Construction of Tartu hazardous waste plant postponed

Recycling bins  (picture is illustrative).
Recycling bins (picture is illustrative). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The construction of Estonia's largest hazardous waste burning plant in Tartu will be postponed by at least a year because the Environmental Board has decided to initiate a new environmental impact assessment. The company has no choice but to haul waste abroad until then as Estonia lacks the capacity to burn all hazardous waste the country produces.

Tartu has a plant for burning waste that is hazardous for people's health or the environment, while a new plant with six times the capacity was set to be completed by the end of the year.

The company hoped that because the existing plant's environmental impact has been determined, a new evaluation would not be needed.

"The problem today is that the Environmental Board decided to initiate an environmental impact assessment procedure that has postponed the project by a year and a half. We have made available all the data and the preliminary assessment. I cannot comment on their decision as the law states they do not have to explain it.  Had Kunda remained operational, we would not have this problem today," said Janis Lorenz, CEO of AS Epler & Lorenz.

Most of Estonia's hazardous waste was still incinerated in the Kunda Cement Factory the year before last. The factory went out of business in March of 2020, leaving Epler & Lorenz's small Tartu plant the only such facility in Estonia.

That is why the company is in a hurry to avoid hazardous waste piling up. The Environmental Board admits Estonia's capacity for burning hazardous waste is modest.

"Looking at statistics, around 20,000 tons of hazardous waste was burned last year, while the remaining plant's annual capacity is just 2,000 tons. Their fears are grounded. One option is to warehouse the waste and the other to have it treated abroad," said Rein Kalle, head of the circular economy department at the Environmental Board.

Kalle admitted that while Estonia needs increased capacity for burning hazardous waste, an environmental impact assessment is mandatory for such a large plant.

"There is a lot of hands-on work as well as involvement and disclosure involved. It all takes time and depends on the sides involved."

"The Environmental Board is strict, and the newest technology needs to be used. The air pollution side of things will also be heavily regulated. But if the company complies with these requirements, the chance of success is high," Kalle said.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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