Recycling: lessons from the life of a milk carton
Author: Olena Sichkovska-Chornobyl
Source: The Page, 5 January 2023

Hello, I am Olena, an energy lawyer and a mother of a small child who loves milk. I sort the garbage at home, but every time I throw away a milk carton, I wonder if it will be recycled.

In addition to the difficulties with incineration and recycling, the logistics of waste collection in Ukraine is also imperfect. For example, in Kyiv, it is possible to find a company through your condominium association that will install containers for separate sorting of paper, glass, plastic, and all other waste and take it away for extra money. Such a company usually provides information on where it takes the waste to. In my apartment building, the utility company takes the waste to a single landfill, most likely together with unsorted waste.

Lesson 1: Are there any laws in Ukraine that regulate waste sorting?

Since 1 January 2018, Ukraine has had a law in place that provided conditions for separate collection of household waste and a ban on landfilling of unprocessed household waste. In 2023, the National Waste Management Strategy for Ukraine envisaged the introduction of certain measures to prevent waste generation, as well as the development of a draft law on waste disposal one year after the adoption of the waste management law.

The framework Law of Ukraine "On Waste Management" (the "Law") came into force on 9 July 2023 and replaced the Law of Ukraine "On Waste". The Law clarifies which waste should be recycled and which should be sent to landfill. The Law also establishes a hierarchy of waste management:

- prevention of waste generation

- preparation for reuse

- processing (recycling)

- other disposal, including incineration to generate heat or electricity

- disposal at landfills

The Law also stipulates that landfills must meet environmental standards. If the regional waste management plan determines that a landfill has exhausted its resource, the owner of such a waste disposal site must reclaim (restore) the site.

The Law also establishes economic instruments to comply with the waste management hierarchy and to finance waste management activities. These include an environmental tax for waste disposal, the introduction of extended producer responsibility (EPR), tax and credit privileges, and additional taxation.

The Law requires the adoption of an additional law to implement the EPR for packaging. This means that the manufacturer must take full responsibility for the products on the market, including collection, reuse, recycling, or disposal. The producers subject to EPR are manufacturers of products that result in the consumption/use of packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, batteries and accumulators, vehicles taken out of service, lubricants (oils), tires, textiles, etc.

The Law stipulates that the EPR system, in particular, on the acceptance and/or collection, management of this waste, and financial responsibility for such activities, will come into force only 7 years after the adoption of an additional law. I understand that significant efforts are required to implement the EPR system, but it is obvious that 7 years is a very long time for such changes.

Local governments are obliged to separate waste collection, which, after the introduction of the REC system, will be reimbursed by the EPR organizations for the collection of certain types of waste. The EPR organizations are established by producers as non-profit organizations and fulfill extended liability obligations on behalf of such producers.

In September of 2023, the draft law "On Packaging and Packaging Waste" was registered, which, if adopted, will introduce the EPR.

Recently, it has been reported that the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, the Ministry of Finance and the State Tax Service are developing a draft law that would introduce an environmental tax. The Law introduces the division of waste into two broad classes in line with European standards – hazardous waste and non-hazardous waste. The environmental tax on waste disposal introduces a coefficient for those who collect waste and those who dispose of it. The text of the draft amendments to the Tax Code on environmental tax has not yet been made public.

Lesson 2: What actually happens to waste?

In Ukraine 10-11 million tons of waste are thrown away annually, it is 230-330 kg per person. 3-6% of this waste is recycled and 1-2% is incinerated. The rest is taken to landfills. The report of the Ministry of Infrastructure (the "Report") drafted in 2022 says that about 9.9% of household waste was recycled and disposed, 1.66% was incinerated, and 8.24% of household waste was sent to recycling centers and waste processing lines. On 5 December 2023, Ukraine officially launched a waste management information system to help control waste and minimize its release into the environment.

The Report informs that there are about 5,735 registered landfills and landfills with a total area of almost 8,000 hectares. However, 163 of them are already overloaded, 693 still need to meet environmental safety standards, and only 258 of the 2,197 landfills that need to be restored have been restored.

Due to a large amount of wastes and the problem with organizing its removal, illegal dumpsites have been formed. The exact number has yet to be determined, but environmental activists claim that there are 33-35,000 and their number is constantly growing. For example, the report informs that in 2022, 14,700 unauthorized dumpsites were discovered, of which only 12,400 were eliminated.

There are only 31 waste sorting lines in Ukraine. These waste sorting lines are not full-fledged recycling facilities but are only designed to sort raw materials.

Kyiv has the only incineration plant in the country, called Energia, which generates heat after incineration. Kyivteploenergo manages this plant. Energia incinerates approximately 25% of the municipal waste generated by the city of Kyiv each year. The heat produced by the plant provides heat to 300 high-rise buildings. Since 1984, three other such plants have been operating in Ukraine – in Dnipro, Kharkiv, and Sevastopol.

According to the Waste Management Association, around 100 waste recycling plants in Ukraine currently exist. In early 2023, Ukraine's first waste recycling plant was launched in Zhytomyr, which was built at the expense of a private investor, but it is not operating at full capacity.

Lesson 3: Who is the driver?

The law firm where I work was advising a client on construction of a waste incineration plant to produce heat and electricity. Unfortunately, the investor faced a huge number of obstacles, including the absence of clear waste legislation, outdated information in the registers, and the inactivity of local authorities. The project was stopped at the early stage of its development. 

Waste is a resource that Ukraine ignores. Currently, there are two reasons why this is happening. The first is the absence or clear legislation, the garbage lobby, lack of interest and money, and the second is the lack of demand from society and each citizen individually. It is a shame that the longer we forget about this problem, the harder it will be to solve it later.

The initiatives of NGOs and communities themselves are improving the situation, but a comprehensive solution is needed – from educating the public and creating conditions for waste sorting to economic incentives and sanctions for waste management for companies and individuals. The interest of city and village councils and the proactivity of citizens in this matter will make it clear that the situation with sorting and legislation has improved significantly. When I throw away a milk carton in a separate container in my apartment building, I want to be sure that it will not end up in a landfill but will be reused or made into another material that will benefit society.

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