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Turning waste products into building blocks of the future

The Philippines is among the largest plastic polluters in the world, with plastic products overflowing from landfills and finding their way into our natural resources, our waterways, and even the seas surrounding the country. Simply disposing of them is clearly not enough as the use of plastic, particularly for packaging continues to be the most feasible method of protecting and distributing goods.

Recycling may be one of the most feasible means to address this, but not by creating new packaging from them. For ACEN, the listed energy platform of the Ayala group, waste products have found a way to turn into literal building blocks of the future.

A new kind of block

ACEN’s solution is to collect, shred, and upcycle plastic waste to create eco-products that can be used for construction. They aren’t just for any buildings, but structures that contribute to a better environment. In ACEN’s case, this recycled construction material is used to build renewable energy facilities that further reduce our country’s dependence on fossil fuels and carbon emissions.

ACEN calls this its circular strategy because it collects plastic waste, diverts it from landfills, and in the process, provides green jobs to the communities where it operates. It is a win-win situation for the company, its host communities, and the environment, because waste is reduced, building material is created, jobs are produced, and less waste and carbon are emitted to the environment in the process.

Eco-bricks for green buildings

ACEN piloted this circular approach in 2020 during the construction of its 120 MW Alaminos Solar farm in Laguna and its 63 MW Palauig Solar farm in Zambales. In collaboration with Green Antz Builders, an environmental solutions company, ACEN installed a recycling facility in the construction sites to shred the plastic waste into eco-bricks that can be used as construction materials for the solar plant facilities. The eco-products are then used in the project’s construction of key facilities, and will eventually be made available to other clients (e.g. Ayala Land) and even the local community for purchase.

ACEN’s 120 MW Alaminos Solar farm in Laguna has integrated a circular approach since its construction, using eco-bricks to build key facilities such as the control building.

Eventually, ACEN also integrated the same approach in 2021 when it started constructing its latest solar project, the 283 MW SanMar Solar in Zambales, poised to become the Philippines’ largest solar farm that sits across 500-hectare of unutilized land covered by lahar.

To date, close to 42,000 kg of plastic waste has been collected from ACEN’s Alaminos and San Marcelino solar plants in Laguna and Zambales, respectively. These have been converted into approximately 309,000 eco-products, equivalent to the weight of 33 compact-sized cars.

ACEN then expanded its circular approach up north, where it currently operates three wind farms. On July 30, 2021, ACEN and Green Antz inaugurated the Ilocos Norte Community Eco Hub at the municipality of Piddig to convert plastic waste into eco-products, with the support of the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte.

Through the collaborative efforts of ACEN, Green Antz, and the Ilocos Norte provincial government, the Ilocos Norte Eco Hub converts the community’s plastic waste into eco-products which are then used as sustainable construction materials.

The Ilocos Norte Eco Hub now serves as a community plastic waste recycling facility, with plastic waste sourced through various collection points across the community such as sari-sari stores, schools, markets, convenience stores, and resorts.

Approximately 60,500 of these eco-products have been integrated into the construction of substation perimeter walls and control buildings of ACEN’s Ilocos Norte wind farms, including the newly inaugurated 160 MW Pagudpud Wind.

Just recently, ACEN’s 81 MW North Luzon Renewables (NLR) wind farm, together with the Department of Education Schools Division of Ilocos Norte, also kicked off the construction of an eco-classroom at Caparispisan Elementary School. The classroom will be built using eco-casts and eco-bricks from the Ilocos Norte Eco Hub and will be sustainably powered by solar energy. It is just one of the many schools in the province where ACEN’s circularity framework is being integrated.

This year, ACEN has reinforced its commitment to sustainability as it began construction of its second eco hub project with Green Antz Builders in July – the Alaminos Community Eco Hub. Located within its Alaminos Solar farm, it will also serve as a recycling facility to convert the community’s plastic waste into eco-bricks as part of its strengthened circularity framework.

Construction is now underway for ACEN’s Alaminos Community Eco Hub, located within its Alaminos Solar farm in Laguna. (In photo from left to right): Mike Zotomayor, former lead for Luzon plant operations; Lord Lee Van Burgos, lead for Philippine plant operations; Irene Maranan, VP & head for corporate communications and sustainability; Glenn Flores, Alaminos mayor; Miguel de Jesus, chief operating officer for Philippine operations; Rommel Benig, Green Antz president & CEO.

The Alaminos Community Eco Hub, which has gained support from the local government, aims to create green jobs for the community. Particularly, ACEN has tapped the Pangkat Ugnayan ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Alaminos (PUNLA), a community-based people’s organization composed of local farmers from Alaminos, to operate and manage the eco hub on its second year. During the first year of operations, the facility will be operated and managed by Green Antz.

All told, these efforts have not only promoted sustainability but also led to estimated cost savings of 10-20% on construction expenses. By embedding a circular approach in its business processes, ACEN has been proactively driving a green solution to tackle plastic waste and provide livelihoods to the local host community.

“These programs, which make use of our strengthened circularity strategy, wouldn’t be possible without the support and cooperation of our different stakeholders, including local governments and various environmental and social groups,” said Irene Maranan, vice president and head of corporate communications and sustainability.

A blueprint for the future

As ACEN aggressively expands its renewable energy business, the company aims to integrate this transformational initiative within its developments to create long-term impact for the environment and the community.

The success of the initiative has made the circular strategy a core tenet of the company’s operations. On the ground, ACEN’s development team is now reimagining its approach to plant waste management in developing new projects, ensuring the proper collection of plastic waste both within and outside of ACEN’s facilities.

ACEN also ensures that it shares the same vision of sustainability with its stakeholders and partners, incorporating the adherence to the circularity framework as part of the contract requirements, thus creating bigger ripples 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 Maranan.

As ACEN has demonstrated, the shift to renewable energy should not be limited to just the power produced, but in renewing the environment and future of the community.

Credit belongs to : www.mb.com.ph

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