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Waste

Waste that does not decompose naturally and that cannot be recycled — or at least neutralised — should not be released into the environment.

There is a general assumption that waste comprises substances or mixtures of substances that are unsuitable for further use. But things are not so simple:

  • Everything in nature is interconnected, and waste material from one organism might be raw material or food for another. Worms and microorganisms in the soil, for example, process fallen leaves and dead animals into humus, which is food for plants. Organic waste, such as animal excreta and decaying remnants, that enters water bodies serves as food for aquatic microorganisms.
  • More and more types of waste are being generated because of new ways of producing and consuming energy, services and products. In this context, waste consists of the remnants of products that were made for a particular purpose but are no longer useful for that purpose. All this waste can still be used in some way: the only limitation is economic feasibility.

Human beings are now producing so much waste that it is rapidly destroying natural balances that have been established over millions of years of life on the planet.

  • Our consumption of energy and materials is growing, resulting in huge amounts of waste that pollute the air, water and soil and cause acid rain. Such pollution poses serious threats to the environment and human health.
  • About 80 percent of waste is the result of agricultural, industrial and mining activities. The remaining 20 percent is generated in households. Much of what we throw away (plastics, metals, paper, glass and organic residues) can be re-used or recycled, although the dynamics of market competition have encouraged manufacturers to lure customers into purchasing new products by means of attractive and wasteful packaging. This not only harms the environment, it also makes products more expensive. When we buy such goods, we are unwittingly supporting manufacturers that are damaging the planet.


The study of material life cycles — from manufacture to final disposal — can help us to better understand the waste problem. Materials are transformed into waste because of various production and consumption processes. During this transformation, substances released into the air or water are referred to as emissions, while the remaining residues are categorised as waste. Waste can be re-used, recycled, processed (to limit its adverse effects), burned (to reduce its volume), or disposed of in landfills.

Waste varies according to:

  • origin, which may be either production (industrial waste) or consumption (household waste);
  • physical state (solid, liquid, gas); and
  • the degree of danger it poses to human beings and/or the environment (toxic, radioactive, flammable, explosive, spontaneously combustible, corrosive, reactive, likely to cause infectious diseases etc.). Class I waste is extremely hazardous; Class II waste is highly hazardous; Class III waste is moderately hazardous; Class IV waste is low hazard; and Class V waste is practically non-hazardous.

 

There are several ways to reduce and dispose of waste:

  • One of the best ways to reduce the amount of waste generated in the first place is to use less energy and fewer raw materials.
  • Most waste contains valuable raw materials that can either be manufactured into something else, or put to some other use. Re-use and recycling helps to reduce the consumption of raw materials and energy. Large amounts of waste, such as metal, paper, plastic and even petrochemicals, can be recycled.
  • The amount of waste generated can be reduced by re-using products.
  • Burning waste in incinerators reduces its volume and is also a means of producing energy. This processing method is seen as progressive, because many hazardous waste components are transformed into less harmful chemicals, and the volume of waste is reduced significantly. Nevertheless, the use of incinerators has many negative impacts: large amounts of sulphur and nitrogen oxides, as well as hydrogen chloride, highly dangerous dioxins and heavy metals, are released into the air. There is also a real risk of groundwater contamination, and the resulting ash needs to be disposed of in ways that do not contaminate the soil.
  • About two-thirds of the waste generated in the European Union is buried in landfills or dumps. This is also the most common method of waste management in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. Landfilling partly mitigates many of the harmful impacts of waste on the environment, but there also several adverse effects: the decomposition of organic substances produces carbon dioxide and methane, which are greenhouse gases; buried pesticides, organic pollutants, cyanides, nitrates and heavy metals can seriously pollute water, especially groundwater; a landfill site can never be remediated for other types of use; and buried waste materials are often subject to secondary chemical transformations that make them hazardous. Landfill-related problems are being tackled in various ways: through the use of cleaner or zero-waste technologies; by producing materials that can be decomposed by microorganisms; by implementing programmes and projects that encourage people to re-use and recycle; by introducing additional taxes on certain types of packaging; and by imposing taxes for landfilling.
  • In Europe, composting is an under-exploited method of treating organic waste. The main obstacle at present is the lack of a market for compost.


All waste treatment methods have certain environment effects, thus the most effective way to tackle the problem is to take a responsible approach to waste generation. We have an impact every time we make a new purchase and throw away rubbish, and there are several things we can do to improve the situation:

  • Sort waste for recycling and take part in programmes promoting re-usable materials.
  • Choose foods that have a longer shelf life.
  • Choose products made from recycled materials, as well as products that can be disposed of safely after use.
  • Avoid buying products with excessive packaging, and try to re-use old packaging as many times as possible.
  • Where possible, compost biodegradable and organic waste.


Belarus produces about 1,400 types of waste annually.

Excluding waste from potash ore, waste comprises the following (proportions by weight):

  • 58.0 percent mineral waste;
  • 32.9 percent vegetable and animal waste;
  • 5.1 percent household and industrial waste;
  • 2.5 percent chemical and related industrial waste;
  • 1.4 percent residues from water boilers and heating facilities, drinking water and wastewater treatment, storm water runoff and water used in power plants; and
  • 0.1 percent medical waste.


Mining and industrial waste currently occupies 2,000 hectares of land.

  • In the town of Salihorsk, only 8 percent of waste generated by the production of potash (halites) is used to manufacture fertilisers.
  • In 2009, the total weight of waste from potash production was 911.6 million tonnes, 96.2 percent of which were generated by the Belaruskali company, while the Gomel chemical plant generated 2.2 percent of phosphogypsum.
  • Increasing amounts of soil and groundwater contaminants have been discovered in areas where halite waste and phosphogypsum have been buried.


The separate collection and recycling of municipal waste remain problematic. At present, the share of useful components extracted from municipal waste does not exceed 16 percent.

In recent years there has been a positive trend in the use of production waste. Today, 80 percent of waste is used (excluding halite waste and clay-salt slurry). Vegetable and animal waste is easiest to recycle. It is common practice in agriculture to use waste from the production of food and flavouring agents:

  • Waste malted grains and malt sprouts from beer production are fully converted into cattle feed.
  • Whey from dairy production is sold to agricultural enterprises.
  • Timber waste is burned for energy by distilleries and agribusinesses.


At the end of 2010, Belarusian enterprises were storing 7,571 tonnes of hazardous waste (Classes I to III). Most of this waste comprised used mercury lamps and fluorescent tubes. Various companies were storing 1.34 million spent mercury lamps and fluorescent tubes.

Belarus generated 3,087 tonnes of household waste in 2010.

  • An integrated waste management system has been established.
  • More waste has been generated from the plastic and glass packaging industries in recent years.
  • The separate collection of household waste was introduced in 2010, with the participation of 66 percent of citizens. A network of collection centres receive an estimated 80,000 tonnes of secondary resources each year (paper, cardboard, textiles, polymers, glass, and ferrous and non-ferrous metals).


Municipal waste is buried in special landfills. Industrial waste, household waste and some non-hazardous production waste (Classes III and IV) are also taken to landfill sites. There are currently 171 municipal solid waste landfill sites in Belarus, with at least one in each district and sometimes as many as two or three. There are also 3,087 small landfills that receive municipal waste from villages.

Waste management programmes in Belarus are developed and implemented at the level of administrative units. Such programmes include activities related to the collection, disposal and/or use of waste, and the improvement of technological processes aimed at eliminating or reducing waste volumes. The programmes identify the main areas of work as the implementation of priority measures for waste management; the use of waste as secondary materials; the increased use of recyclable materials; the construction of waste treatment and disposal facilities; and the introduction of pollution prevention methods for waste management personnel based on an analysis of the current situation and in accordance with the principles of state environmental policy.

The waste management programmes are developed on the basis of the Constitution of Belarus, the national Law on Environmental Protection, the Law on Waste Management, and the National Action Plan for the Management of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus.

A useful resource on waste issues in Belarus is: otxody.by.

Information about the EU EuropeAid project "Waste management in Belarus" can be found at: www.wastegovernance.org.

A report on policy objectives in the field of solid municipal waste management, developed under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme, can be found at: www.greenlogic.by.

A number of organisations in Belarus are carrying out projects and programmes in the field of waste management: