Issue 6, 2019. December-January

   

GEORGIA MOVING TOWARDS RECYCLING - INTERVIEW WITH THE GEORGIAN WASTE MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION

The American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia and the Georgian Waste Management Association have recently teamed up to stimulate a wider conversation about recycling and other pressing environmental issues in Georgia. As part of this project, Investor.ge spoke with the president of the Georgian Waste Management Association Giorgi Guliashvili about the organization's history, mission and the challenges that face Georgia's recycling sector today.

Proper recycling and waste management are some of the most pressing issues facing Georgia today.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Georgia and the Georgian Waste Management Association have recently teamed up to launch a wider conversation about recycling and related issues.


As part of this cooperation, Investor.ge spoke with the president of the Georgian Waste Management Association Giorgi Guliashvili about the organization's history, mission and the challenges that face Georgia's recycling sector today.

How did the Georgian Waste Management Association get its start?

The Georgian Waste Management Association (GWMA) was formed in 2015.

The USAID-funded Waste Management Technologies in the Regions Program (WMTR), implemented by CENN, took the initiative to establish the association, given that at the time, the players on the waste collection and recycling market were rather scattered and their actions to address issues in the sector were uncoordinated.

The program brought together all viable players on the market to form a unified body in an attempt to both cultivate collaboration and to build networking infrastructure that would ultimately lead to assembling a proper waste management system.

The industry as a whole was facing a whole slew of problems, and we needed coordinated action to lobby the government for certain changes in the sector legislation.

We were just 10 organizations when we started out, and now we have grown to 26, and I'm happy to say that now we have most of the large players of the recycling sector as members in our organization. Our members deal with paper, plastic, glass, tires, cooking oil and a range of other recyclable materials.


What are some of the main issues facing the recycling sector today?

The biggest issue we face right now is that there is a lack of collected and sorted material for our companies to use. The potential is there, but accessing it remains an issue.

Generally, once recyclables are combined with other items or waste, they become contaminated and are unusable.

For example, we have three paper recycling companies. Together, they have a total recycling capacity of about 2,700 tonnes per month. However, as things stand, they only manage to operate at about a third of their capacity, recycling just 900 tonnes per month.

It's the same with plastics, PETs - we have four companies that have recycling permits, but only three are active. They manage to recycle some 250 tonnes a month maximum, but were they working at full capacity, they'd be recycling around 1,100 tonnes per month.

However, reforms that are slowly coming into place now should address this issue.

If extended producer responsibility (EPR) policies - which oblige producer companies to either physically or financially ensure the proper disposal or treatment of post-consumer products - are correctly implemented, we will have a problem not with raw material, but with capacity!

This in turn will bring up other issues. Such as that of technical assistance. Some of our companies are working with technology that is either very old, or sub-par in terms of quality. This makes recycling less effective, more expensive and more complicated a process. Subsidized tech purchases and preferential loans would do a lot to stimulate the industry.

A better equipped industry would bring down the cost of operations, would make room for more players on the market and ensure that recycling remains a sustainable sector in the country.

And the third biggest issue we have is that of visibility; the public and private sectors often just don't have information. They don't know what to do with their waste: how to separate it, where to dispose of it. Moreover, there is little data available as to waste production in the country, where it ends up, how it is disposed of or who is even capable of doing so.

This data is vital not only to the industry and country so that it can pursue a correct policy, but also to attract foreign investors who might be interested in setting up here as well - any investor needs clear data and information, regardless of the field.


How has the GWMA tackled some of these issues?

We've made significant progress in recent years. General awareness about the importance, ease and methods of recycling has gone up both in the private and public sectors. The USAID WMTR program facilitates connections between our association and the public and holds frequent public events and awareness-raising campaigns. The program and the association continue to negotiate partnerships with third parties as well.

As part of this same effort to increase awareness, with the USAID WMTR program's initiative and in cooperation with Tbilisi City Hall, we've set up the city's first-ever recycling bins. We've 26 of them around Tbilisi. In addition, the program has placed more than a dozen in the regions as well.

These waste recycling corners are fully functional, but their activities are of course on the small scale. For recycling to be effective, it has to be on a much larger scale. On the other hand, people have already started asking us to have collection companies come more often, because people are already bringing in so many recyclables that the bins are overfilling. This is a good sign; it means the will is there.

What we wanted to do with this project was to just get people starting to think about the importance of recycling. Without this consciousness and sense of responsibility, it's difficult to make progress.

In December, with the assistance of the USAID WMTR program, we plan to hold a waste expo, during which members of our association and other companies involved in recycling will exhibit their products, each of which will have their own table and they will have the chance to talk about their products and services directly with company representatives.

What are some of the most important changes that have taken place recently in the recycling sector?

The most important change to date in the legislation regarding recycling was the adoption of the waste management code of Georgia which entered into force back in January 2015.

According to the Waste Management Code companies producing more than 200 tonnes of municipal waste or 1,000 tonnes of inert waste or any amount of hazardous waste are obliged to come up with a waste management plan and submit it to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia for approval.

According to this same code, all municipalities in Georgia are obliged to come up with separate waste collection plans within their jurisdiction.

The government has come up with a series of six by laws on extended producer responsibility which will be discussed in September, the aim of which is to further regulate the proper disposal of packaging, electronic waste, batteries, end-life-vehicles, tires and waste oils.

Producers will have to create collective or individual non-profit organizations and manage waste produced by them through a material's life cycle, that is - ''from the cradle to the grave''.

Per the reforms in 2016, as of this year Georgian municipalities have to start thinking about recyclable waste separation. For plastic alone, the plan is ambitious: the National Action Plan or 2016-2020 demands that the country be recycling 30% of its plastic waste by 2020, 50% by 2025 and 80% by 2030.

As early as next year, companies should be taking more preventive measures against waste production as well.

The success of these resolutions will depend highly on public awareness and corporate social responsibility.

What do you hope to get out of partnering with the American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia?

In partnering with AmCham, we hope to develop further our association as a business member organization.

As part of the project, between the USAID WMTR program and the American Chamber of Commerce, an Environmental Committee has been set up to stimulate a wider conversation about environmental issues, sustainable development and circular and green economies.

In order for any of these concepts to take root in Georgia, we need to have the participation of the larger business community, and to have a more active dialogue with them. Building a relationship with larger producers in the country should lead to an increased sense of mutual understanding.

We have good laws and legislation coming into play - the biggest challenge is effectively implementing them.

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