Garbage Abyss: How Communities Have to Handle Waste
Taking the Tulchynsky cluster as an example, Public Services and Monitoring Expert of the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine Viacheslav Sorokovsky told how the waste should be handled in Ukraine.
Every Ukrainian generates annually more than 300 kg of various garbage, and the country in whole, more than 11 million tonnes. The garbage is removed to official or unofficial disposal sites, the total area of which covers 5% of the Ukrainian territory - approximately, it is a territory of Chernivtsi Oblast. Meanwhile, there is only one refuse incineration plant in Ukraine - the Energy plant in Kyiv, the capacities of which plant are insufficient to provide services even to the capital city. How to handle the garbage? In 2011, the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine made a decision to show how to achieve the European model of dealing with waste through the cooperation of communities. In Tulchynsky Rayon, the DESPRO Project experts had been creating a unique system for five years, which system included, among other things, a landfill constructed in accordance with the state standards. Public Services and Monitoring Expert of the DESPRO Swiss-Ukrainian Decentralisation Support Project in Ukraine Viacheslav Sorokovsky told how the project was operating at the present time and whether the experience obtained was being disseminated throughout the entire territory of Ukraine.
To which extent the problem of solid waste is acute for Ukraine? Why the Swiss-Ukrainian Project management decided to pay its attention to the problem?
- Because we live in a globalised world and nobody in Europe needs that Ukraine is contaminated. Basically, the objective of the DESPRO Project was to create a sample to be followed by all others in Ukraine. So far, there arise many discussions regarding the garbage problem. Some people pay attention to the environmental side, others - to the financial one. Some experts focus their efforts on the prevention of waste generation, others - on the waste separation, yet others - on the recycling, dumping, etc. The DESPRO Project tries to consider this problem in its entirety applying the concept of Integrated Solid Waste Management. We were most interested in the managerial component of that programme. Notwithstanding the fact that the local self-government bodies were very fragmented and insufficiently capable in 2011 when we started the programme in Tulchynsky Rayon, we decided to promote the idea of territorial communities cooperation so that the problem of waste management could be resolved on the basis of such cooperation.
Experts have been saying for a long time about the necessity of legally obliging the communities of large cities and nearby amalgamated territorial communities, as well as non-amalgamated villages to jointly deal with the problems related to solid waste management. Was the cluster in Tulchyn built on such cooperation?
- This problem does not relate to large cities only, but also all those settlements where the garbage collection service is provided. Because, there are always such settlements nearby where the service is not available, and those other settlements parasitize the first ones. Let's assume that I live in a suburban village. I don't discard rubbish since there is no place. But when I go to the city, I take a bag of garbage and leave it in any trash container I come across. In practice, it usually comes that large and small cities pay for the collection and disposal of waste from all neighbouring villages. Indeed, those villages pay nothing for it, and they are satisfied with such situation. Likewise, it was in Tulchynsky Rayon. The state should make the agglomerations, through entering into agreements on inter-municipal cooperation, to have a joint service of waste collection and disposal. In France, it is impossible to withdraw from a similar form of cooperation. It would be possible to create an efficient system based on such format.
Please tell about the Tulchynsky project in more details. Why did you decide to create a sample system specifically in Tulchyn?
- It was not just the Rayon centre concerned - the town of Tulchyn in Vinnytsia Oblast - but two neighbouring villages as well, where nobody even collected any garbage. We started that project in Tulchynsky Rayon including because there was a land plot allocated for the future landfill, nearby the existing one. At the same time, there was a system of waste management in place in the Rayon centre. Though it was imperfect, we were not required to start from scratch.
If the garbage was not collected in the neighbouring villages, where did it go?
- That's the point! Many village heads all over Ukraine thought then and think now that when they hire a lorry - not a purpose-built vehicle but a conventional lorry! - to collect garbage from the households, the service of garbage collection would be deemed to be available in their village. All well and good when the village is clean! Every household pays several Ukrainian Hryvnias for each such round trip, in some places the village council pays the transportation costs of the carrier or finds fuel for the lorry. The main thing is to remove garbage outside of the village.
To a landfill?
- The word "landfill" may be applied to a small number of locations where the waste is buried in Ukraine. At the best of times, village councils dispose of the garbage at the existing disposal sites or the so-called areas for temporary storage of waste... In the worst case scenario, the carrier disposes of the garbage at gullies somewhere outside the village. There is a profound abyss between the reality and what is required in Ukraine.
Did you manage to make everything as required in Tulchynsky Rayon?
- It was important for us, as the project, that the burial of waste be carried out in a proper manner and legally. First of all, due to the co-financing provided by the DESPRO Project, a new landfill site with the area of 2 ha was constructed, which landfill complies with all Ukrainian standards. The landfill may be technically not a complicated facility, but it takes considerable time. Imagine an excavation of the said area and 4.5 m deep. Later, the ground and walls of the excavation were covered with a special plastic film - an impervious screen protecting surface waters from being polluted by hazardous substances from the disposal site. Also, in Tulchynsky Rayon, we arranged a system for leachate collection and drainage, which leachate, in the course of time, results from the garbage accumulation and atmospheric precipitates. We also plan to construct a weighing unit so to weigh vehicles coming to the landfill prior to and after unloading. Due to that unit, it would be possible to exactly determine the amount of garbage at the landfill. At 99% of Ukrainian disposal sites, that amount is determined approximately - by multiplying cubic meters of the garbage carried by a garbage-removal truck by average density of such garbage. Consequently, hardly anybody knows the amount of waste collected, buried, and, as a result, the actual amount of money spent on waste management.
Is the landfill just an element of the long chain of proper waste management?
- Notwithstanding the fact that they in Tulchyn proposed straight away that we construct a landfill - at that time the operating landfill was almost full and the authorities sought for a replacement - we insisted on the creation of an entire cycle of collection and recovery of waste. The same as in the leading industrial countries. Because a full-scale waste management system includes not only a landfill but a number of managerial, engineering and financial decisions on which, among other things, the full-fledged operation of the said landfill depends as well. We introduced many changes to the operation of the municipal company dealing with the collection and disposal of garbage in Tulchyn. If earlier, they did not even know who exactly had paid and how much was paid for the collection and disposal of garbage in a certain month, now you would need just two seconds to check payments made by any resident of the community.
What is the price of the creation of a full-scale and complex system of proper waste management?
- The price is case-specific to much extent. For example, in Tulchynsky Rayon, there was already a municipal enterprise having certain equipment, which enterprise dealt with the removal and recovery of waste - we only had to modernize it. There was a land plot allocated for the new landfill. There were waste containers. There was a certain client base. In a rural amalgamated territorial community having nothing, the price will be much higher. A separate word should be said about the landfill. The cost of its construction in 2016 in Tulchynsky Rayon totalled UAH 13 million. However, I would like to emphasise that similar landfills should provide services to a number of communities rather than one. Then, their expenditures for the creation and maintenance of the waste management system will not be too burdensome for an individual community.
Now a great number of communities purchase garbage sorting lines. How may such lines be ranked in the common waste management system?
- I would not advise that any ATC purchase its own garbage sorting line. Even though, it is very popular now: the community, on the one hand, seems to resolve the garbage problem, on the other hand, it improves the environmental condition and creates new jobs. Indeed, it is often to the local authorities' interest to purchase a sorting line showing to all residents that they are economic and thus drawing political dividends. However, such step often means the ineffective application of funds in fact.
But the sorting line is not as expensive as the landfill. And there is enough garbage in each community.
- It is required to take into account every element very thoroughly. Because the sorting line, like the waste management system in whole, is scale-sensitive. If the amount of waste is insignificant, then the operating expenses and investment expenditures would not be recovered, and, in the course of time, the underloaded sorting lines may become a considerable burden for communities. In other words, it might be an extremely unprofitable project. One line should provide services to a number of ATCs rather than a single one, the territory of which communities is referred to as the "cluster" in the National Strategy of Waste Management approved in November of the last year. Such cluster should cover 150,000 - 400,000 residents subject to economic, geographical, transportation, and other characteristics of communities. The strategy provides that all Oblasts will develop special regional waste management plans and, for this purpose, determine such clusters in their territories. Each cluster should have a landfill, sorting line, reloading stations, etc.
What is the reason for reloading stations? It seems there is nothing like that in Ukraine...
- Those stations will make it possible to save on transportation facilities. That is, initially a smaller vehicle will take garbage to the reloading station for sorting. It may be that a part of the garbage is processed, for instance, in fuel pellets. The remaining waste will be taken by large trucks to a sub-regional or cluster landfill.
How can the funds intended for closing a landfill be allocated under the conditions of on-going inflation? Where have they to be accumulated?
- It is rather a difficult question. Firstly, the tariff does not currently provide for an opportunity to accumulate funds intended to be used in the future for a long time. Nevertheless, the national waste management strategy raises the problem of developing such a scheme. However, even when such a mechanism exists, the inflation may bring such accumulated funds to nothing. A possible option includes a flexible scheme under which the community as the owner of a landfill accumulates funds for the landfill reclamation but uses them for other purposes related to the waste management during, that is to say, the running period. However, later the community will individually incur the landfill reclamation costs. Nevertheless, that is only one of the possible options.
How will the local authorities benefit from joining a properly developed waste management system?
- It is a complex issue. On the one hand, the community spends no money on garbage under the current conditions just dumping it in provisional gullies or even taking it to imperfect disposal sites. However, on the other hand, it accumulates a lot of problems - regulatory, social, environmental, etc. For instance, the applicable legislation requires that a community should have a waste management system in place, which system complies with the state standards. Consequently, when the community has no such system, it violates the laws.
Isn't the waste management a problem of Oblasts and Rayons? If such problem is related to any specific community, then it is the community where the landfill is located.
- It is important to say that the entire complex of waste management issues is the responsibility of communities. Not of Rayons or Oblasts. Each community takes its waste to one or another disposal site. And sooner or later it will inevitably face a problem when the disposal site becomes overfilled. Besides, it may be possible that such problem arises unexpectedly as, for instance, at the Hrybovytske disposal site nearby Lviv. Moreover, when the landfill is filled up, it requires a complex of works to be performed pertaining to its reclamation and closing. Unfortunately, there are many instances when the negligence of waste management in a separate community results in adverse "external effects", that is, the problem goes beyond the boundaries of such community. Consequently, in some way or other, there arises a problem for the Rayon and Oblast in similar cases. Let us assume that regions have resources - the means of the environmental fund. However, the "fight against a non-operating landfill" continues for several years as a rule. And during that time, the neighbouring communities are, de facto, environmental disaster areas.
Author: Dmytro Syniak