Estonia has no plans to handle hazardous waste collection centrally

Hazardous waste.
Hazardous waste. Source: Environmental Board

While Estonia wants to combat the habit of burying hazardous waste, such as car batteries or asbestos cement, in the ground, waste treatment plants belong to local governments and decide their own pricing and what types of waste are handled. The government has no plan to introduce a common system of hazardous waste collection.

Marit, who spends her summers in Viljandi County, lost three batteries in her solar park this year. But the waste treatment facility in Viljandi County refused to take them even after she offered to pay.

"I was told that unless I was a registered resident of the county, it would be useless to even call them as they only accept hazardous waste from locals," Marit said.

Marit's calculations suggested it would have cost her close to €1,000 to get rid of the faulty batteries and that she is closer to understanding how some people simply bury old batteries or asbestos cement in the woods. She managed to solve her problem in the neighboring municipality.

"Luckily, the situation is different from one local government to the next. When I called the plant at a nearby municipality, they said I could bring over what I wanted as long as I didn't dump it in the woods," Marit said.

"Organizing waste management is a local government task. The costs of waste treatment plants are covered from two sources. We have invested around €1 million in waste treatment plants through the Environmental Investments Center. The rest comes from local government budgets. And because they sport very different levels of income, people's cost-sharing component depends on that," said Sigrid Soomlais, head of environmental management for the Ministry of Climate.

Most local governments make it possible to hand over hazardous waste for free. A Saaremaa waste handler lists the latter as follows.

"Paints, empty packagings – hazardous. Solvents-acids. Medicines. We charge for batteries. People often bring them in. Fertilizer is another popular item. All kinds of things people find in the shed and then bring to us," said Tauno Ligi, head of a scrap yard in Sikassaare.

Once more, handing over these items is free only for the locals, with everyone else expected to pay. Getting rid of an asbestos cement roof runs a fee also for local residents.

"We do not accept asbestos cement for free. The government has offered grants through the Environmental Investments Center in the past, which we have participated in, and it has been possible to hand over asbestos cement for free during those periods," Saaremaa Municipality Deputy Mayor Kaarel Tang said.

"It costs €40 per cubic meter to surrender asbestos cement for Tallinners and €60 for everyone else. There is the simple principle of "polluter pays" in waste management. /.../ The goal is not just avoiding waste ending up on the forest floor. The goal is for there to be less waste to begin with. And while we can all promise to try and make it so, what works is if you have to go out of pocket. It's as simple as that," said Rein Kalle, head of the Tallinn Waste Treatment Center.

The Ministry of Climate admits that battery recycling is not in a strong place in Estonia and that there are plenty of houses with asbestos cement roofs still around, while there are currently no government-level plans to intervene.

"There is no plan presently for a common hazardous waste handling price list, while we should analyze whether local governments have enough resources to organize an effective waste economy," Soomlaid said.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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