Trash pickup price increase to encourage more recycling, says ministry

Various types of waste dumpsters.
Various types of waste dumpsters. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The price of mixed municipal waste removal is likely to multiply severalfold throughout Estonia, and the Ministry of the Environment is citing as the reason for this the fact that waste isn't being sufficiently sorted in Estonia, and the price of waste management is unfortunately a key factor with which it can influence people's choices.

The price of waste removal on the Western Estonian island of Saaremaa are set to increase by one half beginning next month, but the Ministry of the Environment predicts that in the future, the mixed municipal waste disposal prices will increase severalfold throughout the country. At the same time, prices for sorted waste removal are not expected to increase at the same tempo, and, if anything, should fall instead.

Sigrid Soomlais, director of the ministry's Environmental Management Department, told ERR that waste removal prices thus far have been very low, however the principle applies in Estonia that the polluter pays. This means that expenses incurred by waste management are covered by those who produce the waste.

"While the sorting of waste is already mandatory today, unfortunately it is not functioning satisfactorily," Soomlais said, adding that according to a European Union directive, beginning this year, at least 50 percent of all municipal waste should be recycled.

According to the ministry official, while the biggest factor influencing choice of waste management method is the price thereof, waste management prices must correspond to the waste hierarchy, meaning that recycling must be cheaper than burning and landfilling.

"In order to increase recycling, the sorting of waste must be improved," she explained. "Mixed municipal waste that cannot be recycled should be produced the least. Accordingly, compared with other categories of waste, the price of mixed municipal waste should be higher. This would increase people's motivation to sort their waste and would also encourage the recycling of waste."

While just a few years ago, the cheapest waste disposal method was burning at a cost of approximately €30 per ton, by now, the cost of both burning and landfilling has doubled to some €60 per ton.

Also connected to the increase in the cost of mixed waste is the fact that the price of municipal waste pickup is based on an open tender process, which takes all expenses into account. In recent years, however, both wages and fuel prices have increased, and investments have been made into new vehicles.

Recycling bin rental to cost money

Despite the fact that the state's goal is to encourage the sorting of waste, Tootjavastutusorganisatsioon OÜ (TVO), a company focused on the collection of recycled waste and the promotion of recycling, informed its clients this month that while it has previously provided all of its services for free, covering the costs of both recycling bins and recycling pickup, going forward, clients will have to pay for recycling bin rental.

A 240-liter recycling bin, for example, will run an apartment association €2.10, while a 1.5 cubic meter dumpster will cost €12 per month to rent.

TVO cited as the reason for the change the fact that prices for the majority of secondary materials dropped significantly last year, and currently they have to pay for the recycling of several different materials.

The significantly increased volume of the service was also cited as a reason for the price increase, TVO board member Kristiina Dreimann noted.

"Our responsibility is to enable people to drop off recyclables in public spaces, but we have wanted to do so conveniently and have come closer to the people," Dreimann explained. "Since our volumes have grown so much, however, then in order to ensure that we can continue providing our services, we had to introduce a rental fee. The cost o management and pickup will continue to be covered by us."

According to the board member, there's no reason to worry that apartment associations will give up their recycling bins and start throwing their recyclables in together with other mixed municipal waste again over the rental fee, because if you compare the costs, a recycling bin will save the apartment building the cost of an entire additional trash pickup.

Should anyone nonetheless decide to cut the service, she continued, then they will be doing so for emotional, not financial reasons, as the rental fee isn't that high.

"I think this won't change the big picture, and apartment associations are continuing to sign up for this service, even now that the fact that we are implementing a rental fee is public," Dreimann said.

Regarding TVO's introduction of recycling bin rental fees, the Ministry of the Environment said that the company is offering a convenience, for which they can charge money.

"People can decide whether to drop off their recyclables at a public collection point for free or order a service which picks up their recycling from their home," Soomlais said. "This can thus be considered a convenience service. When one collects recycling separately, then the volume of remaining waste, which costs money, is just about halved."

EKT: No Saaremaa-level price hike to come elsewhere

Bruno Tammaru, a member of the board at waste management group Eesti Keskkonnateenused (EKT), said that they are currently in the process of applying for changes to services fees with local governments as waste management costs have gone up.

"The main issue is the fact that management costs have changed again as of January, or in some places, such as Tallinn Landfill, as of March," Tammaru said. "For that reason, we have to change the service fees for our clients as well."

Tammaru added that they don't have many free-market customers, in which case the company could change its service fees without coordinating with the local government. Changing prices takes three to four months, and January has been spent writing applications and in talks with local governments.

The Estonian mainland, however, will not see price hikes severalfold in size such as that hitting Saaremaa, he stressed. If the cost of waste management at a dump increases 10-20 percent, there is no reason to increase clients' prices any further than that, he added.

"One waste pickup contract ended and another began in Saaremaa," Tammaru said. "New conditions are connected to the new contract, as well as new management fees at the dump. That increased the price to the extent it did compared to the previous price, but I don't currently foresee such a major spike in prices on the mainland."

In addition to money from clients that pay for trash pickup, waste management companies also earn money from incinerator plants. Last year, for example, the cost price of waste to be used as fuel increased at Eesti Energia's Iru Power Plant. The plant itself doesn't set any sort of price list; instead, it is the result of an auction in which waste management companies themselves submit bids.

"We organize competitions for the conclusion of supply contracts prospectively, which means that fees which entered into effect in 2019 were based largely on bids submitted in 2018 and earlier," Eesti Energia spokesperson Priit Luts said. "Each year, previously concluded also expire whose average price levels have historically been lower than bids received in recent years."

Luts added that bids submitted by market participants to Iru are affected the most by the cost and trends of alternative waste management methods, and it is known that most dumps have increased or are increasing the fees they charge for the management of mixed municipal waste, which has also had a favorable effect on the price level offered to the plant.

In 2018, a total of 28 percent of municipal waste was recycled in Estonia. This figure was down from 2014, when 32 percent of all waste was recycled.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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