The Iru waste-to-energy plant could jeopardize Estonia's obligations to recycle more waste, the Estonian Waste Management Association says, although waste haulers beg to differ.
The association said data from other European countries indicates that where there is a waste incineration plant, less sorting takes place.
Residents of Viimsi municipality received a letter last month in which the waste management firm, Eesti Keskkonnateenused, announced it would discontinue picking up separately collected packaging such as milk cartons and plastic sleeves.
No reason was provided, but inquiries found that they felt that sorting of packaging was not profitable and the waste would end up in the furnaces of the Iru WTE plant anyway, ETV reported.
Parliamentary Environmental Affairs Committee chairman Rainer Vakra said the Iru waste incineration plant, which is located in the Jõelähtme Parish in Harju County, had disincentivized people from sorting waste and it was a "big step back" for green ethos.
"We are sawing the branch we're sitting on. The fact that we're burning waste at such a fast clip has already led to a situation where waste is at a deficit."
It is not known how exactly waste incineration has impacted sorting in Estonia. But Waste Management Association director Margit Rüütelmann said that Estonia's obligations to the EU were high. By 2020, 50 percent of the glass, metal, paper and plastic in mixed household waste are supposed to be recycled, and the quantities are large.
"We're talking about 27-30 percent being collected separately today, so it's a long road to 50 percent," she said.
A spokesman for the waste transporters said the plant at Iru was not a factor and that people's recycling habits had more of a role. The biggest risk to its business model, he said, was if local governments were to prohibit transporters from charging for transporting waste. Factors other than Iru - such as the price of companies' bids on waste transport contracts - are a bigger issue.
The Iru plant was opened by Eesti Energia in June 2013. It was hailed at the time for keeping waste out of landfills and lowering Tallinners' heating bills.