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EC MISTAKEN IN BELIEVING OFFICIAL SLOVAK DATA, SAYS MINISTRY

Slovakia struggles to manage its waste

SLOVAKIA is doing a poor job of managing its waste, at least according to the latest review by the European Commission. A study drawn up for EC lists Slovakia as being among those EU member countries with severe problems in several criteria including waste prevention policies, a below-average performance in waste management and insufficient adaptation of existing infrastructure to EU requirements. While some Slovak experts see Slovakia’s ranking as reflecting reality, the Slovak Ministry of Environment argues that Slovakia is actually performing better than the EC suggests.The report on how EU member states manage their municipal waste, drawn up by German consulting firm BiPRO for the European Commission, grades the EU’s 27 member states against 18 criteria, using green, orange and red flags in areas such as total waste recycled, pricing of waste disposal, and infringements of European legislation. In the top places according to this ranking came Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Greece, Bulgaria, Malta and Lithuania were at the bottom. Slovakia ended in 19th place, below the other three Visegrad Group countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland).

The EC criticised Slovakia for its use of landfills(Source: T. Somogyi)

SLOVAKIA is doing a poor job of managing its waste, at least according to the latest review by the European Commission. A study drawn up for EC lists Slovakia as being among those EU member countries with severe problems in several criteria including waste prevention policies, a below-average performance in waste management and insufficient adaptation of existing infrastructure to EU requirements. While some Slovak experts see Slovakia’s ranking as reflecting reality, the Slovak Ministry of Environment argues that Slovakia is actually performing better than the EC suggests.
The report on how EU member states manage their municipal waste, drawn up by German consulting firm BiPRO for the European Commission, grades the EU’s 27 member states against 18 criteria, using green, orange and red flags in areas such as total waste recycled, pricing of waste disposal, and infringements of European legislation. In the top places according to this ranking came Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. Greece, Bulgaria, Malta and Lithuania were at the bottom. Slovakia ended in 19th place, below the other three Visegrad Group countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland).

“The picture that emerges from this exercise confirms my strong concerns,” European Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potočnik wrote in a press release. “Many member states are still landfilling huge amounts of municipal waste – the worst waste management option – despite better alternatives, and despite structural funds being available to finance better options.”

He added that valuable resources are being buried, potential economic benefits are being lost, jobs in the waste management sector are not being created, and human health and the environment are suffering as a result.

“This is hard to defend in our present economic circumstances,” he wrote.

The member states with the largest implementation gaps are Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Failings include poor or non-existent waste prevention policies, a lack of incentives to divert waste from landfills, and inadequate waste infrastructure. Heavy reliance on landfilling means that better waste management options such as re-use and recycling are consistently underexploited, the commission concluded.

Poor reporting

The Slovak Ministry of Environment reacted defensively to Slovakia’s poor ranking. Ministry spokesperson Maroš Stano told The Slovak Spectator that the study took into consideration only some indicators, and noted that stress was laid on the indicators of municipal waste management. The ministry also objected to individual countries being put into groups according to average criteria, which it said did not always reflect the specific situation in individual countries.

“But in general the study is right: that management of waste in Slovakia does not currently belong among the top European waste management,” Stano told The Slovak Spectator. “On the other hand, it has been modernising gradually.”

Stano sees poor reporting by Slovak municipalities in particular as being behind the country’s bad performance overall.

“When evaluating individual criteria, the authors of the study used data which Slovakia provides annually to Eurostat,” said Stano. “But Slovakia has huge … shortcomings in keeping of records and reporting by municipalities in generating of municipal waste and its handling. According to the ministry, the grade of separation of municipal waste is much higher than [municipalities’] reports read.”

The ministry believes that it is necessary to change the system of record keeping and reporting and improve supervision mechanisms in order that data about generation and handling of waste, including municipal data, are accurate. A new integrated information system of waste management, which should simultaneously carry out new supervisory functions, is also under preparation, according to Stano.

“In Slovakia a viable recycling industry has been built, which is currently able to recover a large proportion of waste,” said Stano. “Development of new technologies for waste recovering is ongoing. This infrastructure should secure an increased extent of recycling and help to reach a better position in evaluation of waste management in EU countries.”

In this respect Stano stated that the ministry is working on new legislation as well as strategic documents.

“The Ministry of Environment believes that its efforts towards transition of the country from landfilling to recycling and waste recovery in the future will be positively mirrored in the evaluation of Slovakia,” said Stano.

Views from the waste management sector

Bodies active in waste management as well as environmental protection organisations in Slovakia agree that the situation in Slovakia is far from ideal.

Jozef Kozák, executive director of SEWA, an organisation involved in handling waste from electrical and electronic equipment, said he regards Slovakia’s poor ranking as basically correct. He sees three main reasons behind the situation. The first is that the correctness of “the Slovak way” in waste management, i.e. the existence of the Recycling Fund, has not been confirmed.

“The fund should have developed waste management, but [has no] real responsibility for it; the result is the current negative evaluation by the EC,” Kozák told The Slovak Spectator.

The second reason cited by Kozák is the slow, inconsistent and imprecise transposition of European waste directives into Slovak legislation. Third was Slovakia’s lower GDP per capita compared with most of the more positively evaluated countries.

According to ENVI-PAK, an organisation providing services in the collection, recovery and recycling of packaging waste for its clients, the condition of Slovakia’s waste management reflects the situation set by the law on waste in 2001. Katarína Kretter, public relations and project manager with ENVI-PAK, told The Slovak Spectator that the current legislative environment enabled waste management to reach a development ceiling years ago. The result is that as much as 76 percent of waste in Slovakia is still sent to landfills.

In ENVI-PAK’s opinion, the EC report is therefore a realistic reflection of the situation, which can be changed only by extending the responsibility of producers and addressing the financing of separated collection of municipal waste at the level of towns and cities, Kretter said.

Environmental organisations agree

Martin Valentovič from Priatelia Zeme Slovenska (Friends of the Earth Slovakia), an environmental organisation, also regards the evaluation as realistic and maybe as even slightly too optimistic. In comments to The Slovak Spectator he highlighted three reasons behind the current condition of Slovakia’s waste management: first, the weak support from the state for more beneficial ways of handling waste; second, the inability of the state to enforce existing waste management legislation; and third, the lack of interest by local administrations as well as citizens in improving waste management.

Juraj Rizman, the head of Greenpeace Slovensko, also basically agrees with the EC report, pointing out that Slovakia does not have a good system and that it prefers landfilling instead of other possibilities.

“Slovakia also does not have a waste prevention programme and, probably most importantly, we lack strategic documents which would speak in some way about heading to another system,” Rizman told The Slovak Spectator. “Alas, this is a huge problem in Slovakia because there are several groups here pursuing their own interests, which lobby very strongly for their interests and somehow are not able to agree on what is good for the whole.”

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