KIEV, Nov 29, 2011 (IPS) – Ukrainian authorities are launching a massive nationwide project to transform the country’s dangerous and inefficient waste disposal network as officials admit the former Soviet state is facing an "ecological catastrophe".
Ukraine incinerates or recycles less than five percent of the more than 50 million tonnes of domestic waste produced in the country each year. Some 50 percent to 70 percent of all urban waste is recycled on average in the rest of Europe.
The remainder of the Ukraine’s waste is dumped in more than 4,000 landfill sites that not only take up 7 percent of the country’s land area – more than its national parks combined – but which, according to state environmental bodies, fail to meet even the most basic of environmental safety standards.
And there are now serious concerns that millions of tons of toxic waste buried in poorly secured sites are posing a severe threat to human health and the environment.
The new project, which the government wants to see operational within the next two years, will create new waste disposal complexes in ten major cities with waste recycled or incinerated to produce energy fed back into the national grid.
Vladyslav Kaskiv, head of the Ukraine’s State Agency for Investment and National Projects which is promoting the project, told IPS: "This has the potential to pull the Ukraine back from the brink of an ecological catastrophe."
The problems of the country’s poor waste disposal network date back to its transformation following the break-up of the Soviet Union.
In the Soviet era Ukrainians took their own containers to markets to buy milk and cream, beer was sold from tankers in the street and food items were wrapped in bio-degradable paper. Plastic bags were almost unheard of, all glass was recycled, little or nothing was sold in cartons and there was no extraneous packaging as it was considered bourgeois.
Landfill sites have since been used to deal with the growing volumes of household waste. But the burial of hundreds of millions of tonnes of waste has left a litany of ecological woes.