Recycling gradually catching on in Estonia, as potential EU fines loom

A bio-waste garbage bin being collected.
A bio-waste garbage bin being collected. Source: ERR

Estonia has just a few years to put its waste management in order, including proper recycling practices, if the country is to avoid a hefty fine, ETV news show 'Aktuaalne kaamera' (AK) reported Friday.

A waystage to this will come next April, when all householders will be responsible for sorting waste, including separating out bio-waste.

Sigrid Soomlais, head of the environmental management department at the Ministry of the Environment, told AK that it was premature to talk about a fines yet, though conceded the situation is difficult and the whole country needs to work hard going forward.

Soomlais said: "The biggest problem here is that there is a lot of bio-waste appearing in our mixed municipal waste which shouldn't be there and which should actually be collected separately,. Another big problem is packaging waste."

While half of the waste generated in Estonian homes should already be recycled under EU law, in fact less than a third is so treated. 

If Estonia fails to recycle 55 percent of its waste in three years' time, the country will face a hefty waste fine for violating the relevant EU directive.

Not only the state but also private citizens may also be liable for fines over inadequate refuse sorting.

Kai Realo, CEO of private sector waste firm Ragn-Sells rejected the attitude that there is no point in sorting waste prior to collection, on the grounds that everything is dumped in a garbage truck and taken to the one location for incineration, noting that home sorting will save you money from fines so that reusable stuff doesn't end up in a landfill or incinerator.

Producers who still use too many non-recyclable materials such as plastics also need to address the issues, AK reported.

Realo added that better marking on packaging – i.e. that it can be recycled – will improve public interest in the practice.

Both Realo and Soomlais agree –sorting of municipal waste must start at home and giving away sorted stuff must be made as convenient as possible for the public, while Soomlais remained optimistic about avoiding longer-term fines, provided action is taken in the present.

From April 2023, sorting waste obligatory for all properties

A separate AK segment on Friday looked at the issue of sorting waste, and reported that from April 2023, sorting refuse will be mandatory for all properties – at present, this is only the case for larger apartment blocks.

A 2020 study revealed that mixed municipal waste collected in Tallinn contained almost 27 per cent bio-waste along with around 36 per cent packaging waste. This makes it possible to reduce the amount of mixed municipal waste by sorting separately, AK reported.

Tallinn deputy mayor Joosep Vimm (SDE) said that: "The separate collection of bio-waste is necessary for two reasons: First, bio-waste itself is a good resource. It can be used to make compost as well as biogas and biogas is a very good, environmentally friendly energy source for us. "

"Second, bio-waste, appearing in and among mixed municipal waste, causes problems to the extent that there is not much good use to which the mixed municipal waste itself can be put."

All households must sort waste from April 2023

Svetlana, who lives in a 16-storey house in Haabersti, in the west of Tallinn, told AK in a separate segment that she sorts household waste, paper, plastic, glass and bio-waste which emanates from her small apartment. 

She told AK that she started sorting years ago, primarily with the environment in mind.

"There is little space in the small kitchen, so I have a separate paper box in the hallway, and then we sort the plastic on the balcony," she said, adding that there was little choice in any case.

From next April, what Svetlana has already been doing will be mandatory for all, and not simply larger apartment blocks with 10 or more apartments organized in a single housing cooperative.

In the case of Tallinn, the city will monitor public behavior, while, Joosep Vimm said, private sector firms with tenders to remove waste will also have a monitoring duty.

Multiple violations may result in fines.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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