REDESIGN/RETHINK, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

REDESIGN/RETHINK, REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

Waste Governance Initiatives by the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment

When speaking of waste management in Armenia, we usually discuss problems with waste collection, littering in tourist areas or along roads, overuse of packaging materials including plastic bags, and low rates of recycling. Less talked about, though also critical, is what we do with the waste that we collect. The final disposal sites in Armenia are not managed to acceptable standards, opening the door for environmental, public health, and, even, economic harm. To provide a comprehensive understanding of these issues, the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment has several ongoing projects on solid waste governance in Armenia. Regional Post talked about these projects and their results with Harutyun Alpetyan, the Circular Economy Specialist at the Center.

Text : Margarit Mirzoyan     Photo : AUA Acopian Center

 

Reportedly, Armenia has more than 300 dumpsites used by communities. Not a single one of these, though, is a sanitary landfill. A sanitary landfill offers key engineering solutions, which are standard in the developed world. It compacts and covers waste to reduce volume and prevent dispersion. It controls leachate—toxic liquids that form in the landfill—from infiltrating into soil and underground water. It also collects methane produced from decomposition of biological waste, preventing explosions, fires, and emission of this potent greenhouse gas. But most importantly, and at a minimum, a sanitary landfill should have controls on what types of waste enter the landfill, preventing entry of hazardous materials. The open burning of this waste alone results in emissions of dioxins and other toxic pollutants dangerous for human health.

In response to the inadequate waste governance in the country, Mr. Alpetyan believes some simple but immediate steps are needed to improve the situation. He does, however, highlight that, at least, Armenia has extensive coverage of collection in urban communities, which is a primary precondition for having a modern waste management system.

“Garbage on the streets that is not collected on time is a big problem. This is what people see and react to. Addressing this issue requires having adequate operational and contract management capacity,” says Mr. Alpetyan, “Less visible is what happens to this waste once it is collected. Unless you live next to a dumpsite, most people don’t care about what happens to that waste. This mindset has to change. People have to care that the material that they’ve disposed continues to have negative impact long after it is out of their sight. They should also care that it is material that was extracted, processed, transported, and produced at great environmental cost,” emphasizes Mr. Alpetyan.  Changes to this mindset have to come from more education and awareness raising.

Experts sorting municipal waste for the Waste Quantity and Composition Study

 

While citizens can do a lot, they cannot be expected to solve all waste issues. Also important is investing in infrastructure for waste management. “We need to control what enters into landfills, we need to have waste sorting system, we need to ensure toxic and hazardous materials are directed to specialized landfills or sections in landfills, etc. These are not things ordinary citizens can do. This is an institutional and an infrastructure investment issue,” says Alpetyan.

To shed light on paths forward, the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment is implementing four projects on waste governance. The broad question is to how we can improve the way view the materials flowing through our economy and our lives, adopting a circular economy lens. All waste types, except radioactive and mining waste streams, are considered. This includes municipal, automotive, medical, industrial, electric and electronic, construction and demolition, and agricultural wastes.

 

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The first project is called “Waste Governance in Armenia.” The project is financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden and is implemented in partnership with Swedish Life Foundation and Miljö & Avfallsbyrån AB as expertise support. The project aims at providing independent expert advice to Armenian government decision makers for development of national solid waste governance policy, strategy, and roadmap basing on the principles of the Circular Economy.

The second project is called the “Waste Quantity and Composition Study.” It is funded by the AUA Manoogian Simone Research Fund (MSRF) and studies the quantities and composition of the solid waste in Armenia. It was developed in partnership with the RA Government, namely with a special 22-member interagency workgroup on waste issues formed by the decree of the prime minister in 2018. Advising on this project is the Swedish firm, LL Bolagen. Previously, eight studies have been done on waste composition but they all vary in their methodology, geographical coverage, and seasonality. While most of the previous studies focused on one region or community, the WQCS project aimed to get a country-scale representative sample making tests in 6 locations with the same methodology. The waste sampling and analyses were done in Yerevan, Ararat, Gyumri, Vanadzor, Hrazdan, and Kapan cities. Hopefully, there will be resources to replicate this study at different seasons as the seasonality factor is crucial to waste composition. “We didn’t want a consultant to come and do this for us. We emphasized the training and local capacity building aspects,” says Mr. Alpetyan. “We built an outstanding local team capable of repeating this study whenever enough resources are available.”

The third component of the AUA Acopian Center’s waste governance direction is the “Mapping of Waste Handling in Armenia” project. It is implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure. The team will map where the waste is generated, how it’s handled, and where it is disposed of. The project will cover all communities in Armenia. “In short, we are mapping the waste handling capacities: equipment, bins, and dumpsites," indicates Mr. Alpetyan. “One of the results of the project will be the registry i.e., the database of landfills with their geospatial data.” The database will be available online and will serve to the public benefit. The project also has a capacity-building element to help the partner ministry to raise its efficiency.

School children learning about nutrient cycles through vermicomposting of organic waste. Initiative partner Yerevan Municipality in 2015

 

And finally the fourth project is the Waste Recourse Library. The center has already developed a resource portal for waste governance in the country. It has gathered information on the current legislation on waste in Armenia, including laws and sub-legal acts. The library includes the database of institutions involved in the sector along with the research and policy papers and report on projects implemented in the country.

 

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The issue of waste management is very complex and has many dimensions including social, environmental and economic. These projects are a part of a more significant direction the country has to move addressing the challenge from a circular economy perspective. This includes following the 4R principle: redesign/rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle. “When saying recycle, people usually imagine plastics,” says Mr. Alpetyan, “but we should think wider and find ways to separate all recyclables from the municipal waste stream to avoid losing value. Diverting organic waste from landfills has a huge economic potential for biogas and fertilizer production. This also reduces the negative environmental costs from leachates and greenhouse gas emissions.” Soon Armenia will have two engineered landfills financed by the EU in the Kotayk region and Yerevan. “When spending millions of euros on closing the old dumpsites and building new sanitary landfills, we need to think at least of prolonging the use period as much as possible,” suggests Mr. Alpetyan, “So even if we manage to divert only organic waste, which makes 50% of our municipal waste, away from landfills, we will exploit these expensive landfills at least twice longer.”

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