Rīga residents question trashcan penalties

Some residents of Rīga have noticed that a new "payment" has been appearing on their bills from the building manager for a couple of months – a penalty for violations in waste sorting. 

As waste company "Clean R" explained to Latvian Television's program 4. studija (Studio 4), a penalty can be applied to residents in cases where the waste removal machine is unable to reach the containers or the contents of the sorted waste container are found to be diferent to what has been agreed.

Among the colored containers of next year's sorted waste, one more container – a brown one intended for biological waste – will appear in the courtyards of houses. So far, they are only at those houses where residents have voluntarily decided to sort organic waste. Specialists in the waste management industry admit that, compared to a few years ago, residents have become much more aware and skilled in sorting waste, but there is still a lot to learn.  

The organic waste container at Jana's apartment block has been there for about two years. Sorting other waste has also become a habit. Jana diligently sorts waste and is convinced that the demands placed on residents are disproportionate to the quality of service offered by the waste manager. 

"It's autumn now, but in the summer there were flies and wasps and freakishly fat worms when you opened it up. And it all stank."

Even though all the sorted waste containers seem to have instructions on what can and cannot be thrown in them, Jana discovered that when throwing away the sorted plastic, you always have to think very carefully: "I understand that you have to look at some symbols to see if there is plastic or not plastic. For example, there is no symbol on such and such a dish – what should I do with it?"

People who are trying to separate waste in good faith do not understand why they must also be hit with fines.

As Liene Rumpane, head of the Household Waste Management Department of the "Clean R" company, explained, the whole apartment block has to pay a fine if the garbage truck cannot reach the containers, for example, because private cars block the road. On the other hand, the contents of the sorted waste containers are evaluated by employees who come to empty them. 

"The lid of the container is opened, it is evaluated what is inside. If there is indeed a visible inconsistency in the contents of the container, a photo is taken. And this photo is taken to the house manager," said Rumpane. 

However, residents do not need to worry if, for example, a plastic bag has fallen into the organic waste container, perhaps accidentally. 

"We're looking very closely at the volume that's misclassified," Rumpane explained.

"It's not like if there is one bag with the wrong composition of waste, then we punish all the residents. For the municipality a very specific mixture is determined. In Rīga, it can be up to 20%."

As waste managers have observed, the most common problem is the irresponsible disposal of household waste in containers intended for biological waste and the placing of construction debris in separated waste containers. 

Cleaning of the container is decided by the manager

When it is necessary to disinfect a biological waste container, the apartment block manager decides. But otherwise, the brown containers are taken out exactly like the others - drive up, pick them out and continue the route. Containers are not changed with each round. Waste managers offer a way of doing things so that the sorting of biological waste is hygienic. 

"Initially, the residents opposed the fact that 'biological' [waste] should be in pure bulk form. What we have achieved together with the landfill and the municipality is that it is no longer in pure bulk form, but that this 'biological' can be collected in compostable bags or paper bags," said Rumpane.

"The appropriate bags are of two types: paper bags – quite a few retail chains offer these paper bags. The other is bio-compostable bags with a label saying that it is compostable." 

In order to avoid fly-tipping and similar unwanted deposits from people not entitled to use any particular set of bins, closed, lockable storage containers in waste recycling sheds are being promoted in Rīga. However, at the moment only about 10% of residential buildings in Riga have lockable container sheds.

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