Is the importation of foreign waste really a good idea?

Friends of the Earth's protesting, photo: CTK

Until now the importation of foreign waste for disposal to the Czech Republic has been strictly banned - though there was an appeal to change the law on waste disposal before. In 1999 it was MP Jiri Drda, of the centre-right Civic Democrats, who put forward a proposal in Parliament recommending the Czech Republic make an exception in the import of waste, a proposal that was overwhelmingly voted down. The result was not entirely a surprise. At the time Mr Drda was not only a member of Parliament - he was also the chairman of the local incineration plant in his constituency of Liberec, raising questions over conflict of interest. Perhaps even more than that, after years of ecological devastation in Czechoslovakia under the communist regime, the idea of importing waste from neighbouring countries could only be seen as an ecological backwards step.

Friends of the Earth's protesting, photo: CTK
Mr Drda's failure to pass the bill in 1999, however, has not stopped another Civic Democrat MP, Tomas Hasil, Mr Drda's successor, from resurrecting the idea now. Mr Hasil has stated there are benefits from importing foreign waste - as a source of renewable resources. That however, has been countered by the non-profit ecological organisation Friends of the Earth - who protested Mr Hasil's proposal on Monday. They see the idea of importing foreign waste into the Czech Republic as a grave mistake, an opinion, it has to be said, shared by many residents in the MP's own constituency of Liberec. Vojtech Kotecky of the Friends of the Earth headed the protest on Monday when members of the organisation carried bags of symbolic waste and laid them at the Civic Democrats' headquarters in Prague's Lesser Town. Earlier Vojtech Kotecky spoke with Radio Prague's Jan Velinger, explaining his organisation's position:

"Friends of the Earth's campaign is against this proposal, because it would effectively mean that we would take care of neighbouring countries' waste, but toxic pollution and toxic ash from incineration will remain in the Czech Republic. This is why we came to Mr Hasil's party headquarters with symbolic waste to import to their headquarters to show them what the problem is about. And to ask them to vote against their party member's proposal, because actually there was a vote on a similar proposal four years ago and his party voted against that, that time."

As you say that first proposal was put forward by another Civic Democrat, a chairman of an incineration plant in the region of Liberec. Now I couldn't help but notice that Mr Hasil is from the same area.

Friends of the Earth's protesting, photo: CTK
"There was definitely a conflict of interest in Mr Drda's case. I don't think this is that much of a problem in the case of Mr Hasil. But definitely there is some political relationship between the two men and this is perhaps one of the reasons why the amendment was brought to the table at this time."

On the other hand, importing waste - even hazardous waste from abroad - there are conditions under which that is possible.

"Well, it is possible when you import some safe waste, for example, for recycling or in extreme cases of natural disasters. There is a special clause which allows the importation of waste in some situations. But, this is completely different now, we are talking about importing waste for burning in the Czech Republic."

If it goes against a certain logic, why do you think a member of the Civic Democratic Party is pushing for it, and why now?

"The reason for the timing is clear: there is a waste law being debated in parliament and they simply attached this amendment to the general debate to the waste law, related to European Union legislature. But, the reason for this amendment, I think there is a point of commercial interest for incineration companies in the Czech Republic. It would definitely be an interesting profit and business for them. The last time we won this debate by a very strong margin: Mr Drda's amendment was defeated by 142 votes to 11. Out of 63 members from his party in parliament then, only 10 voted for his proposal. We hope that it will be defeated again but I'm not sure - in advance - that it will be."