Why Kazhakstan capital Astana is set to become the cleanest city in the Eurasian Economic Union

Written by: Vladislav Vorotnikov | Published:
Astana generates 300,000 tonnes of waste per year, and the plants currently in operation process only 10% of it

Astana is on the way to becoming the first city in Kazakhstan to have a separate waste collection system.

With this measure, plus plans to build a new organic waste recycling plant, the City Hall has set a target to increase the amount of waste sent to recycling facilities to 75% – the highest proportion in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

Kazakhstan was one of the first countries in the post-Soviet area to impose a waste recycling fee on citizens. Other EEU members, including Russia and Belarus, have mostly refrained from that measure – largely to not upset their people, who as a rule don’t have much disposable income. The picture is similar in Kazakhstan, which is why its waste recycling fee is considerably low.

The authorities launched the first Astana waste recycling plant and associated fee in 2012. “While in Germany a similar fee is between €80 and €200 per person per year, depending on whether the person lives in an apartment or a house, in Astana it is less than €8 per person per year.

For the waste recycling facilities this is not enough to generate profit, but everybody understands that the population has no ability to pay more,” explains Aidyn Nurakhmetov, director of the Astana waste recycling plant.

The profitability of waste recycling businesses in Kazakhstan is rather meagre, yet some still believe that the plants “are mining gold from garbage”, Nurakhmetov says. In this regard, there are no discussions at the moment about the need to increase the fee, or to introduce any sort of subsidies to the facilities.

There are hopes that things will change with the introduction of a new waste sorting system. From September, citizens have been asked to separate their waste into “dry” and “wet” categories.

The City Hall has spent KZT5.2 billion ($14.2m) on purchasing 25 waste removal trucks and 6,000 waste containers, installing them near every residential block. Nurakhmetov says his plant has placed a lot of hope on these developments.

He explains: “The main problem is that when the garbage is coming together with organic waste, it loses a significant part of its commercial attractiveness. It is harder to recycle such unsorted waste.

"The costs are rising as a result and profitability is shrinking. [With the] separation of dry and wet waste, we expect a hike in margins. At the moment, we are able to recycle only 10% to 15% of the waste coming to our plant, while with this system it will be 30% to 40%.”

As a result, the occupancy of the region’s waste recycling plants is expected to grow almost to 100%. Astana generates 300,000 tonnes of waste per year, and the plants currently in operation process only 10% of it. This figure, however, is expected to triple in 2019, with nearly 90,000 tonnes processed, the City Hall forecasts.

Organic waste plant

The new waste sorting system in Astana is also paving the way for the largest waste recycling plant in the country. With a capacity of around 150,000 tonnes per year, this facility is due to make Astana the cleanest city in the post-Soviet region. Speaking at a press-conference in early June, Asset Isekeshev, the Industry and Trade Minister of Kazakhstan, revealed the facility will use a state-of-the-art technology provided by a French company.

“This is the first time for such a system in Kazakhstan. We ask citizens to separate waste into two categories. The first is organic garbage and the second includes everything that could be recycled right away, such as metal, wood, paper and plastic,” Isekeshev said.

The investment cost of the project is KZT3.4 billion ($10m), Isekeshev estimated. The facility will recycle organic waste into biogas and several types of fertilizer, which are in high demand in Kazakhstan, so no problems with profitability are foreseen. The organic waste recycling plant is slated to be commissioned in September 2019.

“In the coming months we will also tighten liability for breaking waste management legislation. Every year in Astana we have what we call snowdrops – fly dumps, illegal ones, created either by companies or citizens.

"We use police to prevent them from emerging but so far it is impossible to keep an eye on everyone,” Isekeshev explained.

It is predicted that 5% to 15% of Astana’s waste ends up at these ‘snowdrops’, so called because the illegal dumps are usually established in late November; they lie under snow for several months before being revealed in the spring, by which time it is almost impossible to trace who is responsible.

With the new organic waste recycling plant and full occupancy at the already existing waste recycling facilities, Astana will be able to recycle 75% of all waste from 2020, amounting to 250,000 tonnes per year. This is considered an appropriate European level, so City Hall will be satisfied with this figure, Isekeshev said.

The rest of Kazakhstan lags behind

The waste recycling industry in Kazakhstan has developed rather unevenly. While there are huge plans to improve waste management systems in Astana, there are no similar intentions in the country’s other regions.

In total, landfills across the country have accumulated 43 billion tonnes of waste, the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs has estimated.

On average, in Kazakhstan only 9% waste ends up at recycling plants, and there are no real plans to improve the situation in line with what is going on in the capital.

Murat Abenov, chairman of the innovation and education committee at the National Chamber of Entrepreneurs, says: “In other countries, waste recycling is a profitable business, but in Kazakhstan there is no point in being engaged, unless you are getting state aid.

"There were certain attempts to recycle waste in our country and several expensive and extremely ineffective recycling plants were built in different regions.”

The county has a stated aim of increasing the share of waste being recycled to 40% in the coming years, Abenov says, but outside of Astana there is no clarity on how to achieve that goal, with uncertainty prevailing when it comes to other regions’ waste collection systems.

In this context, private business is not ready to invest money in new recycling facilities. Nevertheless, local environmentalists express hope that the successful experience of Astana in future may be distributed to the other regions of Kazakhstan.

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