“Depressive” waste

The Russian government decided to reduce the cost of waste processing facilities construction. How is the “waste reform" progressing in the regions of Russia?

The reform of solid municipal waste management (SWM) was launched last January. Transformations should take place in three areas: the collection and sorting of waste, its processing and disposal, plus the elimination of unauthorized landfills.

The need for a reform has been long overdue: according to the Ministry of Natural Resources, annually, about 70 million tons of waste are generated in Russia, and this figure increases by 3% every year. Of the total volume, 5-7% are processed, the rest is disposed of or stored in the open.

The government hoped to radically change the situation with the help of the National Ecology project: according to plans, by 2024, 36% of waste should be recycled. To do this, processing plants with a total capacity of 37 million tons of waste are to be built. The reform was just beginning to gain momentum, when it turned out that funding from the federal budget would be reduced. The amount of funds allocated to the “waste” area of the Ecology project is planned to be cut by 20% in 2020 and by 26% in 2021. At the same time, in early September, the Russian President’s Special Envoy for theEnvironmentSergey Ivanov claimedthat the first results of the reform of the Russian system of SWM management could be expected only when about 200 waste sorting and processing plants will have been built in the country.

According to the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Denis Khramov, the reason for the cutbacks in funding is a decrease in environmental tax revenues. It is expected that in 2020, the collected total will amount to 2.8 billion rubles, i.e., half as much as the current budget provided, and in 2021, only 3.8 billion rubles instead of 8 billion, and the same amount in 2022.

Due to reduced funding in some regions, waste sorting and recycling plants will not be built, and it will not be possible to reduce waste disposal in these cities on a short-term horizon, Vedomostireferredto the words of the founder of the Center for Waste Recycling Technologies Alexei Voloshin. In his opinion, financing of the reform cannot be dependent on collection of revenues - the waste problem has reached catastrophic proportions.

According to Svetlana Bik, executive director of the National Association of Concessionaires and Long-Term Infrastructure Investors (NACDI), the waste sector is losing private investors, and now, in addition to that,the state funding too. Municipal waste is one of the most depressing areas on the agreement market, says Bick, “the investors do not feel that their investments are protected due to frequent changes of the rules.”

A few days ago, the Auditing Chamber of the Russian Federation submitted a conclusion that the main indicators of the “waste” reform, presented in the state program of “Environmental Protection”, are “formulated inefficiently”, the indicators do not allow assessing the progress of the reform and create the risk of failure of the tasks set. The report noted that the state program lacks measures and targets to promote separate collection of waste.

The Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation Yuri Chaika at the first interregional meeting on the issue of the waste reform in Yekaterinburg said that despite three years of preparation for the reform, not a single region could really launch the reform without problems: over the past year, prosecutors revealed tens of thousands of different violations in the country.

Deputy Head of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia Vladimir Loginov said that there were risks to thwart the reform in many regions. The risks of non-compliance with deadlines are especially high in the Arkhangelsk region, the Trans-Baikal and Krasnoyarsk Territories, the Jewish Autonomous Region and the Nenets Autonomous District. The reason for the delays, according to Loginov, is the incorrectly formed waste management schemes and the lack of reasonable tariffs for regional operators.

Let us remind that the territorial scheme of waste management is the main reform tool for the regions, an “instruction” for the work of regional operators, scheduling the work on collection, storage, transportation, processing, utilization, detoxification, and disposal of waste. Long before the start of the SWM reform, at the end of 2017, most regions approved waste management schemes, but in most cases they are already facing the need to review and adjust them. And the discussion and adjustment process is still unfinished.

In many regions, unauthorized landfills are becoming a sore point in implementing the waste reform. Both experts and public activists offer ways to deal with them. They consider it necessary to oblige municipalities to liquidate landfills and organize regular interagency and public raids. There is a proposal to put the identified littered territories on the map –a map of Russia’s landfillshas already appeared on the networks.Some offer to solve the problem not only with a “whip”, but also with a “carrot”. There is a public petition on social networks: citizens propose to organize waste collection points where unsorted garbage will be accepted for a small fee - instead of installing tanks and hiring janitors.

In Russian realities,waste sorting is difficult to take root. In most settlements, experiments are underway to create waste sites for separate collection. But so far, the population has no special motives;however, the main thing is that the whole chain has not been built: it is important to dump sorted waste to recycling points, rather than dumping it in a heap at a landfill.

According to environmentalists, a huge gap in the official reform is the lack of plans on how to reduce the amount of waste. Campaigns against plastic (it, as research shows, accounts for a significant portion of waste) is usually implemented as part of public initiatives. But precisely the issue of reducing waste generation should become the most important link in the national waste reform. The logic is simple: the less is the waste –the fewer processing plants are needed.

IntheopinionofOlgaSenova, HeadoftheClimateProgramoftheRussianSocialandEcologicalUnion (RSEU), the reduction of the amount of waste in production and consumption should be the main task of federal authorities, regional leaders, producers of goods, and the businesses operating with waste. Reasonable initiatives of the public, active municipalities and small enterprises show that this is possible, but their capacity is not enough to make a difference.

The RSEU has come up with a Waste Position, which “reflects public concerns about environmental and social problems associated with the management of municipal solid waste.” The position is planned to be approved during the conference, which will bring together public activists from the regions of Russia.

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