Municipal waste removal is successfully organised, sorting needs improvement

Toomas Mattson | 12/14/2016 | 11:00 AM

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TALLINN, 14 December 2016 – The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the majority of local governments are successful in organising the collection of waste from residents and its transport, but there are too few bins for separately collected waste, incl. packaging waste, close to people’s homes. This makes sorting waste inconvenient for people. 64% of municipal waste is collected without it having been sorted and it predominantly used for the production of energy, not recycled.

The survey commissioned from Turu-uuringute AS during the audit indicates that ca 90% of people agree that sorting waste is necessary, but despite this more than half of people do not separate packaging waste from mixed municipal waste. Local governments have implemented the system of organised waste transport so that waste can be collected from people and removed of as cheaply as possible. These goals have been achieved, but local governments don’t usually make an effort to ensure that the waste gets sorted. Local governments do not demand that a sufficient number of bins is set up when they organise waste transport and negotiate with packaging recovery organisations. Also, many local governments have no overview of their waste producers or the quantities of produced and collected waste.

Only one-third of produced municipal waste is recycled as materials in Estonia. The goal is to recycle one-half of municipal waste as materials by 2020 and two-thirds (65%) by 2030. These goals cannot be achieved without sorting and recycling more biodegradable and plastic waste, only 14% and 16% of which, respectively, was recycled as material in 2015.

Low economic interest in recycled plastic waste is an obstacle to the more extensive use of plastic waste. Recycled plastic waste is not competitive on the market when the oil price is low. Small demand for waste compost is the obstacle to the more extensive use of bio-waste for making compost. Compost producers have an important role in increasing demand and they should carry out active marketing. The state and local governments can promote the use compost in, for example, landscaping.

In addition to improving the possibilities of sorting waste, it is also necessary to supervise waste producers and waste handlers more efficiently. Local governments should check the sorting habits of people and the activities of waste transport operators and packaging organisations; the Environmental Inspectorate, however, should check whether waste is handled in the declared quantities.

The National Waste Management Plan for 2014-2020 includes the plan to do away with waste transport organised by local governments and allow waste transport operators to compete in free market conditions. This is in conflict with the expectation that local governments should promote the separate collection of waste more decisively than before, have an overview of waste producers and the quantities produced, and organise for waste to be recycled as materials. The National Audit Office is of the opinion that the present system of organised waste transport is good, but it has to be implemented more efficiently than before.

Auditor General Alar Karis says that cooperation between local governments should be promoted in order to increase separate collection of waste. “The Minister of Finance should promote the emergence of cooperation structures of local governments to ensure that the latter cope better with the organisation of waste management, including separate collection of waste. These joint institutions would help concentrate knowledge and money in this field. It also allows local governments to create a better overview of waste producers, give more attention to supervision and gain more negotiation power in communication with waste handlers. The state, however, should guarantee that the data of waste handling are checked and correct. This would help make correct decisions in waste management.”


  • * 466,000 tons of municipal waste was produced in Estonia in 2015. The majority of this was biodegradable waste (26%). Paper and cardboard comprised 22%. Plastic waste comprised 15%, other municipal waste 13%, glass waste 9% and metal 5%. The share of textile waste is 4%, waste wood comprises 2% and equipment removed from use also comprises 2%. The remaining waste, which was produced in smaller quantities, comprised 2%.
  • * Mixed municipal waste comprises two-thirds of collected municipal waste (66%). Separately collected packaging and other separately collected materials both comprise approximately one-sixth (18% and 16%, respectively).
  • * 39% of the municipal waste produced in Estonia is burnt. 29% is recycled as materials. 13% is used to produce waste fuels. 7% of municipal waste is deposited in landfills. Other reuse (e.g. covering landfills with waste fuel production residues) and other handling (temporary storage and undetermined handling) comprise 12% in total.
  • * One-half of separately collected waste (50%) is exported and recycled as materials in other countries.

Inadequate sorting means that the state will not achieve the goal of the European Union, which is to recycle 50% of municipal waste as materials by 2020.

The implementation of waste management requirements is hindered by the changes of direction in the state’s waste policy regarding organised waste transport and the lack of clarity in the right of local governments to decide on the recycling of waste.


Toomas Mattson
Communication Manager of the National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 513 4900
[email protected]
[email protected]

  • Posted: 12/14/2016 11:00 AM
  • Last Update: 12/14/2016 12:57 PM
  • Last Review: 12/14/2016 12:57 PM

Mixed municipal waste at Väätsa landfill before it is pressed and then burned.

National Audit Office

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