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“Waste” from the reform. Part 3: The Reform: a view from the regions and alternative opinions

The picture from the regions is somewhat different from the official one. The waste reform has failed - the most popular thesis of regional media texts in articles on waste problems. Journalists describe  the failure of regional operators, their conflicts with businesses, management companies, scandals with recyclers,  inflated tariffs for citizens, overcrowded waste sites and smoking landfills,  the growing number of illegal dumps, the lack of waste separation or its imitation. “The reform is not keeping up with ‘waste generation’, there is more and more waste“.

In fact, only a tenth of what is generated is actually recycled, and in many cities and regions there is no recycling or sorting at all,” the authors of the Telegram channel “Uravdom (Housing and Utilities)” write.

State Duma deputy from “Fair Russia - For Truth” Alexander Aksenenko says that the population has a clear understanding that the waste reform has come down to only one thing: to impose on people another unnecessary payment in favor of regional operators. “During the reform, the area of illegal dumps in the country has grown by 30%, while legal ones are overwhelmed and continue to burn,” the deputy says.

“The problem is that most of the country's population pays for waste disposal according to the norms, which can exceed the real volume of waste generation up to three times, and this has been repeatedly confirmed in the courts,” says Svetlana Razvorotneva, deputy chairman of the State Duma Committee on Construction and Housing and Utilities. - Homeowners' associations and management companies are proving in courts their right to switch to collection on the basis of fact, but they face active resistance from regional operators.

Valery Fadeyev, Chairman of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights,  criticized the methods of solving environmental problems related to waste on the ground. According to him, most of the measures taken are largely “an imitation of activities and a way for business to profit”.

Andrei Peshkov, advisor to the head of the Analytical Center under the Russian government, emphasized, that the “waste reform” can indeed already be considered a failure, as it only deals with 2% of waste. And the launch of incinerators in Russia as part of the “waste reform” may become a systemic threat to the health of Russians for generations to come.

Speaker of the Federation Council Valentina Matvienko believes, that the law on production and consumption waste works poorly. “We report - so many dumps have been eliminated. But, unfortunately, there is no report on how many new ones have appeared. That is why it is necessary to establish an appropriate order in each constituent entity,” Matvienko emphasized.

The leader of the “FRs” Sergey Mironov believes that the waste reform has turned out to be an accumulation of waste and problems. “In my opinion, it is obvious that the ‘waste’ reform should be abandoned. In its current form, it only aggravates chronic problems in the sphere of waste management,” the politician states.
“Different figures of the amount of waste in the country speak about discrepancies in accounting, while even taking into account all the measures that officials talk about, the amount of waste in the country could not have reduced by 10%,” believes Dmitry Nesterov, an expert of the Zero Waste project.

“When we hear that half of the waste is sent for recycling, we should realize that we are only talking about sorting. Instead of developing multifractional separate collection (and it gives up to 90% of clean recyclables, as opposed to the more commonly used two-stream, where no more than 40% is recycled), we have, for example, prioritized the construction of expensive technology parks, which, in fact, are huge factories whose efficiency is not obvious.”

“In federal legislation, we have the highest priority at the top of our list: working to make less waste appear. The Ministry of Environment has equated incineration of waste with energy generation with recycling. All this is being done to achieve the goals of the National Project “Ecology” and to reduce landfill disposal by burning waste as RDF fuel instead of carbon fuel in cement plants. All this puts into question also the prospects for the development of separate collection and implementation of higher priority ways of waste management,” Nesterov adds.

“The government wants to shift the obligation to dispose of packaging from those who do it now - the producers of final products - to the producers of the packaging itself,” says an expert of the Zero Waste project. “This way, of course, it is easier for officials to manage the process, because there are only about 4-5 thousand producers of various types of packaging in the country, and those who use it - by orders of magnitude more. The world practice is oriented on the fact that those who pour something into it, wrap it, etc. should be responsible for packaging. But in our country it turns out that packaging manufacturers are not interested in replacing it with more environmentally friendly options, they are unlikely to be engaged in collection and utilization, it is easier for them to pay the eco-collection. In other words, the measure is not an environmental, but a fiscal instrument.

Alexei Makrushin, Deputy Director General of the REO believes that “the extended producer responsibility (EPR) system was supposed to create incentives, mechanisms for recycling packaging and goods that require some special collection systems, be it tires, electronics and similar types of products. But the results of its work are invisible not only to the general public, but also to the professional community. The waste recycling capacities that should have been built are available only in certain areas... If we look at cardboard recycling, we recycle 75% of it, but if we look at the glass, it’s less than 10%. So we had to understand why this happened, why this system did not work exactly as a waste management system and what is required to set it up”.

One of the problems experts also indicate is the decrease in funding for programs related to waste.  As it became known, the financing of the waste reform in 2023-2024 was halved “due to the growth of expenditures on national defense”. Thus, in 2023, funding for the creation of infrastructure for the treatment and disposal of waste decreased by 2.1 times compared to 2022 - to 12.5 billion rubles. In 2024, it is planned to spend 14.07 billion rubles instead of the previously envisioned 27.96 billion.

In the spring of this year, experts from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RPANEPA) analyzed the progress of the waste reform and came to the conclusion that the reduction of landfill disposal by half by 2030, declared as one of the main goals of the reform, will be achieved in Russia only on paper. This is because all the previous years of the reform were spent not on creating technological and organizational mechanisms for a circular cycle economy, but on preserving the existing landfill model of household waste management. 

This article is part of an analysis of waste reform over the past two years. Read also
“Waste” from the reform. Part 1: Waste in the language of law and
“Waste” from the reform. Part 2: Waste reform in official reports