Russian authorities promote old and dangerous waste management technologyin the guise of modern and advanced one
Waste management has become a major problem recently in Russia.Landfills cover huge territories around Moscow, but it’s not enough already. The landfills are full and some of them are being closeвbecause of the locals’ protests, since people feel toxic smells in the air.Addressing the issue Russian authorities implement waste burning project in four places in Moscow area, and the fifth one in Tatarstan. A state-owned company RT-Invest tries hard to make it look like a groundbreaking project meeting the highest Western standards of waste management. However, thisappearstobeagraveexaggeration in order to attract some international investors to the project. Among the Russian major companies Vnesheconombank and Gazprombank participate financially in it [i].
RT-invest is going to build four huge waste burning plants in Moscow areaby 2022. But scientists from HigherSchool of Economics (HSE)studied the technology and foundout that it includes only 3-step cleansing system, while in the Western countries it usually has 5 or 6 steps[ii]. RT-Invest has stated that thewaste is going to be burned at higher temperatures than in the West. But it’s not possible to control or guarantee that given the high rates of corruption in Russian economy, as well as considering the amount of waste processed daily, which is going to be around 2 thousand tons a day[iii].
Another problem is that RT-Invest doesn’t have any experience in the field. It claims to have Swiss-Japanese HitachiZosenInova as a partner to create a good reputation for their project. But HitachiZosenInova representatives hid the fact that their waste burning plants in Switzerland emit 30 times less pollution than the plants that are planned to be built in Russia. There’s obviously going to be a very different technology. Moreover, experts believe that the actual pollution from the Russian plants will be even more than what is said in the documents[iv].(Another Moscow plant in Rudnevo is here to show the unprecedented scale of future pollution.)
Subsequently they found out that the real project developer is going to be a closed joint-stock companyKOTES (ЗАО“Котэс”) based in Novosibirsk, Russia, while HitachiZosenInova’s role remains unclear, being vaguely mentioned as ‘making a default project’. Its representatives refuse giving comments on their participation. Their website doesn’t list the Russian waste burning plants at all, and it may have something to do with the recent European sanctions against the top-management of the company to which ‘RT-Invest’ is affiliated. It’s hard to say whether the partnership between the two companies remains in force.
In February 2019 г. local people all over the country protested against landfills and waste burning plants near their homes. Journalists revealed the agreement between the authorities of Moscow area and RT-Invest’s affiliated company called AGK which is going to manage the construction. The document states that each waste burning plant will damage the environment in thesum of more than 1 billion rubles annually[v]. It also has been found thatthe structure of the future plants will be similar to that of an infamous Altufievo waste burning plant in Moscow, which was shut down in 2015 after continuous locals’ protests. The main difference is the amount of dangerous pollution which is going to be 10-15 times more than it was in Altufievo for each of the future plants.
What’s even worse the project implementation will require a significant utility fees increase for the population of Moscow area, the same population that will be harmed by the toxic waste. However the government ignores that, while the environmental activists are being persecuted and their homes are searched by the police[vi].
To pretend their waste management program is modern the authoritiesare fakinga recycling reform. They claim that only a small fraction of communal waste is going to be burned as most of it will be collected separately. But their ‘two-container’ system doesn’t work, little effort is made to teach people how to use it, and sort-out stations just don’t provide the quality required by recycling factories. So this ‘separately collected waste’ ends up being buried or burned all the same. The worst outcome of this so-called reform is that it’s become harder for local activists to launch their local separate collection projects, since the majority of people don’t see the difference or get disappointed by the whole concept of it.
Above all, incineration doesn’t solve the waste problem. HSE experts believe that ‘secondary waste from the plants will be over 70% of the initial amount of the garbage coming to the plants’[vii]. It means that the whole amount of waste will slightly reducebut it will become much more toxic. Normally communal waste is considered 4 or 5 class of hazard, yet after burning it becomes 1 class of hazard because incineration releases dioxins and other dangerous chemicals.
Nowadays European countries discard waste burning in general by introducing taxes and limitations in order to make such plants unprofitable[viii]. Even though they burn only a small fraction of their waste, most of it being recycled, they still don’t regard the concept as safe.International investors willing to take part in Russian waste burning industry should consider the consequences for their global reputation. The implementation of RT-Invest’s project is going to substantially damage ecology and expose millions of people to oncogenicand immunosuppressive chemicals, while having an apparent corruption element.