New waste fee plan sparks mixed feelings among experts

Landfill in Jõelähtme.
Landfill in Jõelähtme. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The government's plan to allow cities and rural municipalities to enter into waste collection contracts directly with residents has experts split on its merits. While some fear additional red tape and new expenses, others suggest it would allow local governments to raise money for developing waste management.

The Ministry of Climate has proposed allowing local governments to directly charge a fee to cover the costs of waste management.

The plan would see cities and rural municipalities collect a waste management fee from residents and local companies, just like kindergarten or hobby education fees are collected now. Waste handlers would bill local governments based on previously signed tender contracts.

This would free people and companies from having to sign contracts with waste handlers, with the entire process going through the city or rural municipality government.

Argo Luude, CEO of waste handlers AS Keskkonnateenused, is against local governments taking care of waste management for residents. He said that it has been tried in Tallinn and that the system was highly inefficient.

"The city's customer service department was put in charge of waste collection but lacked trained logistics specialists. The result was that garbage trucks went back and forth and more of them were needed. Waste collection zones where we entered into contracts directly with residents soon left a truck idle. Because Tallinn has 13 zones, relying on the municipal system would require 13 more trucks," Luude said.

He added that while local governments laying down a waste fee to help fund waste management is not a bad idea in itself, it can be done without such a radical reform of the current system.

Rainer Pesti, former business development director for Ragn Sells, was also critical of the plan. He said that a waste fee would help improve how a certain type of waste, such as hazardous waste, is handled, while local governments should not be made to face customers or issue invoices.

"Waste management has been rendered incredibly complicated as it is, and the administrative burden on local governments is already excessive. It would be much simpler if the [central] government designed a universal waste collection system, instead of 79 local governments starting to ask residents for more money," he said.

Landfill in Jõelähtme. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Veikko Luhalaid, director of the Association of Estonian Cities and Rural Municipalities, said that the main issue is that local governments currently lack levers with which to charge for anything other than waste handling.

"The fee would go beyond paying for collection and toward developing the system, or applying the polluter pays principle. Today, the person only pays the contractor for collection and that is the end of it. Everything else, like efforts to raise awareness, advertising, clearing the woods of rubbish, comes from the general budget," Luhalaid said.

The rate of recycling of domestic waste has not grown notably in the last decade.

Margus Vetsa, environmental management guest lecturer at Tallinn University, suggested that local governments would do well to address the problem together by delegating it to waste management centers. "I believe that waste handling should be organized through between four and six such centers, just like public transport outside cities is today," Vetsa said.

He gave the example of the Tampere region in Finland where 17 local governments work together to organize waste handling.

The EU, including Estonia, has set a goal of recycling at least 55 percent of domestic waste starting from 2025. From 2030, 60 percent of domestic waste needs to be recycled, which will need to grow to 65 percent by 2035.

Estonia's domestic waste recycling rate has hovered around 30 percent for years, with the remaining domestic waste either incinerated or landfilled.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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