In EU countries, a minimum of waste is sent to landfills, and most of the garbage is sorted, processed or incinerated. In Ukraine, the situation is still the opposite: only a small percentage goes to processing, and the bulk goes to landfills. We talked with Svetlana Nemesh, coordinator of the Kyiv Green City platform, about why the waste sorting and recycling system does not work for us yet, and what to do to make it work just like in civilized countries.
– So, let’s start with the most basic question. Why are there still no waste recycling plants in Ukraine?
– Let’s put ourselves in the place of a foreign investor, from whom we all expect him to come and build us a waste recycling plant. It is logical that he does not want to open it anywhere. In the same way as the owner of a restaurant or cafe will not open it somewhere in a deserted place where there will be no customers. It is obvious that the investor, before entering the country, will first want to assess the situation and the conditions in which he will have to work. He will invest if he realizes that his money will be returned. But no one, except you and me, can take money from him. If we want a plant, we will have to pay for processing services. Accordingly, this will fall into our tariff and we will have to pay more for garbage collection.
– But does the fact that the investor receives huge volumes of garbage at his disposal does not allow him to earn money? After all, garbage is a valuable raw material. There is an opinion that sorting garbage and selling this raw material is a profitable business.
– This is a common myth. It is beneficial for someone to support him, but here lies the obvious manipulation. When they say “garbage,” they mean resource-valuable components of garbage. Yes, metal, glass, plastic are valuable components you can make money on. But this is far from all rubbish. Mostly in trash bins – food waste.
“You can also make fertilizers from them.”
– In order to become fertilizer, garbage also needs to be recycled. You can really earn money on the part of the garbage, but only on the part. In total, all the waste that is in the bins can be divided into four groups – it is biowaste, recyclable materials, waste not suitable for recycling but suitable for incineration (washcloths, diapers), and inert waste that can only be disposed of (construction garbage, broken ceramic dishes). Now imagine an investor. When all this stuff arrives at the factory, it must first be sorted. Recycled materials will be sent for further processing, biogas can be obtained from organics, and the high-calorie fraction can be sent for burning, provided that there is where. The problem is that the profit that can potentially be obtained from this, still does not pay back the costs of the investor. Currently in Ukraine such sorting and processing will not be profitable.
– But it’s no secret that even today they do business in waste sorting. Often, companies that are associated with city authorities and have access to city landfills. Everyone knows that people work in landfills who manually sort waste, select and sell recyclables. It turns out that there is still a benefit.
– Yes, about 30% of garbage is recyclable material, which can be useful to someone. But its prices are not stable, so profitability can fluctuate. For example, now the prices for PET and waste paper have fallen to historic lows, as China has stopped accepting this recyclable material from Europe, and an excess has now formed in the EU. Therefore, now market prices do not make sorting and processing profitable. In any case, one can not do without raising the tariff.
In addition, abroad, manufacturers of containers and packaging are also responsible – large corporations also have to finance the collection and processing of waste. We do not have this either. We are just waiting for the law on extended liability of the manufacturer, which is still under development.
– Let’s move on to specific numbers. How much will it cost to build a garbage sorting plant?
Big investments are needed to build a mechanical-biological treatment plant. We calculated that in order to build a plant for 450 thousand tons for Kiev, we need to invest about 70 million euros. Foreigners are interested in our market and would very much like to go to Ukraine. But they need to understand that when they go in and invest, this money will then be returned. Especially if this money is credit. Accordingly, investors should have confidence that the project will be recouped, and only a sufficient tariff rate can give them such confidence. And we have no other choice but to stop practicing populism and establish a normal tariff, which will include the cost of processing waste.
An investor needs guarantees, but today we simply cannot give them. In 2017, a law on housing and communal services was adopted. It says that a company that wins a garbage collection tender becomes a subject of waste management. That is, it is responsible for the entire subsequent life cycle of the waste, takes it and then disposes of it at its discretion.
Imagine that a large company is coming that says it is ready to build a plant and wants a ten-year contract. And they are being answered – we have signed a tender for only two years. What’s next? Unknown how lucky. That is, no one is safe from the situation when the company has changed, and another one has come instead who carries garbage to the landfill, and the plant is generally indifferent to it. And the investor finds himself in a situation where he just has to hang a barn lock at his factory. In Europe, contracts for the transportation and recycling of garbage are always divided, and we also need to come to this. Otherwise, no investors will come here.
oday, our legislation does not allow us to give investors such guarantees and therefore we ourselves block the entry of such investments. The only thing we can do in such conditions is to build communal plants. This way now went Lviv. Lviv residents pay at a rate that is sufficient to collect and take out the garbage. When the plant works, this tariff will either increase, or the plant will subsidize the city. That is, in the end, taxpayers will pay all the same.
– How significant will the rise in the cost of garbage collection services be if the tariff is increased? Will people even be able to pull such amounts?
– When they say that after the introduction of garbage sorting, tariffs for the population will soar to sky-high heights, this is not true. We did indicative calculations. If you take a plant for 450 thousand tons of waste per year (this is about a third of all Kiev garbage), then for it to pay off in 10 years, the tariff for garbage collection should be about 36 euros per ton. A ton roughly corresponds to the amount of garbage that a family of three emits in a year. The norm per person is about 330 kg. So consider it. 36 euros per one average family, 12 euros per year or 1 euro per month per person. That is, for only 30 UAH per month per person, we can afford a plant that can replace the crowded 5th training ground in Kiev. Ideally, the capital needs not one such plant, but several. And if they are built gradually, and we will raise the tariff every few years, then this obviously will not hit the population too much. That is, the myth that all this is very expensive has nothing to do with reality. Kiev and large cities of Ukraine can definitely afford it.
– What about the incinerators? How profitable is it to heat with garbage? Ukraine does not have enough coal and gas; it has to buy abroad. Maybe garbage will help us achieve non-volatility?
“It will certainly help, but the burning of garbage cannot be called a panacea either.” In terms of the use of natural resources, it makes sense to burn only part of the garbage. What can be recycled does not make sense to burn. Therefore, the experience of the French, who burn everything, I personally do not really like. We are now building a waste recycling infrastructure from scratch, and we now have the opportunity to build it correctly and thoughtfully. Everything that can be recycled needs to be recycled. What cannot be – you can burn and get energy.
– And what is economically more profitable? Burn or sort?
Unfortunately, the construction of incinerators is quite expensive. If the construction of a plant for mechanical and biological treatment of 450 thousand tons, where waste sorting, biogas and recycling will take place, costs 70 million euros, then the plant will cost 150 million euros in half the less waste incineration capacity. Treatment plants are expensive.
– How safe are such plants for the environment?
A lot of negative things are written on the Internet about incinerators, that it is environmentally friendly and harmful to the atmosphere. And earlier it really was. For example, the Energia plant, which was built relatively long ago, can hardly be called clean. But now no one will build the plant according to the projects of the 1970s. And modern factories are being built using new technologies, and they are completely safe. They use several stages of cleaning, and the burning of garbage occurs at a very high temperature. Such objects today are located in the residential area of European cities. In total, about 450 such plants operate in Europe.
Nevertheless, in Europe now they are still trying to reduce that part of the waste that comes to incineration. In the furnace and landfills there send a minimum of waste. This is the most correct approach that we in Ukraine should strive for. For the environment, this is the best option.
– If we make the necessary changes to the legislation and investors come to Ukraine, will it be profitable for them to work in small cities? And if not, what to do with the garbage that forms there?
– In the province, we need to follow the path of combining several territorial communities, which together can create one landfill or one waste processing plant at all. And use it together. But this is a matter of the future. Now in the villages there is not even a normal collection and disposal of waste. And this problem is not so much the lack of infrastructure as the consciousness of people. The villagers often believe that one can simply throw garbage into the nearest ravine and do not understand why they should pay for its removal.
In any case, first you need to clean up the big cities. Now this is a priority.
– In Europe people are accustomed by tariffs to what is more profitable to sort than not to sort. For the export of sorted waste there they pay less trite. Maybe it’s worth doing this with us too?
– In our law on housing and communal services, such a rule is written: the collection and removal of separately collected waste is not paid. Despite the prevailing belief that trash is gold underfoot, in fact it is not gold. To set up containers for separate collection, collect garbage from them, sort it, you need to invest, and today it is economically unprofitable for him. Someone has to pay for it, but the law says that the population does not pay. Who will pay then?
In Europe, organizations with extended producer responsibility partially pay for this. These organizations, as a rule, have fixed goals – for example, to collect up to 35% of the packaging developed by its participants and put into circulation. Large manufacturers, such as Coca-Cola, are saving money in order to establish a collection system. And in order not to build it from scratch, they most often go to the same operators who collect waste and pay extra to collect the raw materials collected in this way. So it turns out a situation in which people pay for the collection of mixed garbage, and those who made the packaging pay for the collection of separately collected waste. If we have a law on packaging and packaging, the same system will work in Ukraine.
For example, in Germany there are two parallel systems. In Munich there is a municipal communal company that takes out garbage. She serves the whole city. But in parallel with them are organizations of extended producer responsibility. They have their own containers. And they live their own separate lives.
In some countries, fandoms are installed. There, a person can hand over a can or a bottle and get some money for it. This is a kind of trick. In fact, the manufacturer simply in this way returns you money for the container for which you already paid when you bought the product. Thus, the organizations of extended producer responsibility also mainly work.