TALLINN - Just when environmental campaigners for Teeme Ara "Let's do it" were feeling smug about themselves, it all backfired. The European Commission was so shocked by the amount of illegally dumped trash collected this May by the group that it sent Estonia a sharp letter about its waste management system, reports Eesti Paevaleht.
The 10,000 tons of trash and 200,000 tires that volunteers collected from the woods in a single day prompted the European Commission to ask if Estonia's trash control system is working at all.
"Allegedly, there are no different trash collecting systems in lots at a domestic and societal level, which causes in some cases illegal storage of the trash," wrote Mogens Peter Carl, the EU's director general for the environment.
In the letter, Carl expressed suspicion that Estonia may not be living up to the agreements it made when joining the EU.
Carl says that the amount of illegally dumped trash might be so large because there are not enough waste disposal sites, and he asked the Ministry of the Environment for a report on the nation's waste disposal capacity. He also requested a list of Estonia's legal and illegal landfills.
"The reaction is logical 's there has been massive illegal dumping," said Peeter Eek, manager of the waste department at the Ministry of the Environment.
Eek said that although local governments were supposed to have organized a trash transport system by the end of 2005, it still does not work in more than half of the counties.
"It's actually a massive ignoring of the laws, but unfortunately the country does not have any special enforcement methods to put counties into action. As long as the makers of the garbage are not linked with the collecting system, which means a trash bin in the yard of every farm, it's inevitable that garbage is dumped in the woods," Eek said.
Eek didn't rule out the possibility of an EU fine "If it should happen, then [it will be] in three to five years due to violation proceeding and court arguments," he said.
He said hoped Estonia will not get the fine, because the Teeme Ara campaign has alerted many people to the illegal dumping problem.
The commission recently made a proposal to the European Court to fine Italy up to 400,000 euros for violating the waste disposal requirements. The fine includes a large amount to be added daily until the improperly dumped waste has been removed.
Rainer Nolvak, a leader of the Teeme Ara trash collection initiative, was positive about the sharp criticism from European Commission.
Teeme Ara used geo-mapping techniques to locate thousands of illegal garbage dumps in Estonia, then enlisted over 40,000 volunteers to help clean them up in a single day.