Issue 1, 2016. February-march



There is a new effort to clean up illegal dumps and create modern waste management in Georgia, the Waste Management Technologies in Regions (WMTR) project. spoke with Rusudan Gorkhelashvili, the communication and outreach team manager for the project, about how their work will help clean up the countryside and push for more sustainable recycling.

An expensive problem

Illegal landfills in Georgia are a very extensive problem due to the country's socio-economic condition, Rusudan Gorkhelashvili said.

"In the regions, funds allocated to waste management are very limited. Waste management—collection, transportation, disposal or recycling, and monitoring of waste—is not a cheap service," she said, adding that while the situation has improved in Tbilisi, it is still a problem outside the capital.

"Illegal dumping exists because, when there's no infrastructure, i.e. waste bins, and when waste is not collected, people have no choice other than creating spontaneous illegal dumpsites or burning their waste in their backyards."

Gorkhelashvili is the communications and outreach team manager for the four-year Waste Management Technologies in Regions (WMTR) program, financed by USAID and supported by the Caucasus Environmental NGO Network.

The program focuses on helping Georgia improve its waste management and recycling programs.

Gorkhelashvili said there have been improvements over the years, and the trend is being reinforced by Georgia's obligations under the EU-Georgia Association Agreement.

Part of that trend is the new Waste Management Code, which entered into force in 2015, she said. The new code obligates municipalities to develop plans for municipal waste management. It also introduces fines for littering and illegal dumping.

To date, the WMTR has cleared three "spontaneous" dumpsites in Adjara and four in Kakheti, the program's focus areas. It has also planted 380 trees at illegal dumpsites in the two regions.

The WMTR program has been working closely with the Ministry of Environment and Georgia's Solid Waste Management Company, she added, to create international-standard regulations on building, operating and closing landfills.

Gorkhelashvili noted that the program's objectives are based on reducing waste so there is less to go to landfills.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Promoting recycling is an important part of the program.

"Unfortunately, there are no recycling centers in Tbilisi where people can take their recyclable waste; there are only campaigns, from time to time, carried out by book stores," she said, adding that CENN also has a recycling campaign, the Green Office Campaign.

"What makes the recycling sector very difficult to develop is the absence of systemic waste separation, and so businesses need to find sources of recyclable waste based on private arrangements either with institutions or landfills," she said, noting that mixed waste is not good for recycling.

"It is very hard to say how profitable recycling is, or could be in Georgia. For this, we need accurate figures for waste production in the country. However, it should be noted that there are small/medium-sized companies that operate in the waste-recycling sector in Georgia and are profitable."

The WMTR program has developed an association of different-sized companies involved in waste management in Georgia, and is working with them to promote integrated waste management principles at central and local levels to support them in their operation, Gorkhelashvili noted.

Youth - Agents for Change

The WMTR program is also working closely with the youth to educate them about recycling.

"The program's most important target audience is youth, in terms of raising awareness on integrated waste management—Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle—principles," she said.

The youth outreach also includes activities gear to engage children at school and in the summer.

"We work with school students through competitions on waste-related issues, seminars, open classes, workshops, training, as well as eco-camps, which are one of our most important activities for raising awareness and education," she explained.

"The youth, who are agents of change, are the primary target of our project."