Abrupt waste fees hike might see trash dumped in the woods or taken abroad

Public recycling dumpsters.
Public recycling dumpsters. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

The Ministry of the Environment plans to hike landfilling fees and charge for waste burning to motivate people to sort their trash. Experts warn that hiking waste fees too quickly and abruptly might end up in garbage dumped in the woods or taken abroad.

As a EU Member State, Estonia has promised to recycle at least 55 percent of household waste by 2025. But the last ten years have not seen progress, with less than one-third of household waste recycled.

The Ministry of the Environment is now working on a new environmental fees package to promote waste sorting. Kaupo Heinma, the ministry's undersecretary for environmental organization, told ERR that the plan is to hike the landfilling fee and introduce a new fee on refuse burning.

Heinma said that to alter people's behavior and motivate them to sort their trash, household waste collection needs to be much more expensive.

The deputy secretary general added, however, that waste collection should not become too expensive for those who already sort their waste. He remarked that a part of waste, such as diapers or broken plates, need to end up in the mixed waste container as no better way to handle them has been found.

Heinma said that the ministry wants people who only put such items in mixed waste to have to pay less for waste collection than those who lump everything together. "Waste conditioning should be more expensive for those people who do wrong, to create a hierarchy where behavior at home ultimately reflects in garbage collection prices."

The ministry plans to unveil corresponding proposals in the fall.

The landfilling fee has remained the same since 2015 at €29.84. Two years ago, the ministry came up with a bill to hike the fee to €90 per ton.

Heinma suggested that could be the ballpark figure also this year, while relevant debates are still to be held.

"The fees need to be such that landfilling or burning is more expensive than recycling," the ministry official said, adding that the situation is often just the opposite now.

Landfill. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Experts: Fees shouldn't bee hiked too abruptly

Harri Moora, senior expert at the Tallinn office of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), said that it is sensible to hike the landfilling fee as it is a worse option than recycling or burning waste.

But he said the fee should not go up too quickly, and that a gradual annual hike of €5-10 would suffice.

The expert said that hiking landfilling or other final processing fees could cause people to dump garbage in the woods to try and save money. "It is something we need to keep in mind," he said.

Marti Viirmäe, head of the Tallinn Waste Recycling Center (Tallinna Jäätmete Taaskasutuskeskus AS) agreed.

Kaupo Heinma said that the so-called gate fee for waste to be burned must be over €100 per ton. The press representative of the Iru Power Plant said that it currently charges €60-70 per ton.

Marti Viirmäe pointed out that Finnish refuse burning plants have lowered their gate fees in recent years because the energy crisis has created more demand for thermal energy. The fees have come down from €70-90 per ton to €40-60 in Finland. He said that there is a shortage of waste at such plants and that waste is even imported from Italy.

Viirmäe suggested that the hike, on top of the existing price difference, could make it economically feasible to move garbage from Estonia to be burned in Finland.

Harri Moora also said that while waste used to be imported from Finland to Estonia, an abrupt pollution fees hike could reverse this situation, which would not benefit the Estonian economy.

Sweden drops burning fee

Most waste that is not recycled is burned at the Iru Power Plant in Estonia.

Veiko Räim, CFO of the plant's owner Enefit Green, said that the government should analyze whether hiking the burning fee would even serve the desired purpose of promoting sorting.

"There have been experiments in the Nordics, but since it did not have the desired effect on recycling and waste sorting, Sweden reversed it last year," Räim said.

Harri Moora suggested that Estonia has not paid enough attention to the main stimuli for sorting and recycling. There are two sides who should make considerably greater efforts here – local governments and packagings companies. The situation today is one where they do not feel responsible and have too few levers for contributing to waste sorting.

The expert said that measures other than environmental fees have a greater effect on recycling. In the end, everything boils down to how clear and easy everyday waste sorting has been made.

The EU has plotted a goal of recycling at least 55 percent of household waste by 2025, 60 percent by 2030 and 65 percent by 2035.

According to Statistics Estonia, just 30.4 percent of household waste was recycled in Estonia in 2021.

Landfill. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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