Garbage needed for Estonia's waste-to-energy plants must be imported (1)
When demand for garbage, used to generate heat for homes in Tallinn as well as a plant boiler in Kunda, exceeds domestic supply, Estonia must import garbage from abroad.
Six years ago, two thirds of household waste in Estonia was disposed of in landfills. Waste-to-energy (WtE) plants were launched by Ragn-Sells in Tallinn and at Jõelähtme landfille, and a waste incineration block went online at Iru Power Plant in 2013. Since then, the disposal of waste at landfills has decreased by one-tenth of garbage collected from homes., reported daily Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian).
According to the Estonian Environment Agency's information from the waste reporting information system (JATS), 395,516 tons of garbage were collected in Estonia last year, while Eesti Energia's Iru Power Plant burned a total of 245,000 tons and other recyclers nearly 160,000 tons of garbage.
This meant that Estonia did not have enough garbage to burn in its WtE pants, and as Iru Power Plant's boiler needed constant heating and WtE plant supply contracts needed fulfilling, the missing amount of garbage was imported, which has gradually turned Estonia into a significant importer of waste. Last year alone, for example, the northernmost Baltic country imported over 56,000 tons of garbage.
According to Raine Pajo, the Eesti Energia board member responsible for energy production, imported garbage is used to fill gaps in local garbage flow to the Iru plant's boiler.
On an average day, approximately 50 garbage trucks of various companies roll through the Iru plant's gates to unload their trash for storage in the boiler's fuel depot, which holds approximately one week's worth of the garbage necessary to heat the plant's boiler. There are some days, however, when the inflow of waste is smaller than expected and stores begin to be depleted, at which point the missing volume of garbage is purchased and imported, primarily from Finland and Ireland.
"Let's be honest, the handling of foreign garbage pays better as well," admitted Pajo.
According to Estonian Environment Agency chief waste specialist Katrin Kaare, the importing of garbage is strictly regulated and one needs to apply for an import license to to import it, however the principle is that the license will be granted so long as Estonian garbage has been processed first.