Issue 2, 2015. April-May



It's no secret that Georgia has a waste management problem: too much littering, old landfills and no 19 recycling strategy are just the tip of the iceberg. But with a new law on the books, the government is buckling down to tidy up.

Lika Zhorzholiani

A new public service campaign from the environmental ministry goes to the high peaks of the Georgian mountains to illustrate a simple message: don't pollute.

The two-minute public service announcement, which introduces new fines for littering, follows an alpinist up the remote side of a high mountain, only to find a pile of trash at the peak.

Trash piles abound in Georgia, from the parks and roadsides in Tbilisi, to the fields and rivers of the country's tourism sites, villages and settlements.

But new EU regulations, part of Georgia's responsibilities under the Association Agreement, could help the country find modern, progressive ways of dealing with its trash problem, and, perhaps, bolster the country's struggling recycling industry.

New Rules, New Plans

In addition to the new fines for littering, the government passed a new law on waste management in December 2014.

The new law details a list of deadlines for better waste management infrastructure, including improving Georgian landfills and building new ones by 2022. It also stipulates that separate collection of municipal wastes should be put in place by 2019.

A 15-year strategy and a five-year action plan is also planned for develop, according to the law.

Infrastructure plans aside, the new law also puts responsibility for waste management on manufacturers, who are tasked to take care of product packaging after consumers are finished with it. Companies are also required to create their own waste management strategies by 2019.

Need for New Landfills

Current estimates indicate that, by 2025, the country will have to invest 370 million lari (approximately $169 million dollars) for new landfills, waste loading stations, closing old landfills, compost facilities, and waste transportation.

The new law also foresees new regional landfills throughout Georgia.

The government is already getting started, having announced its interest in a new waste processing facility in Tbilisi.

Currently, there are 56 existing landfills, but only three of them (in Rustavi, Tbilisi and Borjomi) have environmental impact permits. Solid Waste Management Company of Georgia (SWMCG) manages 52 landfills, according to Giorgi Shukhashvili, the company's director.

He said that while the company is constantly working to improve existing landfills until the new regional ones are built, the process will take four or five years. Within eight years, all existing landfills should be closed, according the new law. Shukhashvili added that the government gave the company 22 million lari in 2013-2014, and SWMCG undertook initial steps to improve waste management conditions in the landfills through fencing the landfills; collecting unorganized waste and creating the main structures of the landfills; rehabilitating local roads; installing weighing bridges; creating berms in necessary places; arranging fire-fighting shields; and constructing check points.

In general, however, he noted that the future is in reducing the volume of waste.

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle

Expert Gela Khanishvili also believes recycling of waste is the future of Georgia. "If we consider the hierarchy of recycling of residues we are on the first level - the level when existing landfills are streamlined," he said.

He noted, however, that in Europe, the vast majority of waste is recycled, and provides a valuable source of income for the countries' economies.

"For example, in Sweden, only four percent of all waste reaches the landfills," Khanishvili said.

"Europe tries to limit the quantity of waste in landfills to just 25 percent; the rest is separated and utilized in secondary manufacturing. We must try to start processing waste and attracting investors. Besides, the country must have a tariff implemented that will provide for selection and placement in modernly equipped landfills."

Seeking a Benefit from Waste

The Mayor's Office of Batumi, in cooperation with the NGO Sustainable Development Centre Remissia decided to use waste from the old landfill to create natural gas (compressed methane).

The Head of the Department on Strategic Planning and Development of the Mayor's Office of Batumi, Lasha Nakashidze, said the city started reusing wastewater in 2012. Now they are waiting on funding, pending a grant application, to start a methane-collection program using waste.

"If the project is successful, we plan to use the methane gas for municipal transport. We will be able to provide a part of the fuel for the municipal transport of Batumi partially," he said.

Batumi is tapping into a great opportunity for municipalities, according to Giorgi Abulashvili, the director of the NGO Energy Efficiency Centre Georgia.

"In Georgia there is the technical potential for producing gas and diesel fuel from waste. Not only is it important to make biological fuel from the municipal waste, but from agricultural waste as well," he said.

"But...there is no a tax system to assist in the production of ecologically clean fuel to provide competition in the market with suppliers of diesel and petrol. It is necessary to have a preferential regime to compensate for the cost of such products, for healthy competition in the market."

Trouble with Quality, Quantity

The former manager of Caucasian Pet Company, Enriko Moselishvili, also believes tax incentives are necessary to make secondary production based on waste a success in Georgia.

Caucasian Pet Company, a foreign investment that closed in 2013, had manufactured pet preforms from recycled plastic bottles.

"We exported manufactured preforms in Turkey and sold them in the local market. In Georgia, there is a field where all bottles are sorted, but they are of a low quality...It is also a very small volume for a secondary manufacturing," he said.

Recycling Success Stories Reflect Need for More Waste

There are, however, already successful production companies creating goods from recycled waste. But they also complain that more - and higher quality - waste is necessary.

Georgian Paper Production Company was established in 2009 and uses waste paper to produce toilet paper. The company has an official patent from a Ukrainian company for the production of paper under the Obukhov trademark.

Giorgi Khachaturov, the company's manager, said they require 100-300 tons of waste paper per month. However, the local raw material isn't enough and the company imports scrap paper from Turkey, the USA, Azerbaijan and other countries.

In fact, they buy 30-40 percent of the raw material for production from abroad.

"Our company's goal is to stop importing raw material. For this, we have already opened points for acceptance of scrap paper in three cities of Georgia: Tbilisi, Gori, and Batumi. In addition, in different districts of Tbilisi, there are minibuses where anyone may deliver scrap paper," Khachaturov said.

"Frequently companies come to us and deliver waste paper by themselves. We are working on this effort with commercial banks and governmental companies. Georgia has the potential, and so we are planning to organize points to receive scrap paper near underground stations as well."