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VILNIUS - Down in the dumps due to impending European Union deadlines, Lithuanian environmental authorities have begun sifting through affordable ideas to determine how the country can embrace recycling, and reverse rapidly growing figures of household waste heading to landfills.
By 2013, 50 percent of all Lithuania’s refuse should be reused or recycled, according to directives outlined as conditions for the country’s entrance into the EU back in 2004.
Already reaching the latter half of 2011, the nation still has a long road to travel - currently Lithuania recycles approximately just five percent of all rubbish. The rest heads to landfills, now centralized to eleven major sites around the country.
The central landfill for the Vilnius area, Kazokiskes, is currently the nation’s largest, servicing a populous of around 850,000 citizens, and bringing in around 260,000 tons of unrecycled waste per year. Run by the Vilnius County Waste Management Center (VAATC), the tip sits as a mountain of about one million tons of trash.
While ideas for mass scale separation of trash from recyclable goods and for the transfer of trash to energy make up part of governmental plans for Lithuania’s future, officials have suggested the most laborious task will be getting the public onside for the developments, without burdening them with huge added taxes.
“Every ten cents extra on household bills was very big money for pensioners. The government must calculate how it can cost-effectively introduce new recycling projects. They must do it step-by-step,” said Osvaldas Markevicius, deputy director of production for VAATC.
New projects in the works include a new biological treatment plant, anticipated to cost around 100 million litas (nearly 30 million euros).
“There’s a plan to start operating a mechanical biological treatment plant, to be open by 2014. The majority of this will be constructed using EU funds,” announced VAATC deputy director for development, Jurijus Valiunas. “Approximately 250,000 tons which now head to landfill will head to the bio-plant for recycling by 2015. We have prepared the application for this project, and the money has been approved,” he confirmed.
It was predicted that this plant could potentially lower the amount of biological waste heading to landfill by 25 percent, by 2015.
Another such development, to build a major new trash sorting plant for the Vilnius region, was recently confirmed by the Vilnius City Municipality. “[The waste sorting plant should] start operating by late 2013. The entire stream of municipal waste will be directed to this sorting plant, which will significantly reduce the amount of waste disposed of in landfills,” said Aiste Andziuleviciute, spokesperson for Vilnius City Municipality’s environmental protection division.
In order to hasten progress toward EU deadlines, Lithuania’s Ministry of Environment discussed possible makeshift methods to utilize while the new plants were being built.
“The Ministry of Environment was consulted on the possibility of introducing temporary waste sorting equipment, which would operate until the waste management plant was constructed. According to preliminary calculations, the temporary sorting site would reduce the amount of waste being disposed of in landfills by up to 40 percent. Currently, the issues of financing and site location were being coordinated,” elaborated Andziuleviciute.
At the moment, only one diminutive trash sorter was being utilized at Kazokiskes - a privately contracted machine which sifted a maximum of 300 tons of rubbish per month - which is minimal, considering the vast landscape of unrecycled waste lying around it.
But as Markevicius explained, there was more than one way to recycle the rivers of trash coming in. “At the moment, some waste gets incinerated, and turned into gas, which goes into the air. But within the next decade, the resources will exist for large amounts to be turned into energy,” he insisted, citing the possibility of more waste-to-energy plants being built around the country, as regional councils begin to see the benefits of a similar plant currently under construction in the seaport city of Klaipeda, the first of its kind in the Baltic region.
“The production plant will play a key role in the city of Klaipeda’s waste management and will significantly reduce the disposal of waste in the local landfill,” investor into the new plant, Finnish energy giant Fortum, claimed on their Web site.
Foreign investors, coupled with Lithuania’s access to EU funding, could be the tickets for a new era of environmentally clean developments, predicted director of RB Baltic, Rytis Baksevicius, a local distributer of recycling equipment for the country.
“In the last six or seven years, the situation has changed very much. Now the government has started looking at new projects, such as water recycling - around 90 percent of which would be funded by EU money,” he explained.
While such mass projects were signs of a positive trend forming, experts have expressed that the swing towards recycling must start from individual households. But, there must be increased incentives by the government to aid the process, as without education or access to recycling equipment, public commitment would be unsustainable.
“There are plans to acquire 20,000 composting boxes and individual containers for collecting secondary raw materials [glass, paper and plastic] and to give them away to private home owners. Currently VAATC has announced tenders for acquiring such containers,” stated Andziuleviciute.
“More containers for the collection of secondary raw materials will start appearing in apartment house districts as of September this year,” she furthered.
In a push to educate the region, from this year VAATC opened their landfill site to tourists, students and foreign waste-management professionals, to provide visual information about sorting, recycling and running a “well-operated landfill, which we were not ashamed to show to anyone,” Valiunas noted with approval.