Household waste management

Symbol of recycling

The recovery and recycling of household waste leaves much to be desired in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary. Preparations for EU membership have seen all three post-Communist Central European countries struggle to meet EU requirements, although they have now provisionally closed the environment chapter. Limited transitional periods, however, have been granted where a substantial adaptation of infrastructure was required or where large amounts of investment needed to be spread over time. The Czech Republic and Hungary have until 2005, Poland until 2007, to launch an environmentally friendly system of recovering and recycling plastic, paper and glass.

Symbol of recycling
Robert Cyglicky from Bankwatch Poland monitors recycling in the country and says that a crucial factor in household waste management is telling the public what it entails and why it is important:

"The most important thing is education. In Poland, the most part of education should belong to the local authorities and it looks different. Some of them are preparing some special programme to educate people and then these people are educated enough and collect the waste themselves and in such communities the level of recycling is quite high. But generally the education of Polish people on recycling is still on the small level. We can say that the Polish people have a great potential to change such a current situation but need to know how to do this. That is why local authorities should prepare educational programmes and special infrastructure to give the people the possibilities to collect their wastes."

Laszlo Szilagyi, of the Hungarian organisation Humus, which deals with environmental and consumer protection issues, stresses that Hungary has no nationwide governmental plan to promote recycling among households and adds that it is up to non-governmental organisations to educate the people of Hungary.

The government doesn't have any education programme in recycling but we have recycling programmes, many publications, CD ROMS, videos, education materials but the government doesn't have any. The government says that we could reach the European expectations but we don't believe it.

Jan Haverkamp is from the Czech branch of Greenpeace. He believes the Czech Republic still lacks the necessary infrastructure development:

"We see that people want to use it. Containers are overflowing in many places. Still, we are lagging very much behind the targets which have been set out and that shows that the problem does not lie as much with the people. The people know this still from before '89, they know what it is to be careful with their resources. But it's also a question of infrastructure development and we think that putting more focus on that infrastructure development will also help a lot."

But infrastructure development is not the biggest problem. Mr Haverkamp says that although the government is always the first to be held responsible for the environment, recycling as such is not just the responsibility of the state. The state provides the framework, but in the end it's the commercial sector which has to implement measures and find solutions to the problem. Robert Cyglicky agrees, and says that in Poland the government has already begun enforcing laws to force industry into taking an active role:

"Right now we have a new law and in line with this law, polluters need to pay for their pollution. Producers will pay for recycling or will have to organise themselves a system of recycling and how it will work, we will see in the future."

Although Jan Haverkamp agrees that some ground rules need to be set. He feels that a common understanding needs to be met before anything can be enforced:

" Law enforcement is always a problem in this country on all fronts. But again I think from our point of view, if we have to talk about law enforcement, we're already five steps too far away from the solution. People, and in this case, the industry should themselves feel responsible for these problems, for waste. Now the industry has finally taken up that responsibility in countries like in Germany, Denmark, or the Netherlands, or England, or in the EU, even in Italy and Spain. Now why doesn't the industry in this country want to do that - is it still the Wild East, I don't think so."

Poland may have started introducing laws but a common problem faced by countries in Central Europe continues to be that ministries may have good intentions, but industry doesn't.

"If you look, for instance, to the legislation on the recycling of bottles, the government proposes now to have in 2005, 25% of the plastic bottles recycled in the Czech Republic. We have indicated that the minimum in order to get to a solution of the waste problem should be at least 50% in 2005. Now there is a big gap between that and I don't see that with the negative attitude of the industry at this moment, on the waste problem, that we are ever going to bridge that gap."

Going a step back, a popular question asked by those who actually separate their household waste is 'what happens to the separated materials'? Laszlo Szilagyi has bad news. He says that in Hungary there's no point in doing it, because there is no recycling process afterwards:

"We have some pilot projects, mainly recycling centres, but very few, where people can carry their waste voluntarily but the company doesn't pay any money for the waste. The main problem is the lack of background industry which can manufacture the separated collected materials. The people are ready to separate waste but it doesn't make any sense to set up these bins because there is not enough capacity to process."

According to Jan Haverkamp, there are also several illogical aspects of waste separation in the Czech Republic:

"We have got the plastic containers, for instance, where people can put in all their plastics. Now, from that waste, the PET bottles are separated and part of that goes to recycling (not all of it). The rest is mixed plastics, that's dirty plastics, you cannot do very much with that. So, what we see is - one of the worst solutions you can do - is that it is being burnt and used as fuel."

By 2005, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland will have to have introduced a much more complex and intensive approach to the problem of waste separation. It's all a question of investment, and the responsibility currently lies on the shoulders of the governments and municipalities whereas it really ought to be with those responsible for producing the waste in the first place - the companies themselves. In western Europe, for example, a tough stance by governments forced big drink manufacturers such as Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola to come up with reusable plastic bottles. In Central Europe, however, the governments and ministries do not seem to be ready for war with the industry:

"Within the Ministry of Environment, there is a lot of goodwill but it's very theoretic. What we would need would be people to go towards, for instance the Union of Packaging Producers and negotiate with them if necessary with the knife of 'we're going to cut your possibility of producing if you don't take responsibility for the waste you are creating'. That's what they have been doing in several other countries, for instance in Denmark and in Germany and then finally the industry starts moving. As long as these practical things don't get on the table, it won't work. I think that the guts are missing a little within the ministries. People in the ministries are a little bit too friendly. Of course I can understand why - people are scared of scaring away investments."