated into the construction of substation perimeter walls and control buildings at ACEN’s wind farms, including the newly inaugurated 160 MW Pagudpud Wind.
ACEN’s circularity framework is not limited to energy infrastructure projects. The company, in collaboration with the Department of Education Schools Division of Ilocos Norte, has also started constructing an eco-classroom at Caparispisan Elementary School using eco-casts and eco-bricks from the Ilocos Norte Eco Hub. The classroom will be sustainably powered by solar energy.
Additionally, ACEN began construction of the Alaminos Community Eco Hub within its Alaminos Solar farm this year. Supported by the local government, the eco hub aims to create green jobs for the community, partnering with the local farmers’ organization, Pangkat Ugnayan ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Alaminos (PUNLA), to operate and manage the facility in its second year.
These initiatives not only promote sustainability but also result in estimated cost savings of 10-20% on construction expenses. ACEN’s transformational initiative has become a core tenet of the company’s operations. The company’s development team is reimagining its approach to plant waste management in new projects, ensuring proper collection of plastic waste both within and outside ACEN’s facilities.
ACEN also ensures that its stakeholders and partners share the same vision of sustainability. Adherence to the circularity framework is incorporated into contract requirements, creating a ripple effect of sustainability.
“As we drive the energy transition forward, our advocacy for sustainability has remained steadfast, and it will always be at the heart of what we do. We will continue to be collaborative with our stakeholders to improve the quality of life of our host communities and make a difference for the planet,” said Irene Maranan, Vice President and Head of Corporate Communications and Sustainability at AC Energy.
ACEN’s success with its circular strategy sets a blueprint for the future. As the company expands its renewable energy business, it aims to integrate this transformative initiative into its developments, creating long-term impacts for the environment and the community.