Tbilisi or not Tbilisi, that is the question

Written by: Vladislav Vorotnikov | Published:

Last year Georgia made formal its policy to tackle the country’s lack of modern waste management, but despite the efforts of an EU-funded programme and the promise of its biogas pilots, widespread change is dependent on actual laws being passed, state aid confirmed and investors found. Vladislav Vorotnikov reports

In January 2015, Georgia’s waste management policy was officially approved, the purpose of which is to establish a legal framework for waste prevention, increased reuse and the environmentally safe treatment of waste. The policy should come into force at the beginning of 2018. Until that time, the Georgian government says it intends to run a pilot project for waste sorting and recycling in certain small towns and villages across the country.

On the basis of this experience, the plan is to create a complex system of waste management, including construction of recycling facilities.

However, due to the current lack of necessary legislation, only some areas stand to benefit from individual waste recycling projects, while others will fall behind.

Irma Gurgeliany, head of the waste management department in Georgia’s ministry of environment protection and natural resources, says last year’s approval of the policy in theory paves the way for a related directive that sets out certain measures and initiatives to decrease the amount of waste sent to landfill.

However, such a directive has not been written and it is not clear when it will be.

So far, the only positive movement has been towards the separation of household waste by householders. For some reason, this policy won’t be enforced until January 2019 under a system of ‘compulsory utilisation’, according to ministry representatives. But market participants say this first step could be an important one.

Kakha Ruhaya, spokesperson for the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN), says the experience of other countries shows that household waste sorting can make further recycling of waste far more attractive for investors.

“In Georgia a few large companies are engaged in waste recycling to produce cardboard, paper, plastics and glass.

“If this activity were not profitable, these companies would not exist. If the garbage is processed, the manufacturer gets a semi-finished product rather than raw materials,” explains Ruhaya, adding that with proper legislation this could be an interesting way to do business.

In addition, according to CENN and similar organisations, implementation of the 2015 policy should help Georgia achieve its waste management potential, as several international funds already offer the country’s government support in biogas projects.

Evaluating potential

According to a study conducted earlier this year by EU-funded programme Inogate, Georgia has the ability to produce 700-800 million cubic metres of biogas from waste per year. It is estimated that investment in a thermal generation network would enable Georgia to heat a town with 40,000 households for 15 years, simply by using the waste available at operating landfills.

For instance, according to Inogate’s calculations, Georgia has about 50 landfills located across the country. The population of 4.7 million people produce about 2,000 tonnes of waste every day, with nearly half of this amount originating from the country’s largest city and the capital – Tbilisi.

Inogate has run training courses for managers of waste management companies across the country, as well as for civil servants, and says the first materials recycling projects are scheduled for implementation within the coming two to three years.

“For example, in the spring of last year, we opened a new landfill in accordance with EU standards in Terjola Municipality, Western Georgia. This year we will start construction of a new landfill also run to European standards in Kutaisi, and it should be completed by 2018. Old landfill here should be closed. In addition, we are developing a plan for the construction of the landfill in the Kvemo Kartli region, and the beginning of works is expected in 2017,” says Mack Nikabadze, chief co-ordinator of the legal department at Solid Waste Management Company, Inogate’s main partner in Georgia.

According to Nikabadze, in all three projects that are receiving Inogate’s support, his company is expected to launch a pilot for the production of heat from biogas extracted from waste. This heat could be sold to the municipalities, so the projects promise to be very successful commercially.

Representatives of the environment ministry maintain these projects do not require new legislation, because in these schemes Solid Waste Management Company will act simply as a contractor for the production of heat just like dozens of companies across the country – it does not matter from where it generates heat in order to gain approval to supply the grid.

Local experts predict that the overall investment in the projects should be about US$15-20 million, and – thanks to Inogate bringing valuable European experience – should create one of the most cost-effective waste management systems in the Caucasus.

Lack of progress so far

Despite the fact that the above schemes are turning out to be promising, they involve only three landfills out of 50 in the country, so this seems like a drop in the ocean of the very serious ecological problems facing Georgia.

“The landfill near Lilo city is one out of two in the country which conforms to some kind of international standards,” says Nino Sulkhanishvili, director of waste management NGO Eco Vision.

“Here, a special machine compresses waste and then covers it with earth. Most other landfills are not even fenced, while at the base they do not have an insulating layer to protect groundwater from contamination. Of course, it is dangerous for people. And not just for those who live in close proximity to a landfill, because contaminated groundwater falls into the river. In addition, air pollution extends for kilometres,” continues Sulkhanishvili.

According to market participants, so far only about 5% of waste generated in the country goes through appropriate recycling. As a result, the size of landfills is steadily growing and further delay is seen as being risky for residents’ health.

This is also confirmed by Inogate, which cites people’s concerns about air pollution in its recent report, claiming it presents potential problems. Environment ministry representatives admit that at the moment everything is being held up by delays in the adoption of the necessary legislation.

“We have as large a challenge as some of our neighbours in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – the regional organisation that was formed during the break-up of the Soviet Union – as operation of the industry with sufficient profit and stability is not possible without guarantees from the state.

“There were several foreign investors from Japan, Germany and the US in recent years who have been in negotiations with local market players on the construction of waste recycling facilities, but these initiatives have not led to anything,” explains Nino Gyurdzalidze, an entrepreneur who operates within the waste market.

According to Gyurdzalidze, constructing waste recycling plants is not feasible at the moment since there is little sorting of waste

in the country; and organised sorting is not possible because the government has not yet established the payment system that it has been promising market participants for some years.

Ministry representatives say it is hard to predict when the necessary legislation will be established, but suggest it could happen by 2018. They also disclose that it should be aligned with the start of construction of the first recycling plant near Tbilisi. In the meantime, regional authorities are searching for investors to run the scheme.

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