Bio-waste recycling system in Latvia costly and late: State Audit

The State Audit Office has concluded that Latvia is implementing an ill-considered and costly bio-waste management system, plus it is delayed. If the current approach is not “restarted”, the proposed system will be costly for the country and unfriendly for the population, and potential European Union (EU) sanctions may have a negative impact on the public budget if the system is not implemented in time, Latvian Television reported June 9.

In Latvia, sorting of biological waste will be mandatory in 2024. The state audit has concluded that in Latvia the introduction of the collection system is developing very slowly.

State audit indicated that the share of municipal waste landfilled in waste sites should be reduced to 10% of the total amount by 2035. Meanwhile, about half of the municipal waste is biological. In order to meet the objective, it is necessary to introduce a separate collection and recycling system, which operates, is efficient, and meets environmental requirements by the end of 2023.

The audit identified significant risks to predict that an effective biological waste management system will not be established throughout the territory and the objectives set will not be achieved within the specified deadline. This means that Latvia may be subject to EU sanctions. The minimum amount of the lump-sum penalty is EUR 392,000, but depending on the severity and duration of the infringement, the penalty may be higher, with a maximum of EUR 11,566,120 per year until the infringement has been rectified.

Moreover, according to State audit estimates, without the introduction of the biological waste shared collection and recycling system throughout the country as early as 2021-2023, the Latvian population will not benefit from potential savings of at least €16,576,830.

In Latvia, only the middle of the system (collection and recycling) has been developed. On the other hand, the introduction of the initial and final phase of the system is essentially “limping”, the State control has concluded.

State control has also concluded that the overall coordination of national policies is not effective, the action of the policy-maker, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development (VARAM), is limited to the drafting of incomplete binding legislation and only partial monitoring of the situation, leaving a large extent of the development of the collection system under the responsibility of each municipality. The situation of municipalities as policymakers is hampered by the fact that there are no specific objectives and targets for the implementation of the system at the national level; no specific quantitative or qualitative indicators have been identified in order not only to formally implement the system in municipalities but to operate economically and effectively while balancing environmental objectives, demand, supply, and costs.

Informing residents about the sorting of waste so far has been poorly motivated, according to the state audit.

While “the train has almost departed”, costs can still be reduced. The state auditors said that the amount of investment needed in the establishment and maintenance of the system in Latvia was and is still possible to be reduced in several ways, for example, by making it mandatory only in some municipalities, by using a pre-established recycling infrastructure such as biogas production plants, and by introducing alternative uses of waste for anaerobic processing in places where this is possible. Further use of the final processed product, including disposal, is also important.

After the audit, 15 recommendations have been made to VARAM and local governments in order to implement an effective and economically sound biological waste management system without delay and to develop an understanding of the obligations and requirements throughout Latvia. The deadline for the implementation of the recommendations for municipalities is 2022 and for VARAM 2023.

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