“Waste Management” Magazine: The challenges of the end of the 20th century related to climate change and the dramatic reduction of natural resources marked for a long-term and irreversible the human-nature relationship. How do EU Member States respond to the challenge of acting Green – Smart – Circular – Sustainable?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: I fully subscribe to your statement about the new ground of human-nature relationship that emerged in the last decades. Yes, it is driven by the challenges we are facing, but these challenges have their fundamental reasons laying in our behavior, which makes huge demands on the planet. With a global population increasing by 200 000 every day and high-consumption middle class continuously growing, demand and supply of resources are constantly going in opposite directions. During the last century the world increased 12 times its use of fossil fuels and 34 times the extraction of material resources. 70% is the expected growth in demand for food and animal feed by 2050. This data warn that if we carry on using resources at the current rate, we will soon need more than two planets to sustain us. We have to take full account of this reality and change our consumption and production patterns, if we are to make a difference.
Such change in mindset has not happened overnight, neither globally or in the EU. Before acting “green-smart-circular” we had to first learn how to develop sustainably, namely decouple the economic growth from extensive resource exploitation at the expense of environment. This is how the foundations of sustainable development were laid in the 1960s, recognizing that its economic, environmental and social dimensions should be addressed together and in synergy. Sustainable development has since then been at the heart of the European project, but it took until the first decade of our century for sustainable consumption and production and resource efficiency to progressively become more integrated into a new economy model, known as “green economy”. As for the concept of “circular economy” – although born in the 1970s, it has only recently become one of the EU’s main policy priorities, addressing the entire lifecycle of products and services. On global level as well – it took decades for the world’s development perception to shift from an orthodox policy focused on macroeconomic fundamentals, through a more sustainable path driven by the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2001, to an overarching global sustainable development agenda with its concrete Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030), adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2015.
This is to say that changing behavior patterns is a process that may take a couple of generations’ lifetime and there is no “one size fits all” model to achieve it. The EU has a long history in sustainable development thinking and is one of the strongest drivers of the global Agenda 2030. Today all its fundamental policies are designed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, while the regulatory and financial instruments are in place to enable this. Still, these tools are providing the framework, but each Member State has to find its own nationally appropriate sustainable development model. Globally as well – every country or region has to choose its own path depending on their history, economic background and last but not least – culture and mentality. Though, what is most important is to follow one and the same course, which would make sustainable development irreversible for the sake of our future generations!
Waste Management” Magazine: Europe is currently losing yearly approximately 600 million tonnes of waste materials that can be recycled or reused. In this regard, the European Commission has adopted an ambitious package on the circular economy. What is the value and role of waste in a circular economy and how important is for low income country like Moldova to use the waste like a resource?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: Today’s linear economy relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy, but this is a model that is reaching its physical limits. From this perspective, a circular economy is an attractive and viable alternative that businesses are already exploring. At the same time, it is an immensely complex concept, with potential impacts throughout the economy, involving multiple stakeholders from both public and private sectors.
Circular economy is indeed placed high on the EU policy agenda since 2015, but namely because of its complexity, it will take quite some time to achieve it. On the other hand, sound waste management is considered a vital element in setting the economy on a path of sustainability and resource efficiency, and in Europe we have all necessary policy, legal and financial instruments to strengthen further this pillar of the circular concept. With these tools at hand, the Republic of Moldova also has the opportunity to set its economy on a more sustainable pathway – it is a matter of choosing the right direction at a crossroad, and the choice is all yours!
To that end, it is important to realize that waste management has value on its own and a role to play not only in the circular economy context. Solid waste management and recycling provide economic and employment opportunities. These two industries in EU currently have a turnover of €137 billion and together create over 2 million jobs. Valuable resources and energy could be recovered from recycling processes (e.g. gold and platinum from electronics or biogas from the breakdown of organic materials). Recycling also saves energy and raw materials in manufacturing processes. In short – political, commercial, health and environmental benefits of effective waste management are nowadays proven by experience. This is equally valuable for both high- and low-income countries, just a mind shift is needed to start considering waste not as a problem, but as an opportunity to recover and convert resources.
Waste Management” Magazine: In the Republic of Moldova, the political, economical and social vulnerabilities stagnate the waste management segment, and their economical value. Does the Association Agreement with the EU provide the necessary tools for efficient waste management and are there backlog in this area?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: “Moldovan circumstances” do not differ so much from those in other countries with similar size, development level or political background. The challenges your country faces are no different than those in many EU member states at the time of launching our new waste management systems, driven by the European standards and legal requirements. Yet, today’s facts and figures in this area rank such countries like Estonia and Slovenia among the best performing in Europe when it comes to separate collection and recycling. Overall, the share of municipal waste recycled in the EU has steadily increased from 17% in 1995 to 44% in 2014. There are several Member States that landfill less than 1% of the waste they generate. And according to Zero Waste Europe statistics, the network of municipalities applying zero waste strategies has grown to 364 (10% of which in “new” member states like Hungary, Slovenia, Romania and Croatia).
There is of course a lot more to be done to bring all EU Member States on the same path of efficient waste management, but the trends are clear. These trends are driven namely by the policy and legal instruments provided also in the EU-Moldova Association Agreement, so you can make good use of them. Very important first steps are already taken in that direction. The new Law on Waste introduces the basic EU principles of “waste hierarchy” and “polluter pays”, sets recycling targets for the largest waste streams generated from packaging and electronic equipment, and provides for the establishment of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to help deliver these targets. Strategic framework is also in place with the National Waste Management Strategy 2014-2027 and regional sector programmes adopted for the 3 development regions (North, Center, South). Moreover, 8 feasibility studies are prepared for the respective waste management zones identified. Challenges remain indeed, especially related to the establishment of a good institutional framework and providing for an integrated waste management infrastructure, which need more time. There are good practices and lessons learned with this respect, which we are ready to share with our Moldovan partners to help them avoid our mistakes and head in the right direction already at the outset of your country’s new waste management approach.
Waste Management” Magazine: In July this year the Government was reorganized and the number of ministries was reduced. What is your view regarding the merging of three ministries and the creation of the new Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Development and Environment (MARDE)? To what extent will environmental issues and especially waste management be a priority in the newly created ministry?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: The overarching governmental and administrative reforms undertaken by the Republic of Moldova this year should be duly acknowledged as necessary steps towards optimization of public administration, costs reduction, and consequently improving the overall civil service. As every reform process, it has its challenges to overcome, but also great opportunities to be seized.
As for merging of the ministries – having in mind the close link and interactions among all three policy areas, one can see clear opportunities in such an institutional set up. Being under the same political management and administrative organization will facilitate the cooperation in policy development and implementation, thus providing an opportunity for better streamlining the environmental issues into key economic development areas. It shall also contribute to better targeting of both national and external financial support through improved project coordination on national, regional and local levels. For these opportunities to be turned into reality, the interconnections need to be understood and addressed when shaping the future policies in all three areas. It will require the establishment of a common planning system, as well as robust project prioritization and management mechanisms that would create synergy and complementarities among the three policies and allow for better channeling of investments, including in cross-cutting sectors like environment and climate change. Institutional and capacity building will be crucial for the quality and effectiveness of this complex reform process, therefore more efforts will be needed to mobilize national and donor funding with this respect.
When it comes to the place of environment and waste management in the new system – I would like to stress that these policy areas cannot be a priority just for the public administration, no matter if it is a standalone ministry or part of a broader institutional set up. The role of and interaction with society and business communities is crucial here, though it should be well accounted for, adequately regulated and promoted. In this context – the overall environmental governance system should be essentially reformed and strengthened, so that potential conflicts of interest are avoided, corruption practices are prevented, and inclusive participation in the decision making process is ensured for all stakeholders concerned. Crucial for the efficiency of this reform will be the forthcoming reorganization of the subordinated institutions under MARDE, including the establishment of an Environment Agency to consolidate key executive functions in the sector (namely environmental impact assessments, permitting, monitoring and management of environmental information systems). Clear division and distribution of responsibilities are needed in the sector to avoid overlaps and gaps, while ensuring that all functions deriving from the Association Agreement are covered.
This being said, environmental policy should be seen in a wider perspective, meaning that it concerns not only protection of the environment but it also provides a unique opportunity in terms of economic and regional development. With this respect, waste management should not be dealt with in isolation, but rather as part of the wider economic development perspective for the Republic of Moldova. By endorsing green and circular economic models and by profiting from new technologies an entirely new approach could be adopted, where smart agricultural systems and regional development strategies are effectively integrated into a coherent, sustainable framework.
Waste Management” Magazine: The Ministry of Agriculture, Regional Development and Environment is the competent authority with responsibilities regarding the waste management. In a circular economic model, involvement of only local authorities is insufficient as they are facing with many critical challenges in dealing with increasing consumption and per capita waste generation, and complexity of waste streams. So the Public-private-partnerships (PPPs) is a key to expand waste management services of local authorities, which lacks financial, institutional capacities and technological know-how. Are there such PPPs partnerships in the EU countries and how do they work on the waste market?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: The quality of public services is important for overall quality of life. We all want to drink clean and tasty water, enjoy well developed public transport and have our waste removed regularly. Moreover, we want to have it all at reasonable prices. However, in order to maintain or improve the quality and accessibility of these services, substantial investment in related infrastructure is needed. This is not always easy for local or even central administrations, as public resources for investments are usually scarce. One way to remedy this shortage is to pool the resources of the public sector and private operators. This is where we need Public-Private Partnerships.
According to Dealogic Projectware database, in the EU 1184 PPPs have been implemented between 2000 and 2015, for a cumulative value of nearly €270 billion. The largest sector in terms of value is transport (€150 bn.), followed by the defense and social infrastructure. PPPs in water supply and sanitation and in solid waste management hold relatively small, but increasing share over the period. The EU Member States with most active PPP markets are the UK, Spain, France, Poland and Italy. It is estimated that over 60% of all PPPs are concessions.
Waste management PPPs are relatively new on the market. They developed in late 1990s, responding to public authorities’ need to meet increasingly stringent environmental standards, to address public health issues associated with waste generation and to mitigate rising costs. Most commonly, these projects include waste collection, treatment, recycling, and waste-to-energy infrastructure. In low-income countries where waste management costs cannot be covered by the fees collected from users, contracting specific service providers (e.g. for collecting waste, operating a waste transfer plant or sorting facilities) is more widespread than the appointment of a large-scale private operator covering the entire sector. PPP has also been explored not just in the light of big infrastructure projects but as part of a decentralized system which includes different actors (both profit and nonprofit), in a systemic cooperation with clear coordination by central and local public authorities. Such approach, involving nonprofit door-to-door collectors and community based organizations or SMEs recycling materials in intermediate recovery centers, has proved to be valuable solution for some low-income developing countries.
According to data published by Infrastructure Journal – on a global level a total of 68 waste management PPPs for a cumulative value of $17.3 billion were implemented between 2005 and 2013. Leader in this market is again UK, where in 2013 alone 9 PPP projects for construction of waste treatment plants were launched, with a total investment of $3 billion. Besides the “traditional” frontrunners (UK, Spain, France, Italy), countries from Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, Check and Slovak Republics) have also successfully managed to modernize their waste management systems through PPPs. However, such partnerships have experienced backlogs in some Member States, mainly because of unpredictable business and legal environment, where private companies faced uneven playing field in competition with public enterprises, or the selection of the private partner was made not in a competitive way.
Key lesson learned from this experience is that waste PPP projects carry unique risks, especially in the complex environment of an emerging market. Most common challenges include an unclear delineation of responsibilities, obsolete regulation, and unrealistic financial expectations. Even if the PPP mandates a private company to design, finance, construct and operate a new integrated waste system, the public sector will still have a role and responsibility in its implementation. Unless these are clearly understood, the success of any PPP can be compromised. Where regulations to govern integrated waste systems are non-existent or insufficient, public and political support can be an insurmountable barrier for developing a PPP project. Thus, it is essential for regulations to be in place before a procurement process is launched, along with training for public officials to monitor and inspect waste systems. From a financial perspective – cost recovery from households in the form of fees paid for waste collection is generally very poor, while private investors usually seek at least 15% return on investment to consider a project financially viable. So, to be publically acceptable, any PPP solution should demonstrate a clear value (better service) for money.
In conclusion – while the benefits of partnering with the private sector in PPPs are clear, such relationships should not be seen as the only possible course of action, since they are indeed complex to design, implement and operate. Therefore each PPP should be carefully assessed against the public benefit and the relative gains to be achieved under various approaches. Stable legal environment, as well as clear requirements of transparency, non-discrimination and equal treatment should be ensured throughout the process.
Waste Management” Magazine: Already, an estimated 3.4 million people are employed in circular economy jobs such as repair, waste, recycling, and the rental and leasing sectors across the EU. Will the circular economy create new jobs and improve their potential in Moldova and what must be done to get such results?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: I can go even further and look at the example of the environmental goods and services sector, which has seen a steady growth over the last 15 years, reaching 4,2 million jobs in 2014 (despite the economic crisis we have been through). Yes, resetting our economies to a circular pattern can surely create new jobs, and the Republic of Moldova would not make an exception if it chooses this development path. But let’s not forget that the circular economy concept covers all five stages of products’ lifecycle – design, production, consumption, waste management and secondary materials treatment (though it should be noted that not all rental or leasing schemes are to be considered part of the circular economy). To address all these stages and make them work in “circular” symbiosis will need at least a generation-long targeted investment in awareness raising, education and vocational trainings, along with deployment of new technology.
Of course, we have to kick off from somewhere, and the best “somewhere” seems to be at the point we stop “wasting our waste”, and start extracting wealth from it. Waste management and recycling are not only generating jobs (as mentioned before – 200 million engaged in these sectors in EU), but it is also a powerful resource efficiency instrument. If you look at the big picture of what it takes to create a product from scratch – to get the raw materials, transport them, process them and manufacture them – making goods with recycled material like paper, plastic, glass, and metal is a major resource and energy saver. Recycling one aluminum can for instance saves 95% of the energy needed to make a new one from raw material. Every ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees and 50% of the water needed for its production Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a traditional 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours, and so on… Businesses all over the world realize and explore these opportunities.
In short – moving from waste management to resource management is a transition critical to the success of all economies and a “shortcut” to a more sustainable future. A mind shift is needed first, indeed. But once realizing the benefits, it would not take long before the Republic of Moldova sees itself engaged in this path, and start adding to the “green” jobs statistics. Your Green Economy Road Map developed with EU support (and currently undergoing public consultations) is a good basis to build on, why not starting from there?
Waste Management” Magazine: At the end of this year the Law No. 209 on waste will enter into force. Pursuant to Article 14 (a) (b), it is intended to introduce, by next year, separate systems for the collection of paper, glass, metals and plastics and by 2020, recycling up to 30% of the total amount of waste collected . How real are these objectives, as long as the normative acts related to these processes are not elaborated yet?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: Well, a common target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030 is envisaged in the Circular Economy package proposed by the Commission, and this target at EU level is set at 50% by 2020. It should be noted however that various waste streams contribute to their achievement, more specifically the waste from packaging, electrical and electronic equipment. Some of the Member States which have acceded the EU in 2004/2007 (incl. Poland, Latvia, Malta, Bulgaria and Romania) have been granted transitional periods regarding these specific targets, namely because of their feasibility at the time they were set up. Nevertheless, according to the Commission’s reports (2014) both Bulgaria and Romania for instance have been overshooting their targets for packaging waste for a few years in row. It is also interesting to note that the “newest” Member State – Croatia has reported the highest rate (98%) in re-use/recycling of small household appliances already one year before its accession to the EU.
Thus, our experience shows that setting ambitious targets always deliver! They are nowadays considered as an opportunity to unlock the potential each country has to develop a secondary materials market, as well as perspectives for “greening” the economy. Since a sound waste management (including recycling and recovery of materials) is a collective responsibility, targets represent also an effective tool to engage businesses in their achievement, for instance through the establishment of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes.
The waste management legal framework in the Republic of Moldova is flexible enough, while allowing you to develop a working system that would enable reaching the targets set. Provisions for establishing EPR schemes are also there. Moreover, the implementing acts related to the specific waste streams (from packaging, electronics, batteries and accumulators) are developed and currently consulted with the stakeholders concerned. Therefore, I don’t see any reason that would prevent you from just look ahead and start laying the grounds for implementation.
Waste Management” Magazine: One of the main principle of the new waste Law No.209 is the „Extended producer responsibility”. How will this improve the waste management system and infrastructure at national level? Could you bring some exemples how „Extended producer responsibility” works in EU countries?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is an efficient resource management tool, whereby producers take over the responsibility for the management of their used products when they become waste. This includes collection, sorting and treating these products to prepare them for recycling and recovery. In the EU, specific waste streams directives – on electronic waste, used batteries and accumulators and end of life vehicles – explicitly require Member States to set up EPR for the products they cover. Although there is currently no obligation to set up EPR schemes for packaging, most countries (25 out of 28) have chosen to do so.
Although EPR is an individual obligation of companies that place products on the market, in practice producers often work collectively to exercise this responsibility by setting up Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs). This is the most common used approach in the EU. PROs are non-profit collective entities, set up and fully owned by the industry that is bound by legislation. Their mandate is issued by competent authorities, usually in the form of an accreditation or a license. Generally PROs are assigned to organise the collection of used products and respective communication campaigns targeting the waste holders – usually together or in close cooperation with the local authorities. They should also guarantee that the collected waste will be treated appropriately so that compliance with the respective recovery and recycling targets is ensured.
As for the financial aspects – the EPR schemes gather the necessary contributions (fees) from their members so as to co-finance the collection, sorting and recovery of the used products. The industry, through PROs, can cover the full cost of the system or share this responsibility with the municipalities. The implementation of product taxes on packaging, electronics, batteries, cars, etc. upon their placement on the market is largely used as a powerful tool to support the establishment of EPR systems (in Moldova such taxes are also applied, pursuant to the Environmental Pollution Payments Law). Some PROs have a genuine public service mission and operate in a non-for-profit basis, but others, owned by private investors or the waste management industry, actually seek profit. Experience shows that non-profit systems deploy a more holistic approach to waste management, embracing both waste prevention and recycling.
The EPR systems applied in the EU vary largely and have been gradually developed and adapted to fit the needs of individual countries. In general – for any EPR system to be successful, clear definition of roles and responsibilities of all actors involved (municipalities, PROs, producers and consumers) is needed at its outset. Transparent registration, monitoring and reporting procedures should also be in place to enable enforcement. The EPR schemes should be obliged to provide annual reports on fulfillment of the recycling targets and when conditions are not met, sanctions ranging from fines to license withdrawal should be applied. This indeed requires awareness rising and capacity building both for businesses and public authorities, but there is a wide experience in EU with this respect that we would gladly share with our Moldovan counterparts. Although EPR cannot be panacea to all potential problems in waste management, it is considered as a “fresh breath” for the systems in all Member States, providing an additional financial stream, knowledge and efficiency in support of waste recycling and recovery.
Waste Management” Magazine: „Pay-as-you-throw” scheme is an efficient instrument that drives recycling up. Recently were approved the increase of collection and disposal tariffs with 4 lei. Do you think this measure can change in some way people behavior regarding the waste?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: Only one measure is not sufficient to change people’s behavior, much more is needed to reach a „breakthrough” in our attitude towards the garbage we produce. On the one hand we have to realise that poorly managed waste, with its impacts on our health, environment and economy, inevitably results in down-stream costs higher than in case we would have managed it properly. On the other hand – awareness should be raised to recognize the profit and job opportunities that a well-developed waste management system could provide to both business and society.
A number of economic instruments have been implemented through national waste policies worldwide, to help the authorities in these “breakthrough” endeavors. The pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) scheme is just one of the tools, applying the basic “polluter pays” principle in a waste management system. The extended producer responsibility we touched upon here, waste disposal taxes, product levies, deposit refund schemes, recycling subsidies and several others are also at hand for policy makers and are often used in combination. It should be well noted however, that the application of PAYT or any similar system requires significant resource inputs in the first place. Since what they all have in common is the need for a well-developed infrastructure to separately collect, sort and process multiple waste fractions. Environmental awareness is also crucial for the success of PAYT and any other economic instruments – if it is low, the schemes may even increase the risk of illegal dumping instead of driving recycling up.
In summary – it always takes a combination of measures and a pool of instruments to deliver the policy we want. Yet one thing is proven by experience – people are not always willing to pay for services they presume as merely local authorities’ “obligation”, it takes time and efforts to make them accept that this is a collective responsibility. Still, when they are willing to pay, the service should be of a quality that would be able to convince them they are paying the “right price”. That is why any economic instrument to be applied in a country’s waste management system should be considered not as a magic solution on its own, but as piece of a puzzle that has to be arranged with the joint efforts of us all.
Waste Management” Magazine: How do you think, what are the crucial factors that have led to crisis around the garbage in the Republic of Moldova?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: If we look back at the situation in Chisinau a few months ago, it should be noted that this is not an exceptional case in Europe, and globally either. My native town Sofia faced it several times between 2004 and 2009. The Greek capital Athens has been in such a grip for months in 2007. The region of Campania in south-west Italy existed under state of emergency for almost 15 years (1994-2008) because of persistent waste crises. The Spanish city of Malaga recently experienced it in March last year. And I can go on…
The key lesson learned is that both authorities and communities must realize that dealing with waste management requires a more comprehensive solution than just collecting and dumping the garbage. No matter how many landfills we build, they’ll never be enough if measures to prevent waste generation, to reuse and to reduce its volume are not introduced. Such crises are indeed a challenge, but also an opportunity to change our philosophy about the issue and engage on a more sustainable waste management path.
I believe that the recent „garbage situation” in Chisinau has provided namely this opportunity to the Republic of Moldova, but it might be missed if only crisis management measures are taken after the „wake-up call”. Both local authorities and civil society organizations have a crucial role to play here, since only joint engagement and commitment could turn short term emergency solutions into a quality public service benefiting all, thus mitigating the risk of future crises.
Waste Management” Magazine: In the period 2015-2016, the mayoralty in partnership with the EU, the EBRD and the EIB has developed a feasibility study on solid waste management in Chisinau. The project promised to solve the solid waste problem in Chisinau. Are actions being taken in this direction?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: I would again refer to the issue of short term crisis management measures versus long term integrated waste management solutions. The feasibility study developed for the Chisinau region (not only the capital city) opts for the latter option. Moreover, the EU has also supported the development of overall 8 such studies, where technically feasible and economically viable solutions are proposed to cover the entire country’s territory with the basic infrastructure of a sustainable integrated waste management system.
These are all integral parts of the broader National Waste Management Strategy where regionalisation of this public service is envisaged, since regional infrastructure facilities are cheaper to build and operate, yet proven to be more attractive to investments. In addition, a regional and integrated approach allows keeping the waste management tariffs close to the level affordable for the population in the targeted areas. Namely this approach is also followed in the respective sectoral programmes for three development regions in the country.
Therefore, solutions for Chisinau should be an inherent part of the overall approach Moldova will take towards its waste management, having in mind that further support from the EU and other development partners will be conditional upon the sustainability of these decisions and their ability to deliver tangible benefits for all citizens, independent of the region they live.
Waste Management” Magazine: What measures should be implemented to raise awarness among officials/authorities about the importance of recycling and managing waste properly?
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: In the context of all that has been said above, I would not sign for raising awareness of „officials/authorities” only. In such an inclusive public service, sustainable decisions could be taken only with the local community „on board”. Hence, the efforts need to focus more on raising awareness among businesses, enterprises and citizens about the potential benefits of sound waste management – for health and environment, but also social and economic (recovery of secondary raw materials, resource efficiency, new employment opportunities, etc.). Once they realize the importance of managing waste properly from this perspective, the messages would more easily reach the authorities, and could be then turned into mutually beneficial waste management solutions.
Waste Management” Magazine: Some recommendations and tools to be used in short and long term for Moldova in the field of waste management.
Svetlana Zhekova, EU HLA on Environment: Until recently the Republic of Moldova didn’t have suitable planning and legal frameworks to enable a shift in its underdeveloped waste management policy. But as already mentioned here – this has changed with the adoption of the National Waste Management Strategy in 2014, and with the long waited promulgation of the Waste Management Law in the end of 2016. As decided in the Association Agreement, the main requirements of the EU legislation are introduced in the law and in its respective implementing acts that are already drafted (on landfills, packaging, electronic waste, etc.). With 3 regional sectoral programmes in place and 8 feasibility studies developed, we have to admit – it was a lot, achieved in a few years. Planning and legal bases are there, so time has come to implement!
Implementation of course is depending first and foremost on the availability of strong institutions with clearly defined policy and implementing functions, able to cope with their obligations towards Moldovan citizens. This should be ensured by the comprehensive public administration reforms undertaken by the Government this year. Once the specific responsibilities of the national authorities with respect to waste management are defined, those should be provided with the necessary capacity to monitor, control and enforce the regulatory requirements. On short term, it will be of outmost importance to put in place appropriate information and reporting systems to support both the policy and enforcement decisions. Clear definition of rights and obligations will be needed as immediate measure not only for the central administration, but for all stakeholders involved in an integrated waste management system, including local authorities, business and civil society organizations.
These institutional measures may seem “small steps” to take, but they are indispensable for both governance and investment sustainability of the new system. Clarity on who is responsible for what in the sector will then unlock further decisions on investments in both infrastructure and capacity building.
Initial investment in sound integrated waste management is indeed an issue, but one should bear in mind the potential of all here discussed economic instruments (EPR, PPP, PAYT, etc.) that are available to bring money in the system, once established. Just applying the basic “polluter pays” principle (i.e. through charges on specific products) is already providing some financial boost that should be reinvested in the waste management systems. Let’s not forget also that EU and the other development partners are here to help you in all these challenging endeavours, because they are to bring real tangible results and provide concrete benefits for the citizens. However, clear commitment by the authorities with respect to implementation of both national and regional waste management programmes is still needed for this donor potential to be unlocked.
Waste management in Moldova is a real market niche indeed, but which way to take? As discussed already, there is no “one size fits all” approach in this area and one must look carefully to the specific local context when considering various treatment options. Incineration of household waste for example is not a viable option where the majority of waste produced is organic, with high moisture content. According to the current statistics nearly 60% of waste in Moldova is of organic nature with a very low calorific value, so it might even need to consume rather than generate energy. At the same time, there are so many unexplored prospects – composting of organic materials, recycling of electronic or construction waste for instance – real „golden mines” that could provide immense opportunities for materials recovery and resource efficiency, create new jobs and businesses.
From this perspective – the local context in the Republic of Moldova calls upon exploring the reuse-recycle-recover options with priority. Implementation of a pilot project would be a tangible step with this respect. There are fundamentals of sustainable waste management that follow exactly the same path and address the same issues, regardless of country or region (namely building of sanitary landfills compliant with the EU standards, organizing waste transportation, introducing separate collection and sorting procedures to encourage recycling and reuse). You might be aware that a project targeting all these elements for the waste management zone in the rayon of Cahul has been developed with EU assistance and is ready to be launched. Why not start from where support of both authorities and local communities is demonstrated, and where there is also donors’ commitment (including grants from EU and the National Fund for Regional Development)? I would strongly encourage the Republic of Moldova to make the most out of this opportunity!
In the light of all that has been said so far, let me stop here and try to summarize in conclusion. The implementation of a new policy in the waste management area is usually a journey, where authorities set the milestones, but the real driving forces are the people (business, civil society organizations, every citizen). So, the next and most important step of this journey in the Republic of Moldova should be to create a symbiosis between the political and the social wills through pro-active awareness raising campaigns, so that both risks and opportunities inherent in the waste sector are clearly recognized. Only on this basis further decisions about investments could be taken in a way balancing the interests of all actors involved and for the benefit of all people concerned.