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Hoping for Armenia without trash: where we are now

Ever since plans were announced about constructing new landfills in Armenia, environmentalists expressed their concerns regarding those plans (since 2015). The concerns have been around constructing new landfills without waste sorting and recycling components. Considering that the world and Armenia included, have serious problems with waste, as well as the fact that consumption reduction and recycling of products could reduce humans’ dependency on natural resources, waste recycling is therefore a number one problem for Armenia.

But the concerns regarding these landfill projects were not only around their short life span with no sustainable components, but also the fact the European banks are financing those: a region which is a pioneer in the world in green policy making and implementation.

And thus since 2017 I have been in touch with the Yerevan city Municipality, Ministry of Territorial Administration and the European banks, specifically European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and European Investment Bank (EIB). The aim of these correspondence has been achieving implementation of landfill projects that will have recycling, reuse, composting or any other options that will prevent nature pollution and will support natural cycle by making new products from old ones.

I have written about all these correspondence in Armenian and English. I have also launched two complaints with the EBRD regarding funding such unsustainable projects and reminding that even though banks insist on projects meeting European standards, Europe itself is reducing number of its landfills.

As a response to the second complaint, the EBRD organized a meeting, where the EBRD representative again reminded through a phone call about the project meeting European standards, and that the loan by the EIB will be used for making the project even more sustainable.

But another participant of the meeting, the head of Sustainable Urban Development Investment Program (SUDIP) Nora Martirosyan, informed me and EBRD representative that the Yerevan city Municipality has refrained from additional loans from the EIB and sustainable components of the project will be implemented through other programs. This was news to me and the EBRD representative. Ms. Martirosyan and another participant of the meeting Advisor to the Yerevan city Mayor Arthur Sargsyan presented to me and the EBRD representative all the programs that the municipality plans to implement in Armenia. For example the municipality has applied to a USAID grant and if they receive it, they will implement a pilot project by installing 500-700 bins for separate paper and plastic collection. The Municipality is also forming a city company that will be responsible for separate collection of solid waste. In cooperation with the EU, the municipality will also implement a study of situation with toxic waste management. This project will last about four years.

Ms. Martirosyan additionally mentioned that since waste recycling can be a profitable business, the municipality is actively communicating with the private sector for investment prospects and private-public cooperation in this area.

But I should remind that during a meeting with the representative of Ministry of Territorial Administration Narine Avetyan at the beginning of 2019, as well as in her very recent response to the letter of “Green Armenia” environmental educational NGO, she reminded that it is early to speak about investment projects in waste management as long as they don’t have waste composition study results. These results were to be ready in June 2019. Meanwhile, the construction of new landfill is planned to start in 2020.

So let’s conclude on what we have. Yerevan will soon have a landfill which will be built on around 30 hectares and the life span of which will be about 30 years. The state hopes that after all, there will be sustainable investment proposals which will help to reduce waste and thus prolong the life of the landfill. But the state should be reminded that even if there is no sustainable investment offer, state has the obligation to protect public health and maintain clean environment. It is great that the state hopes to achieve green solutions with grants and public-private collaboration without increasing the state’s loan burden. And yet considering the recent loans the state took for other projects, the concern is that probably the state is not enough concerned about waste management or any other environmental issue as it should be.

But it is no less important to mention that the European banks in their turn are not that much concerned about sustainability of projects they fund despite their announcements. If not the meeting on December 4, the EBRD representative might not even know what greening measures are planned by the Municipality for the criticized landfill projects that the banks fund. This allows for some insight as to the extent the European banks are concerned about the environmental impact of their projects.

Sofia Manukyan