Tougher recycling regulations needed before Estonia's EU membership

  • 2002-10-03
  • Aleksei Gunter

Estonia has failed to keep pace with recycling rates written into a 1997 law and now needs tougher regulations to keep up with European Union demands, the Environment Ministry said last week.

The 1997 law required the country to recycle at least 50 percent of all packaging material by June 2001, but the ministry said only 15 percent - mostly glass and plastic bottles - was actually recycled.

Parliament will now have to draft a stronger law that includes heavy fines for failure to comply with recycling directives.

"All the businesses working with packaging will have to meet the requirements or pay huge fines," said Peeter Eek, head of the ministry's waste recycling department.

Eek acknowledges that amendments might spark a backlash among local governments, which will have to raise waste treatment prices to compensate for more comprehensive recycling plans.

The amendments are expected to set recycling rates until 2006.

Packing for food and other products totaled 250,000 tons between 1994 and 2000, one-third of the waste generated in the country.

This includes everything from chocolate-bar wrappers to metal and wooden boxes for industrial equipment.

Eek said the country had seen the most success with bottle manufacturers thanks to a tax on those producers who do not recycle.

"Local alcohol and soft drink producers are familiar with the regulations and follow them," he said.

Producers of liquor and soft drinks can avoid the package tax by recycling 60 percent of the package for products sold at Estonian markets. The tax rate varies depending upon the type of the package and its quantity.

All the major liquor and soft drinks producers take advantage of the package tax exemption, according to the ministry.

The country does not have a package registry, something the ministry would like to see established.

"We have a number of so-called regular packages nobody is dealing with. For example, milk packs. All those things are regulated in the EU, and we also have to cope with it," said Eek. "Regulations are complicated. For example, pallets, platforms used for transporting and storing goods, are also subject to the law on packaging."

Jarvakandi Klaas Ltd. operates the only factory in Estonia producing glass packaging. Lembe Luhtoja from the raw-material purchase department says the used glass share of the total outcome of the company has been growing rapidly since 1999. The factory buys old glass from companies that collect it from the population.

The factory recycled 5,940 tons of glass in 1999, and over 7,000 tons in 2001.

"Although it is more expensive to produce new bottles from old crushed glass than from natural raw materials, we are satisfied with this growth," she said.