Together and separately: what’s new about the waste reform

There is no doubt that the need to reorganize the waste management sector has long been overdue. One of the clearest embodiments of the problem is the idea of building a landfill at Shies station in the Arkhangelsk region, where they plan to bring waste from the capital city to. Intensity of emotions among and protesting manifestations of the local public have been going on for over six months.

In Russia, as in the rest of the world, the problem is becoming catastrophic. According to the Consulting Group Tekart surveys, there are more than a thousand landfills in the country now; most of them are full or working at the limit of their capacities. At the same time, only 4% of municipal solid waste is recycled in Russia, the rest is buried, burned or just dumped out in the open. Overconsumption, accompanied by indomitable waste generation, directly affects greenhouse gas emissions. Food waste is a major source of methane causing climate change.

The legislative base for the “waste reform” in Russia was laid in 2014, when the State Duma approved the draft law “On production and consumption of waste;” in 2016,  the Resolution “On approval of the procedure for handling municipal solid waste” was issued.  Enforcement of the laws was scheduled for 2016-2017. By the end of 2017, 82 regions approved waste management schemes, but have never put the implementation of these schemes into practice. Since January 1 of this year, the issue of the reform was addressed with a new force. This time, almost all regions must implement the new plans for waste management. Only Moscow, Sevastopol and St. Petersburg were allowed to postpone the implementation until 2022.

What would the waste reform change? Now, in each constituent entity of the Russian Federation, a single operator should be selected and carry out the removal and processing of municipal solid waste (MSW). That is, instead of many companies, a single one is established for the whole subject of federation. And all waste producers must sign contracts only with this designated operator. However, the whole scheme for the removal and disposal of waste does not change.

“The reform is underway, and in my opinion, it’s going pretty well. Most of the subjects of the Russian Federation switched to the new system of MSW treatment. This includes 69 subjects…,” said Dmitry Kobylkin, Minister of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, last January. People in the regions do not share the bureaucrats’ optimism. Reports on growing discontent with the reform come on regular basis from different parts of Russia: sites for waste collection are filled to capacity, often no one takes the waste out, and the tariffs got unreasonably high.

The “sore subject” of the waste management program is incineration. A part of the reform should be the construction of two hundred incinerators (WIPs) by 2024. This method of waste disposal has been criticized more than once by independent ecologists who are confident that the WIPs will damage the environment and the health of nearby people.

However, the most discussed topic of the “waste reform” is tariffs. The cost of waste collection in some regions has increased by 2-4 times as compared to last year. There are practically no regions whose residents would not express dissatisfaction with tariffs.  Courts in Tyumen and Nizhny Novgorod started entertaining suits of these cities’ residents on the reduction of waste removal tariffs.

There already are precedents when the proceedings around the tariffs take place without intervention of the court. For example, the practice of one of the Yekaterinburg housing cooperative (HC) has shown that it is possible to reduce the cost of waste disposal by at least one third if you start sorting waste. The legal basis for this is the Government Decree of June 3, 2016 No. 505 “On approval of the rules for commercial accounting of the volume and mass of municipal solid waste.” The document allows consumers to pay for the remval of solid waste by the actual volume.

To benefit from this right, residents of an apartment building in Yekaterinburg, for example, organized separate collection of waste: they installed a collection net for plastic, located a place for paper waste with protection from water, equipped the site with verifying weights and signed contracts with a recycling company. It took several attempts to obtain the permission for such a scheme for collecting of and accounting for waste: the regional operator would benefit from the “usual scheme” of calculating the volumes of waste by uniformed scale that is usually overrated.

That said, even high tariffs do not provide for managing the waste. Not only residents, but also regional operators are not satisfied with the implementation of the waste reform. In the Republic of Komi, representatives of the regional operator complain that the road to the MSW landfill is so bad that dump trucks break along the road. In the Krasnoyarsk Krai, during the first months of the “waste reform” the operator collected only 25% of fees and that might bring the reform in the region to a stop.  

In Moscow, participants in the next (not the first one this year) “anti-waste” campaign claimed that the reform launched in Russia multiplies tariffs, but does not solve the waste problem. Citizens demanded  to implement in the RF maximal level of waste processing and separate waste collection, and also establish citizens’ watch groups in the sphere of waste utilization. “The Russians are waiting for the waste reform to solve the problem of payments “leaking to the left” and unauthorized dumps. At the same time, the vaguely written law does not explain where to get funds for the tasks set from, and the standards taken “off the mark” do not stimulate the solution of the problem,” experts say.

A few basic conclusions after the first months of the waste reform showed that people began to realize that they have to pay for waste, and pay “in full”. In the current legislation there are incentives for citizens to start sorting waste (the above-described Yekaterinburg experience shows this). A well-thought-out and built-up waste management chain is needed, starting with the consumer who is interested in sorting the waste, to a company that maximally recycles what is recyclable and safely disposes of the non-recyclable.

“There is no magic pill against waste. The solution to the waste problem is there, in the waste,” says the expert of the “Zero Waste” Greenpeace project Alexey Kiselev. Our most important task is to turn the dynamics of waste generation backwards. People still do not realize that the offer to take a free plastic bag in five years turns into the “governor, close the landfill” demand. The cause-and-effect linkage is not obvious, hence the excessive consumption...

“Public organizations are very much engaged in raising public awareness, and people begin to understand that they can live quite comfortably without producing as much waste as they do now. If all parties are interested in solving the problem, and not in just showing off and gaining super-profits from dirty technologies, then everything can work out, and there are examples of both in the Russian regions and our European neighbors. The processing business is ready, and general public will also support it when they see that everything works honestly: the main thing is that no ill-considered administrative decisions would interfere, but authorities supported this process,” believes Olga Senova, Director of the Climate Secretariat of the Russian Social and Ecological Union.  

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