Estonia meets recycling target by changing calculation method

Recycling bins.
Recycling bins. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia may escape paying a fine for missed recycling targets by using its right to change the methodology used to calculate the amount of trash recycled.

From 2025 countries will no longer be able to choose how they calculate recycling targets set by the European Commission. Currently, countries can pick from several different methodologies.

Using Method 2, Estonia did not meet its targets for 2016 and 2017 as it would have recycled only 32 percent, but under methodology 1 this increases to 52 percent.

The main difference between Method 2, which until now Estonia has used, and Method 1, is that Method 1 accounts for separately collected municipal waste, including packaging waste, such as paper and cardboard, plastics, glass and metal, generated by households. Domestic waste generated by businesses, industries and offices is not included. Other municipal waste, such as bio-waste, textiles, is also excluded, ERR reported.

"The (Method 1) data presented are, at first sight, very positive because they exceed the targets we have set for 2020, but we have to admit that we would not be able to achieve this with the calculations we have made so far," said Minister of the Environment Rene Kokk. 

"That's why we decided this time to use our right to change the calculation method. This doesn't solve the problem because let's face it - it's a short-term victory to escape Estonia's imminent violation and the potentially huge fine. It will only save us until 2025 and only if we stay, at least, at the same level until then," the minister added.

The Minister emphasized that if the government does not use the time they can buy by using the different calculation system for major changes, it will face a fine many times higher than has been speculated so far. "There are no laurels to rest on. Waste management needs profound changes and we are working on that every day," Kokk said. 

According to statistics provided by the ministry, in 2016 household paper, cardboard, metal, plastic and glass waste generated a total of 202,090 tonnes, of which 90,054 tonnes was mixed municipal waste. 

In 2016, 23,391 tonnes of paper or cardboard, metal, plastic and glass waste and 88,645 tonnes of packaging were collected, of which 105,471 tonnes were recycled.

In 2017, household waste generated a total of 206,359 tonnes of paper or cardboard, metals, plastics and glass, of which 90,998 tonnes was mixed municipal waste. 

In 2017, 26,033 tonnes of paper or cardboard, metal, plastic and glass waste and 89,328 tonnes of packaging were collected, 106,406 tonnes of which were recycled.

Malta, Ireland and Denmark have used Method 1 in the past. What methodologies member states now use to provide data will be revealed during the data revisions this time. The methodology has previously been changed by Bulgaria, which used Method 2 in 2013 and 2014 and Method 4 in 2015.

Despite the change in methodology, Estonia recycled only 28% of its waste when using Eurostat's calculations which are used to compare countries.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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