Researcher: Waste recycling in Estonia needs radical reform, tax hike

Jõelähtme landfill site.
Jõelähtme landfill site. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The Ministry of Climate is considering a new environmental charging plan that would include a landfill tax hike, which is intended to encourage citizens to separate waste.

Harri Moora, a researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI Tallinn), told "Terevisioon" that waste disposal in Estonia is remarkably inexpensive: "On average, a household pays the price of a cup of coffee per month for waste collection." Recently, however, there has been a price increase. Moora said the price would have to rise even more to encourage separate collection and recycling.

By 2025, Estonia has pledged to recycle 55 percent of its mixed municipal waste. Currently, only about 30 percent can be recycled.

"This number has not changed for the past decade," he said, adding that a radical change is now necessary. He said that the objective could be attained either by increasing the cost of end-cycle waste treatment or pollution tax.

Jõelähtme landfill site. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Moora advised to dispose of as little waste as possible in the general waste bin and separate packaging, paper and cardboard, and glass, which should be done in order for materials to be repurposed.

"When disposal, in this instance landfilling of mixed municipal waste, becomes costlier, then there is a further incentive to separate waste," he said. "And from there on, the recycling increases."

Many experts, however, are concerned about the tax rise, fearing that people may dump more waste in the forest. This is a possibility, according to Moora, but littering has always been and will not go away, he said.

"I sincerely hope that people will become more conscious and stop bringing trash into the forest, but the signs and current behavior indicate that this is still a problem," he added.

Moora said that landfill charges had produced positive effects in other regions of the world, and also in Estonia. "When the landfill tax was raised more than a decade ago, it had a clear impact and landfilling rate fell rapidly," he said.

Separate waste collection and recycling is actually more intricate than pricing regulation, he said. Daily public guidance, awareness building and convenience of waste management are crucial factors. Many studies have shown that this helped to increase waste separation and recycling.

"We must realize that a significant portion of our daily waste discharge cannot be recycled, merely due to the laws of physics. We continue to give the impression that we can recycle plastic packaging, but in reality we cannot," he said.

Jõelähtme landfill site. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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