Avoiding waste sorting no longer an option

Trash bins.
Trash bins. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

A waste sorting regulation draft currently being coordinated in government is set to change the principles of waste collecting and sorting. The waste generator, meaning the person, will hold more responsibility and is supported by their local municipality government, recycling organizations and waste companies in the waste chain.

The Ministry of the Environment has created a completely new sorting regulation in the potential new waste law, which is set to change the basic principles of waste lifecycle organization. This sets the main responsibilities on the waste generator, whose diligence and decisions can be supported by the following links in the chain.

In essence, waste sorting will no longer be at the end of the chain, because it is resource intensive and inefficient - waste that has already been dumped together cannot be sorted or saved too easily as biodegradable waste has made it unsortable and non-reusable.

The lifecycle of waste will begin with the individual, who has generated the waste, sorting it by type and handing it over to waste managers to increase the amount of re-usable waste and to save energy and workforce at a possible later stage of sorting, when there is no longer too much left to be saved. Clean packages separately, plastic and metal separately, biodegradable waste separately, textiles separately, paper and cardboard separately, mixed waste separately - these must all now be dumped in special containers.

A new definition for mixed waste

While mixed waste has so far meant that anything from apple cores, ripped pantyhose and broken pieces of plates all gets thrown into one container, the list will now become more regulated. Bio-waste no longer has a place among mixed waste.

Only waste that can not be sorted by type, such as dirty packages that are not possible to clean and anything that can dirty up other packages can be thrown together in mixed waste. While this leaves behind a long list of household items like as foil, diapers, ceramics, cat litter and CD-s, the list of mixed waste is not limited to it.

Authorities, companies and schools must now begin collecting waste generated by their staff or students. This means that single trash bins under desks, where candy wrappers, banana peels and paper are all thrown into one, will become an item of the past. Yoghurt cups, apple cores and toothpicks can also no longer be collected together in an office kitchen, they must be grouped separately.

The state hopes to harmonize the distribution of waste containers by conventional colors that would facilitate collecting, depending on the municipality.

Plastics, metal and mixed packages must now head to a yellow container, paper and cardboard packaging must end up in blue containers, bio-waste goes in brown containers, mixed waste in black containers and dangerous waste has to be placed in red containers.

Many waste managers have already been using these colors, but all have not joined the system yet. Besides, all these containers have not been put to use yet.


This will not happen overnight, however.

People should already be separating biodegradable waste, but it cannot yet be taken out by type. This leads to the collected waste ending up in the same container as mixed waste, unless the person has a composting option available.

Biodegradable waste cannot make up more than 20 percent of a landfill and waste managers must be able to manage the separate collection of biodegradables by 2023. "If the waste management procurement of a local municipality government ends sooner, the condition must be filled before 2023," said environment ministry Undersecretary Kaupo Heinma.

The local municipality government has to facilitate waste collecting and sorting for waste generators. It is up to local governments to organize the management of waste centers, where people can hand over their waste. If the local government cannot do it themselves, they must find an agreement with a neighboring municipality to ensure that people have a chance to hand over their waste, because it is unlikely that people begin collecting their waste at all otherwise.

Starting 2030, it will be forbidden to deposit waste at landfills that is suitable for recycling or re-use. This would particularly affect mixed waste.

Heinma said the urban legend of waste managers throwing all types of waste together into one giant room will likely live on as a legend, but all waste managers have confirmed they do not do this. A way to monitor the travel of waste is currently being developed by the ministry, however.

Estonia's goal is to recycle 55 percent of municipal waste by 2025; the aim is at 60 percent by 2030 and by 2035, 65 percent of waste must be recycled. The draft law is currently on a coordination round.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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