How Georgia is changing its approach to waste disposal with EU support

04-06-2018

Waste disposal and the new Kutaisi sanitary landfill

Around 900,000 tons of waste is generated annually in Georgia and more than 75% of it is estimated to end up in landfill sites. Landfill disposal is the least desirable way of handling waste, and even less desirable if the landfill is poorly managed and maintained. This is a significant issue in Georgia, in contrast to European countries, such as Sweden, where only 1% of waste ends up in landfill.

Landfill disposal is the least desirable way of handling waste, and even less desirable if the landfill is poorly managed and maintained. This is a significant issue in Georgia, in contrast to European countries, such as Sweden, where only 1% of waste ends up in landfill.

Currently, there are 56 official landfills in Georgia, out of which only five have acquired environmental impact permits. Some of those landfills were created between the 1960s and the 1980s without any protective measures in place. Such uncontrolled landfills pose a serious threat to the environment and to the population. As there are no protective underground layers, water generated by the site gets soaked in the ground and contaminates groundwater. With no cover over the landfill, dangerous chemical substances produced during uncontrolled burning pollute the air, and the gases produced as waste decays also end up in the atmosphere.

Such poor waste management is harmful to humans and the environment, not forgetting that apart from the official landfills there are dozens more dumpsites which chaotically come and go as the population tends to dump rubbish on random sites.

However, Georgia is trying to put an end to this with a new plan to manage waste better. The new system will first be implemented in Kutaisi, the third largest city in the country located in western Georgia, where a new modern sanitary landfill site is being constructed.

How will the Kutaisi sanitary landfill be different from previous landfills?

The Solid Waste Management Company is a state-funded company managing 54 dumpsites across Georgia (except for Tbilisi and Adjara) since 2013. It has already closed 21 landfills and continues to maintain 30, none of which, according to experts, operate according to the European standard. It is expected that the remaining sites will be closed by 2023. Meanwhile, close to Kutaisi, the construction of a new sanitary landfill will start in June, which will substitute several existing dumpsites in the Imereti, Racha-Lechkumi and Kvemo Svaneti Regions. The project is being funded by the €20 million concessional loan provided by the German government-owned bank KFW, and EU Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), which is providing €2 million for institutional support, training and awareness raising. The Georgian Government will provide an additional €4 million.

The existing dumpsite in Kutaisi is a 15-20 metre high pile of rubbish. It will be closed once the new sanitary landfill opens at the end of 2019. By 2023, Georgia plans to close down all the existing dumpsites and create just 10 new sanitary landfills across the country.

“Several isolating layers will be placed on the bottom, made from clay, gravel, a geomembrane andgeotextile. Special pipes will be installed to drain water. Another layer of soil will follow, on which the waste will be placed. This will prevent underground waters from contamination. Collected waters will be drained and cleaned,” says the head of the Solid Waste Management Company, Giorgi Shukhoshvili.

He says that the landfill will be covered with soil to prevent it from smelling and from rainwater infiltration. As for the gas, collectors will start operating in around 2-3 years when gases start to be generated.

“The gas will be cleaned. If we get any commercial offers, we will sell it, if not – we will burn it to prevent it from being released into the air,” said Shukhoshvili.

As the sanitary landfill is a regional project, not only Kutaisi residents, but also residents of Imereti and the neighbouring Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti regions will benefit from the sanitary landfill.

Kutaisi landfill is part of a large regional project called Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) in the Southern Caucasus, through which, alongside Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia will benefit from sustainable and environmentally sound ISWM systems. New sanitary landfills are planned to be constructed in  Vanadzor, the third largest city of Armenia.

The overall project costs are estimated to be up to €66 million.

How will the new solid waste management system work?

The new approach means that the number of landfill sites in the country will be reduced. Instead of going to local landfill sites, waste from several regions will be collected and transported to the Kutaisi sanitary landfill, located in Terjola Municipality.. Five transfer stations will be built to collect and transport the waste produced in Imereti and the neighbouring Racha-Lechkhumi and Kvemo Svaneti regions, and around 14 landfill sites in the area are likely to be closed. After the landfill sites are closed, plants will be planted on the sites and the land will be monitored by the company for 20 years. With support of the project in parallel waste avoidance and waste recycling measures will be developed in order to reduce the waste quantities for landfilling.

Shukhoshvili says that gradually the system will be applied to the rest of the country.

How can the amount of waste ending up in landfill be reduced?

Under the EU "waste hierarchy" the priority is prevention, followed by reuse. The modern take on waste management is based on the ‘4 Rs’ initiative, which states that waste should be reduced, reused, recycled and restored. Recycling is an underdeveloped industry in Georgia.  There are just a couple of dozen recycling companies in the country. However, they don’t even have access to all the recyclable material they could potentially process, as the waste is not being separated.

So, why does so much waste end up in landfill? “It is all due to the fact that there is no separated waste collection system,” says Kakha Rukhaia, a representative of the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network. He believes that the recycling industry would grow if investors were provided with reliable figures regarding how much recyclable materials the country produces.

Under the requirements of the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, Georgian municipalities must start separate collection of recyclable waste fractions from 2019.

“We don’t know how much waste is being recycled or used for energy. We only know how much ends up in landfill, because they weigh it. Very little is being recycled and recycling companies suffer a serious shortage of recyclable materials. For example, paper recyclers only operate around 10 days per month on average, because their potential is far greater than the resources they get,” says Rukhaia.

In 2016, the Georgian government adopted a National Waste Management Strategy for 2016-2030 and a National Action Plan for 2016-2020. It provides a target timeline for recycling certain materials. For example, it states that by the country should be recycling 30% of plastic by 2020, 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.

According to the document, companies should be urged to take preventive measures against the production of waste by 2020. By 2025, there should be establishments for generating energy from the waste materials that have not been reused or recycled.

Currently, waste management is primarily financed by the central government. The national strategy aims to make the waste management industry fully self-sufficient by 2030, by initiating a system in which the population and private sector will fully cover the expenses. The system will be gradually introduced from 2020. 

“The ‘polluter pays’ is one of the basic principles of pro-environmental policy. […] Waste management expenses, including collection, transportation and manufacturing costs must be covered by the polluters,” the document reads.

Rukhaia thinks the government is making good progress, given that it has already adopted the Waste Management Code, the strategy and the action plan.

“Now, there is a strategic vision,” he says, elaborating that the waste separation system is the basis for the proper management of waste.

He believes that if the implementation of the waste separation system is postponed, “it’s going to fail the whole system”.

Author: Dato Parulava

Article published in Georgian by Liberali.ge

The European Union and Georgia: Together for Environment - factsheet