Waste not, want not
Our primary target in the field of waste is reducing and ultimately circumventing the generation of waste. At the same time, given the knowledge and technical capabilities we have today, it will remain an unavoidable part of our lives for many years to come. We keep an eye on local governments, companies and ordinary residents to ensure that they are collecting and recycling waste in the manner prescribed in the Waste Act and other legal acts and carrying out other activities designed to reduce the threat to health and the environment that waste poses.
An important part of what we do at the Environmental Board is issuing waste permits and organising the removal and recycling of waste. We want as much waste as possible to be given a second chance at life through as many different forms of reuse as is practicable. Unfortunately, some waste by its very nature is suited only to landfill.
A lot of waste nevertheless makes perfect fuel for industrial burning, which generates energy for electricity and heating. Demand for waste for burning is greater in places at present than the amount available. However, burning waste is rather an old-fashioned approach and not the most environmentally friendly solution. That is why we would prefer to prevent it being generated in the first place.
To achieve this, we are working with a large number of production companies and local governments, monitoring the implementation of their waste treatment regulations and their organisation of waste transport tenders. The rule of thumb in the transportation of waste today is that unprocessed waste cannot be used as landfill. This means that business operators, ordinary citizens, local governments and waste collectors must cooperate to ensure the processing of waste.
The Environmental Board is also involved in the organisation of the treatment of hazardous waste. We issue hazardous waste handling licences and work with other countries in the organisation of waste shipment, since waste is traded at the international level as a ‘raw material’. Our role is to keep account of cross-border transportation of waste and to provide up-to-the-minute information on shipments entering and exiting the country.
Permits and charges take care of waste management
Use of the environment is based on a system of permits. The waste specialists from the Environmental Board work hard to ensure that only those companies that use the best possible technology and generate as little waste as possible are issued with the permits they need for their operations. For example, we monitor factory production processes to make sure that the minimum amount of refuse is being produced, and that what refuse there is can be recycled and re-enter the production chain.
The other effective means of regulating waste management is environmental fees and charges. In establishing them we are guided by the principle that the more pollution you create, the more you have to pay. The focus of our attention here is on large-scale industry, where pollution charges support significant reductions in waste and emissions. In this way we also motivate entrepreneurs to invest more in modern, energy-efficient technology – which at the end of the day is also of financial benefit to them.
The number of landfill sites is falling rapidly
In accordance with European Union requirements, the Environmental Board has long been involved in the closure of outdated landfill sites which no longer conform to international norms. With assistance from EU resources, Estonia has so far brought about the closure of more than three hundred landfill sites. The waste specialists from the Environmental Board have played a leading role in advising on the closure projects, applying for funding and checking that closure operations are implemented as required.
Landfill sites must continue to be monitored after their closure. For decades such sites were established on land on which no preparations were made for this special use, and on which hazardous waste was often dumped. To ensure that extensive ground water pollution, surface collapse and other environmental problems do not result from the processes which take place on closed landfill sites, we implement comprehensive care regimes following site closures. We are also charged with the task of forecasting potential forms of use for such sites in future.
Photo: Görel Grauding