Can Ukraine turn 10 mil­lion tons of waste into elec­tric­ity?


In Ukraine, 94 per­cent of solid waste is dis­posed of in land­fills. But with the avail­able space shrink­ing, cities are look­ing for al­ter­na­tive ways to process garbage and use it as an en­ergy source.


In May 2016, a mas­sive pile of trash col­lapsed dur­ing a fire at the Hry­bovy­chi land­fill near Lviv, killing three fire­fight­ers and an ecol­o­gist at the site. The lo­cal au­thor­i­ties took the long over­due de­ci­sion to close the dan­ger­ously over­filled 33-hectare dump­site, but the city of Lviv was left with­out a place to dis­pose of its waste.

On city streets, dump­sters filled up quickly, and in just a few months Lviv was blighted with suf­fo­cat­ing piles of garbage. Res­i­dents com­plained about the bad odors and rats, and de­manded ac­tion from the city au­thor­i­ties. The city tried to find avail­able land­fills in other re­gions, but there were not many op­tions. Some­times tons of trash would sim­ply be dumped in unau­tho­rized ar­eas, in fields, draw­ing the ire of the neigh­bor­ing towns, which be­gan to block garbage trucks from Lviv.

In Ukraine, land­fills al­ready take up 12,000 hectares of land — a ter­ri­tory big­ger in area than the city of Vin­nyt­sia. Only a sev­enth of that is le­gal for us­age and cur­rently open. Even fewer of the land­fills meet san­i­tary stan­dards.

By of­fi­cial fig­ures, less than seven per­cent of the waste pro­duced in Ukraine is re­cy­cled or used to gen­er­ate en­ergy. Al­most 10 mil­lion tons of waste ends up in land­fills, con­tam­i­nat­ing soil, wa­ter, and the air of the sur­round­ing ar­eas. The only waste in­cin­er­a­tion plant in the coun­try is lo­cated in Kyiv; it burns about 20 per­cent of all the cap­i­tal’s waste.


To tackle the cri­sis in Lviv, the Eu­ro­pean Bank for Re­con­struc­tion and De­vel­op­ment al­lot­ted 35 mil­lion eu­ros last Septem­ber to up­grade the Hry­bovy­chi land­fill and to build a waste treat­ment plant.

Shortly af­ter that, the city of Kh­mel­nyt­sky also an­nounced plans to deal with its waste: In Jan­uary, the city au­thor­i­ties an­nounced they would build a sim­i­lar waste treat­ment plant to Lviv’s.

Waste not

While some pri­vate com­pa­nies and pub­lic ini­tia­tives try to pro­mote waste sort­ing and re­cy­cling, there’s no such cul­ture in Ukraine, nor is there a func­tion­ing na­tion­wide or mu­nic­i­pal pol­icy.

“We can’t wait for our peo­ple to learn to sort their waste. There is tech­nol­ogy that can do it at a plant,” said Ser­hiy Savchuk, head of the State Agency for En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency and En­ergy Sav­ing.

The tech­nol­ogy he re­ferred to is a me­chan­i­cal-bi­o­log­i­cal treat­ment (MBT) plant, the type of plants that both Lviv and Kh­mel­nyt­sky plan to build. It is equipped to sep­a­rate waste into sev­eral types of ma­te­ri­als that can be re­cy­cled or con­verted into en­ergy.

Glass, pa­per, and plas­tic are re­cy­cled. Or­ganic food and agri­cul­tural waste is pro­cessed into bio­gas or tech­ni­cal com­post, used to cover old land­fills. Com­bustibles can be used to pro­duce fuel. And the re­main­ing small frac­tion of non-re­us­able residues can be buried in a land­fill.

Ide­ally, Savchuk says, such a plant should be in ev­ery Ukrainian city and re­gion. But in re­al­ity, this would be costly and re­quire the re­vi­sion of leg­is­la­tion and tar­iffs.

Matthias Vo­gel, direc­tor at the Ukrainian branch of Ve­o­lia, a French waste man­age­ment com­pany, says that Ukraine needs to start from the ba­sics: Get new con­tain­ers and trucks with GPS track­ers; create san­i­tary land­fills; tighten con­trols over where waste is dis­posed of; and in­tro­duce the sort­ing of dry and wet waste.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the bet­ter the re­cy­cling, the more it costs,” Vo­gel said, adding that the ba­sic model of waste man­age­ment he pro­posed would cost five times more than the ex­ist­ing one.


To­day, Ukraine has 18 bio­gas plants in­stalled in land­fills that gen­er­ate 16 megawatts of elec­tric­ity from de­com­pos­ing or­ganic waste.

But build­ing a more so­phis­ti­cated power sta­tion to con­vert solid waste into en­ergy re­quires a lot of in­vest­ment. For ex­am­ple, French com­pany SUEZ is build­ing a waste-to-en­ergy power sta­tion in Eng­land for 150 mil­lion eu­ros.

“MBT plants are fine for pro­duc­ing al­ter­na­tive fuel, but the big ques­tion is where it is go­ing to be in­cin­er­ated,” Vo­gel said.

The al­ter­na­tive fuel ex­tracted from com­bustible waste varies in caloric value and makes up only from 10 to 35 per­cent of the to­tal vol­ume It can be burnt to pro­duce elec­tric­ity or ther­mal power, or used in ce­ment pro­duc­tion.

“Some Soviet ther­mal power sta­tions could be con­verted to run on al­ter­na­tive fuel or biomass. The­o­ret­i­cally, it is pos­si­ble. Prac­ti­cally, it’s very costly,” Vo­gel said.

Low tar­iffs

It all comes down to money. And at the end of the day it’s Ukraini­ans who will pay.

With cur­rent rates for waste col- lec­tion and dis­posal in Ukraine, it is cheaper to dump trash into a land­fill than to build pro­cess­ing plants, said Savchuk from the State Agency for En­ergy Ef­fi­ciency.

First, tar­iffs for waste dis­posal ser­vices should be in­creased, Savchuk said. Ac­cord­ing to him, the aver­age cost is about Hr 330 per ton now. That in­cludes trans­porta­tion by a col­lect­ing com­pany and dis­posal in a land­fill.

Tak­ing garbage to a sort­ing plant and fur­ther re­cy­cling and con­ver­sion into al­ter­na­tive fuel and burn­ing that fuel to pro­duce en­ergy would raise tar­iffs to an es­ti­mated Hr 2,000 to Hr 4,500 per ton, ac­cord­ing to Vo­gel’s es­ti­mates.

Fur­ther­more, the en­vi­ron­men­tal tax on waste dis­posal in Ukraine is in­cred­i­bly low: Hr 5 per ton.

In com­par­i­son, in Europe land­fill taxes range from 5 eu­ros per ton in Lithua­nia to over 100 eu­ros per ton in Bel­gium. The tax is charged in ad­di­tion to the tip­ping fee at a land­fill in or­der to in­crease the cost of land­fill dis­posal and en­cour­age other means of treat­ing waste.

“What we can do now is min­i­mize the amount of waste taken to the land­fill. Take out or­gan­ics and re­cy­clables and do it at the low­est cost. If we don’t start there, we won’t get to an­other level,” Vo­gel said.

The next level is to at­tract in­vestors into the waste-to-en­ergy sec­tor. They need guar­an­tees that their plants will get the nec­es­sary amount of waste on a reg­u­lar ba­sis and ad­van­ta­geous tar­iffs on sales of the en­ergy they pro­duce.

The state agency is look­ing for a busi­ness model to make waste treat­ment plants more af­ford­able for Ukraine.

“The con­struc­tion may be par­tially cov­ered from mu­nic­i­pal bud­gets or sub­si­dies, or through pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships,” Savchuk said.

Stim­u­lat­ing tar­iffs for en­ergy pro­duced from waste, sim­i­lar to “green tar­iffs” that Ukraine in­tro­duced to boost in­vest­ment into re­new­ables, would help too, Vo­gel added

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of French SUEZ met with Savchuk’s team in Septem­ber.

“Waste-to-en­ergy is among the projects we con­sider in Ukraine,” SUEZ’s pressper­son told the Kyiv Post in an email. “In or­der to com­mit to such project we would need the nec­es­sary le­gal frame­work, ac­cess to fi­nanc­ing, com­mit­ment on vol­umes and prices of waste, as well as sus­tain­able en­ergy tar­iffs.” Thanks to Ukraine's lu­cra­tive feed-in "green tar­iffs," Ukraine's re­new­able-en­ergy sec­tor is ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing twice as much elec­tric­ity as it did in 2015 and the sec­tor at­tracted 880 mil­lion eu­ros in in­vest­ments.

Waste col­lec­tors pick trash from a street in Lviv on June 27, 2017. The city suf­fered a garbage dis­posal cri­sis when, in May 2016, its only land­fill was closed af­ter an ac­ci­dent. (Volodymyr Petrov)

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