TALLINN - The Ministry of Environment and waste processing businesses are pushing for higher waste dumping prices to increase general awareness of waste sorting in the northernmost Baltic country.
Businesses involved in recycling waste said they expected a different waste industry to materialize in the near future.
For instance Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility, a private firm, barely breaks even in current conditions. However, Estonia's expected accession to the European Union looks to dramatically improve the company's hopes as the waste management industry is set to be revamped once strict EU regulations on waste processing are implemented throughout the country, said company management.
Heinar Leismann, chairman of the board of Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility, said the company is optimistic about the future. Production volumes are likely to increase, and more waste would have to be recycled as a result of stricter EU regulations and excise taxes.
"Estonia has taken a commitment before the EU to increase the share of recyclable waste to 50 percent," said Leismann. "Without our facility the country would not be able to fulfill this."
Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility presently sorts recyclable material such as paper, metal, glass and plastics before the waste is sent to the Joelahtme waste dump, the most modern one in the country.
The facility charges a gate fee equal to that of the recently opened Joelahtme dump and earns a profit from reselling sorted recyclable materials.
Currently only 5 percent - 7 percent of household waste is recycled in Estonia.
By contrast, in Denmark only 20 percent of waste is dumped, meaning that up to 80 percent of the waste is actually recycled.
Oil-shale waste makes about 14 percent of the waste generated in Estonia.
Established in February 2003 with a 2 million euro investment, Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility plans to increase its daily processing capacity from 300 tons to 500 tons to match the total amount of waste generated in Tallinn daily.
The facility's 164 employees working in two shifts currently sort 60 percent of the capital's waste. Sixty more people will be hired soon to launch the third shift, according to Leismann.
Rein Leipalu, chairman of the board of Ragn-Sells, a waste management company, said that none of the projects similar to Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility had been successful in other countries.
"Waste management is a business like any other business: The state sets up the rules, and the competition should be on equal terms that grant the most efficient and economically sound solutions. Aid from the state and monopoly in most cases means less efficient solutions," he explained.
"Until today Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility has not received any support because they have not asked for it," said Peeter Eek, director general of the waste department at the Ministry of Environment.
He said that the functions of the waste sorting facilities were very essential, and none of the waste management companies should take the waste directly to the waste dump without first offering it to the sorting facility.
"Our aim is to have as little waste as possible," said Eek.
"We understand that the capacity of Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility is limited, but in the future the state hopes to see that 100 percent of waste will go through such facilities," he added.
According to Eek, it is up to the local municipalities to regulate local waste management or demand preliminary source separation. He said that it should become compulsory for citizens to sort out paper and cardboard from other waste.
"It takes a lot of time and money before people learn to sort waste by themselves. It would require tens of millions of kroons to buy additional waste containers, rebuild streets and train the people," said Eek.
"It would take just as long as they advocate placing all the waste into the same garbage container," said Leipalu, referring to the mission of Tallinn Waste Sorting Facility to do the sorting for the citizens.
Preliminary waste sorting is carried out in all of the Nordic countries, but it cannot be done in the small kitchens of Estonian apartment houses, said Eek and Leismann.
But some disagree with their reasoning.
"It is against our principles. A lot of the kitchens in the Nordic countries are also small; it is only a question of willingness to do waste sorting. Technical solutions are available also for small kitchens," said Leipalu.
Leipalu said that the cost of land filling — leaving the waste in a waste dump — had to be increased fivefold to motivate preliminary waste sorting and conduct smaller fees for recycled waste.
The prices of dumping the waste vary from 6 euros to 30 euros per ton in Estonia.
According to Eek, the Ministry of Environment favors the price hike because the current prices set by local municipalities do not cover the needs of investments.