Obstructions, obstacles and opaqueness

Written by: Vladislav Vorotnikov | Published:
Special Report

Moldova’s commitment to modern waste management is whiffier than a stewed cabbage, with investors put off by a seeming lack of will to pass the laws necessary for creating a sustainable and effective industry. Vladislav Vorotnikov relates another Eastern Europe tale of isolated efforts hampered by financial and moral quagmire

Moldova recently started taking the first steps towards a long-term waste management strategy. But the country’s story is a familiar one. The creation of huge waste sorting and processing facilities has been promised, but the projects so far announced largely remain very much in draft form – because investors are not willing to take a risk on the industry.

The strategy, such as it is, was formulated by Moldova’s environmental ministry back in 2013, after several studies revealed that the country’s waste management was in a poor state. Between 2006 and 2012, the annual volume of waste being processed in the Eastern European country dropped from 840,000 tonnes to 470,000 tonnes, according to government figures.

Because Moldova produces 2.5 million tonnes of waste annually, this means that less than 20% of it is being recycled.

The rest is sent to landfill, admits environment minister Gheorghe Salaru, who is aware of the threat posed both to the health of citizens and to the environment.

According to Salaru, though, the strategy has been properly launched. In the first stage of its implementation, the government divided the country into eight sub-regions, with a new landfill site – featuring waste sorting facilities – created in each area.

“All in all, it is anticipated that each landfill will serve the needs of 150,000-200,000 citizens. The overall investment in the project should reach €35 million,” says the minister.

Getting businesses on board

He goes on to explain that each site is expected to attract 20-30 small businesses specialised in waste sorting. As a result, only waste that cannot be recycled will end up in the landfills which as such are not expected to contain more than 15% of each material.

These new sites are expected to meet only a third of demand from Moldova’s 3.5 million citizens. Nonetheless, their capacity can be expanded in the future if the project proves to be successful.

According to the environment minister, special attention will be paid to the management of paper waste. “The price of recycling will be determined by economic agents who specialise in the relevant area. For example, the re-use of a kilo of paper would cost one Moldovan leu (US$0.05). [Recycling paper] will save hundreds of hectares of forest. We must realise that natural resources are not unlimited and nature must be protected for the future,” says Salaru.

Also in the long term, the ministry intends to develop a separate system for the collection of waste such as packaging, tyres and batteries, and differentiated garbage collection for households and industry. However, the problem is that despite the strategy, Moldova has no legal framework for the creation of an effective waste collecting and processing industry.

Development stalled

According to Julian Gamuryak, head of the local Association of Waste Collecting and Processing Businesses, this lack of legal protection hampers development in the processing sector. Take, for example, Moldova’s first plastic recycling plant, opened in 2012 near the capital, Chisinau. The facility cost MDL 2.4 million (US$120,000) to build and annually recycles 200 tonnes of plastic for the production of roofing tiles, paving, buckets, boards and bricks.

Gheorghe Duca, chairman of the country’s Academy of Sciences, which participated in the project, says the hi-tech facility is being held back. “We have developed the special equipment to process waste into panels and tiles. [But] there is a problem that we [Moldova] don’t have a special law in the area of waste management, [so the] plant has to purchase part of its waste from abroad,” he explains.

In other words, not enough Moldovans are sending their plastic waste to be recycled. And without laws compelling them to recycle generally, any processing facilities built in the country will run below capacity – unless they import material. When the plant near Chisinau was opened by the then prime minister Vlad Filat, he promised that legislation would be passed to close this gap between the country’s stated waste management ambitions and the behaviour of its citizens and businesses.

He even lamented the ecological fallout of Moldova’s current inability to properly process the three million tonnes of plastic waste it is expected to generate annually.

However, no laws have since been added to the statute book (and Filat, who has since resigned, is now embroiled in a scandal over his alleged involvement in a $1bn bank scam).

Which brings us to the other big stumbling block: money. The construction of an €80 million waste processing plant with a 400,000 tonne capacity was announced earlier this year for the treatment of all types of household waste. However, the authorities have so far failed to find any investor, so it is probable that the budget will fall, possibly to as low as €10 million, which will also decrease capacity.

In any case, it has been suggested that a revised blueprint will not see the light of day before 2017.

“This project is hampered by the lack of legislation in the area of waste management. Also, there is a little interest from investors in recycling,” Gamuryak says. “Some companies, after collecting and sorting waste, [then sell it on]. Only a few companies are involved in garbage collection and subsequent shipment for processing. Moldova exports electrical waste to Romania for recycling there, for example, [despite the fact that] processing waste independently in Moldova would achieve significant economic growth.”

Frustratingly, according to Gamuryak, the environmental ministry has drafted relevant laws to tackle the problem, but for some reason Moldova’s parliament remains uninterested in them. As such there is no combined effort to develop the country’s recycling industry, which is limited to separate efforts, and it is unclear if the situation will improve.

“It is necessary to understand that the strategy is not the package of certain measures aimed at developing waste collection and recycling. It is just a set of goals and targets, which provide that the country in particular should send more than half of all waste produced for recycling. But there is no roadmap for how we should reach these goals,” says Yuri Byan, a member of the Association of Waste Collecting and Processing Businesses.

He adds it is no wonder that investors are shying away when the government is being so opaque about its intentions: “There is uncertainty about what the government will do within coming years, or even if it
will do anything. Business doesn’t like uncertainty, so without some clear signals to investors we will not be able to attract them.”

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