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Estonia: Poor planning process slows landfill construction 03.06.2004

Making EU Funds Work for People and Environment, lehekülg 16-17

Vt kogu raamatu teksti // see entire book at: www.bankwatch.org

Project background

The North-West Estonian regional waste management centre and landfill was one of seven big regional landfills planned to replace the old 269 household and industrial landfills in the country. The ambitious program aimed to fulfil Estonia's obligations towards implementation of the EU Landfill Directive 99/31/EC. As the safe closure of existing small landfills and establishing a system of new regional waste management centres and landfills is very costly, ISPA and Cohesion Fund cofinancing is planned for the construction of all such new regional landfills. The North-West Estonia Waste Management project was included in the national environmental ISPA pipeline in 2002.

The program for compliance with the EU Landfill Directive is a typical example of Estonian policy-making in the past few years. The EU requirement has been fully adapted into national policies without much additional thinking or priority setting. NGOs have suggested that waste prevention and minimization be key priorities for the project in the waste sector, but their views have been ignored. Thus the national ISPA strategy concentrates on an end-of-pipe approach, and the construction of a few big regional landfills is the cornerstone of the waste policy.

Project development phase

The Estonian subsidiary of the Swedish transnational waste management company Ragn-Sells carried out a study on suitable locations for the North-West Estonia regional waste management centre in 1998. The company preferred the Ääsmäe site in the Saue municipality although this site received only the third best screening score. Detailed studies and EIA procedure were only done for the Ääsmäe site.

EIA procedure

In January 2002, Ragn-Sells submitted an environmental memorandum to the Saue municipality where the selected site is situated. Both the EIA report and the participation process were handled in an extremely poor manner by the EIA consultancy throughout 2002. Although both the local population and NGOs identified a long list of unaddressed issues in the first draft of the EIA report, most of them were not addressed in the final version in November 2002. It also turned out that while comparing the chosen site with alternative ones, many deliberate calculation mistakes were present in the report in order to show the selected site as the best option. As a result, NGOs called for the cancellation of the main EIA expert's professional licence and a court case was started by the Estonian Green Movement-FoE, which is currently ongoing in 2004.

It became clear that the Estonian subsidiary of the Swedish Ragn-Sells company did not take the process very seriously. Thus both the developer and the EIA consultancy company took the EIA process rather as a necessary 'ticking of the box' exercise. Regrettably, the EIA process is regarded by the promoter as an unnecessary burden, not as a tool for increasing the quality of the project and for increasing support from the local population. Under such pressure, private companies that are being contracted for carrying out comprehensive EIAs often participate in a 'race to the bottom' of the selection process. The Ministry of Environment, which is responsible for approving EIA reports, is also not strong enough to ensure the lasting quality of the EIAs.

Project promoter and public participation in the project

The main project developer is Ragn-Sells, and only five percent of shares in the waste management centre will belong to the municipalities from northwest Estonia. While the ISPA environment strategy total project costs are estimated at Euro 7m, the Ragn-Sells company has itself recently calculated the total costs to be Euro 10m. Some Euro 5m of the ISPA grant was expected by the company. Ragn-Sells has indicated that in case ISPA cofinancing does not materialize, it will finance the project with bank loans. Raising funds directly from the capital market wouldn't be a big problem for Ragn-Sells. Its turnover in 2002 was Euro 8m with profits of Euro 0,6m. Ragn-Sells is the second biggest waste company in Estonia, with 30 percent of the market share. A doubt remains as to why the Estonian Government proposed that the project should be financed with public money from the ISPA program when alternative funding is available. As a result of public pressure, the Ragn-Sells company abandoned the Ääsmäe site in December 2002 and started a new process for finding a location for the regional waste management centre.

In addition, according to legislation, only municipalities can be responsible for the development of the waste management infrastructure. As the project is regional, all the municipalities of the served area should have been involved as interested parties. The regional waste management centre and landfill is also a national project where strong guidance from the Ministry of Environment is needed. It should have been a task for the government, not for a private company, to identify and decide the location of the regional landfill. Thus the very framework of the project has remained unclear, causing many misunderstandings and frustrations.


  • The very need for replacing more than 200 small landfills by only seven big regional landfills is still to be proven and explained. As the opening of the first new regional landfills has shown, the waste depositing price for clients may immediately rise by almost twice as much. As the transport costs to such new big regional landfills rises significantly, the probability of illegal waste dumping into natural sites will also increase. The Ministry of Environment should take the lead in such a calculation and therefore remain independent from lobbying by private waste companies.
  • The regional waste management centre/landfill is an object of national importance. Therefore the preparatory process (site selection, feasibility study, etc) should be either directly carried out by or at least strictly guided by the Ministry of Environment. It was a failure that the ministry allowed a private company to direct the entire process, causing a great deal of misunderstanding. For the continuation of the project, as well as for similar future cases, the ministry must set a clear framework and guidelines.
  • The development of waste management infrastructures is a task for local municipalities. It was unfortunate that the private company Ragn-Sells did all the preparations for the new regional waste management centre and landfill without fully involving the municipalities of the region. Fortunately, after the failure with the first proposed site for regional landfill, a joint company with 11 municipalities was formed in late 2003. The forming of such a structure should become standard practice for future similar cases. The framework for future governing should, however, be set in the early stage of project development. It would be much preferred if a private company did not have a majority share in such a joint venture in order to ensure affordable prices for waste handling.

Project facts and figures
  • The landfill will serve an area of at least 120,000 people
  • 94,000 tons of municipal waste will be collected per year
  • The Ääsmäe site is situated 15 kilometres southwest of Tallinn, close to the Via Baltica road