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EU funding might hijack next 20 years of waste policy in Bulgaria

EU funds may hijack Bulgaria’s waste policy for the next 20 years.

EU funds will be used to co-finance an expensive, inflexible and polluting system, effectively delaying Bulgaria’s prospects for resource efficiency in the next 20 years.

History always repeats itself; the EU may invest 100 million in the construction of a new waste incinerator, which will increase the 80 million structural funds already invested in the Sofia MBT plant. At the same time, most of the city’s recycling work is still done by informal recyclers, whose work is far from being rewarded and may soon be put aside.

Currently, the city only recycles 13% of its waste, most of which comes from the informal sector. After years of fighting these elements, a mechanical biological treatment plant (MBT) sponsored by the European Union is beginning to build, which will receive all the materials now entering the landfill and separate them to recover only 3% (!), send 28% goes to the landfill to stabilize the organic matter in the landfill (17%) and produce 38% of waste-derived fuel-a mixture of paper and plastic-used to justify the construction of a new incinerator. All in all, 180 million EU funds will increase the recovery rate by 3%! ?

Wasted opportunity

Sofia is the capital and largest city of Bulgaria, and what happens there has a major impact on the rest of the country. The waste management plan is blatantly contradictory to the EU's resource efficiency roadmap for 2020, and it is very biased against the application of the EU's waste hierarchy. However, EU funds will be used to co-finance an expensive, inflexible and polluting system, effectively delaying Bulgaria’s prospects for resource efficiency in 20 years.

Most of the materials that will be processed at the MBT plant and then sent to landfill or incineration are fully recyclable and compostable materials. In a country with such a low recovery rate from a zero waste perspective, it makes sense to start with a good separate collection program that allows for the gradual recovery of materials that are easy to recycle. Then after some optimizations, it is possible to evaluate what kind of disposal infrastructure and scale are needed. On the contrary, the authors of the waste management plan prefer to place the trolley in front of the horse.

Why invest 300 million euros in infrastructure that destroys resources, instead of investing less in source separation, reuse centers, and recycling, composting and biogas plants?

Opacity

Throughout the process, civil society received very little information, let alone the possibility of being granted participation in the process. Negotiations on the new plan were conducted behind closed doors, and in the best case, the final deal was ambiguous. For example, when the amount of RDF produced is only 150,000 tons, the planned capacity of the incinerator is 180,000 tons per year. Why?

Another important issue is that there is still no information system or data management to monitor the waste stream, which means that the most inflexible infrastructure is being planned without a clear understanding of what is needed...

Bad example

Sofia is a perfect example of a place that needs to overhaul waste collection systems, establish source separation, and provide the right legal and economic incentives. Some people believe that this is impossible in Eastern Europe, but the reality has eliminated prejudice and many southern cities have done well.

For example, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, provides a good example of good source separation and prevention in Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, Milan, a city similar in size to Sofia, is expanding its separate collection of organic waste and is starving for incineration.

Not everything is gray

The Sofia City Government has made some timid efforts to promote home composting; since 2006, 7,000 composters have been distributed, but unfortunately there is not much follow-up action.

A more interesting experience was that some neighbors in Sofia initiated community composting to process food and garden waste locally, which was praised by the European Union.

On the other hand, Sofia’s informal recyclers are happy to get more resources that will eventually enter the landfill today and will eventually enter the incinerator in the future.

As usual, Sofia’s problem is not a technical problem, but a political one.

Of course, the EU cannot force Bulgaria to invest in a separate collection program or recycling and composting plant — it will not help if there is no political will to promote recycling — but it can at least refuse to be an accomplice in crime.

When the amount of RDF produced is only 150,000 tons, the planned capacity of the incinerator is 180,000 tons per year.

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