Weekly: Widespread abuse of recycling seen in waste management sector

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Plastic waste. Source: Pixabay

A report by agricultural weekly Maaleht has found widespread neglect of recycling in the refuse management sector, which sees the bulk of plastics and other garbage which should be recycled, ending up either being incinerated or buried in land-fill sites.

While the Environmental Board (Keskonnaamet) is issuing more and more precepts for garbage infringements, there has been little coverage of the issue up until now, Maaleht says (link in Estonian).

Maaleht journalist Bianca Mikovitš told ERR morning radio show "Vikerhommik" Thursday that a lack of state regulation was mainly to blame.

As the law stands, since 2008 landfills must not accept unsorted municipal waste. Producers of packaging which needs recycling should pay for the privilege, and the public should sort the waste at home, then refuse collectors are responsible for ensuring collected waste remains in the sorted state, with that earmarked for recycling going through the process.

But this has not been happening, Maaleht reports.

Waste managers have said that while half of collected mixed packaging should be recycled, in reality only 15-20 percent of a haul actually is.

"The packaging system has gone awry," a senior waste specialist, who wished to remain nameless, told Maaleht.

"If organizations from the producer side were responsible, they would deal with it," the source went on.

"Instead, the system has been hijacked by waste handlers, operating in the most economically efficient way, but at a lower level, in order to maximize profits."

The problem starts at refuse collection points, the source added. While mixed package garbage cans may be designed in a trendy fashion, in reality the trash will be incinerated with other waste, they said.

Organizations can hide this in accounting, they added; while it is simpler for the Environmental Inspectorate to monitor other areas, this data is too much for them to handle.

The source added that awareness of the issue is not new; the National Audit Office (Riigikontroll) also drew attention to it some years ago, they said.

In order to check out the allegations, Maaleht attached tracking devices to refuse which should be recycled, to see what its real destination was.

Many plastic items end up buried, or incinerated, the experiment revealed.

One bottle placed in a recycling point in Viimsi, just outside Tallinn, ended up in the Jõelähtme landfill site, east of the capital. The site is managed by the Tallinn Waste Recovery Center (TJT), which incinerates much of its refuse.

Another discarded but tracked item was thrown away in Tartu, and ended up in the Uikala landfill site in Ida-Viru County, itself a source of concern for the Environmental Board and described by Maaleht as a "black hole".

The Tartu refuse service used is provided by OÜ Eesti Pakendringllus, whole MTÜ Eesti Taaskasutusorganisatsioon is responsible for the Viimsi refuse point. OÜ Eesti Pakendringllus has a 46 percent market share, while MTÜ Eesti Taaskasutusorganisatsioon has a 28 percent market share, Maaleht says.

The full Maaleht piece (in Estonian) is here.

Maaleht is a weekly published by Ekspress Meedia, which also issues investigative weekly Eesti Ekspress, daily Eesti Päevaleht, online portal Delfi, and several other publications.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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