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Auditing the effectiveness and efficiency of separated municipal waste collection

One of the main goals of EU Member States in municipal waste management is to ensure their recycling on 50% level by 2020. To achieve this goal, the Slovak Republic adopted in its strategic document the objective of achieving a level of municipal waste separation up to 60% by 2020, as not all separated waste is further recyclable due to its contamination.

The reason for the audit of efficiency and effectiveness in separated municipal waste collection was the low level of municipal waste separation in the Slovak Republic (further SR) in 2017 relating to the fulfilment of the EU main objective. Approximately two-thirds of municipal waste ended in landfills - in this area, SR is still one in the last positions in EU. The aim was to verify the efficiency and effectiveness of the separated waste collection system in municipalities and the implementation of measures taken by the State to support the increase in the share of separated waste in total municipal waste for the period 2015-2018.

Audited entities were the Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic (further ME SR) and 58 municipalities and towns in Slovakia, focusing mainly on large cities, which are the municipal waste largest producers. Despite the fact that the cities with more than 10 000 inhabitants represent less than 10% in the total universe of cities and municipalities, they produce about two-thirds of the total waste. Municipalities under 1 000 people were not included in the audit as their overall waste did not represent 10% of total municipal waste. The audit examined the handling of about one third of the municipal waste generated in SR. The municipalities were selected on the basis of two criteria: according to the volume of waste production within three size categories and the volume by region.

The municipal waste disposal is regulated by the Waste Act. One of the most fundamental changes to the new Waste Act (effective since 2016), was the introduction of an expanded producer responsibility institute. Its principle is to transfer financial responsibility for the packaging waste separation in the municipalities to packaging producers. This obligation was provided by producers in audited municipalities through producer responsibility organisations. In addition, these organizations have also been responsible for informing and educating the citizens.

According to the Waste Act, municipal waste management should be fully covered by the imposed local fee – that means the municipality should not pay for anything from its own budget. The revenue from the local fee can be used exclusively for the waste management and the municipality should respond by lowering the local fee if the costs are reduced.

Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic

The audit pointed to low effectiveness of the measures taken by the ME SR in the two country strategy papers related to waste management, which should be the key for achieving the EU target. The audit identified areas that were only formally fulfilled and did not have the expected effect to increase the level of waste separation. In addition, there was no control activity by the State that stem for ME SR directly from the Waste Act. There was no control mechanism that would identify in the statements sent by the municipalities at least the basic deficiencies, such as the failure to report the waste mandatory components. There was no uniform methodology for municipalities to calculate the share of separated waste.

The problems have also been identified in the implementation of legislative instruments into practice. For the period 2015 – 2017, the local waste tax was not reduced despite the fact that separated waste since mid-2016 is not paid by municipalities but producers of waste. The separation standard, which was intended to express the minimum capacity of containers for separated waste per citizen, was also incorrectly defined. To date, almost no planned information campaigns have been organised by the State, which should have targeted the whole spectrum of its customers ranging from companies and municipalities to citizens. Their implementation from EU funds has shifted to the post-2018 period, which the Supreme Audit Office of the Slovak Republic (further SAO SR) perceives negatively in terms of meeting the targets set for 2020.

Municipalities 

The audit in municipalities revealed significant errors in the reported waste data in a third of the auditees, which negatively influenced the results even on national level. In more than half of the cases, a collection of separated waste was identified that have not been recorded by the municipality. Up to a third of municipalities did not separate four of the eight mandatory components of waste. The collection of one of them, kitchen biodegradable waste, practically did not work due to exceptions introduced by the ME SR.

The missing methodology for the estimation of the separated, green biodegradable household waste was also classified as a shortcoming for expressing the share in separated waste. The collection standard, the provision of sufficient capacity for collecting containers for citizens, has not been observed by almost half of municipalities. Most municipalities had separated waste collection secured by outsourced company. In such a case, when the municipality transferred the entire affiliated agenda and hence the responsibility for fulfilling its own goals to external entity, was again assessed as negative.

Almost half of municipalities have experienced a major problem with paying for waste management from their own budget despite the fact that it is the citizens who have to pay for this activity. The result is that the main idea of the new Act "The more you separate, the less you pay" cannot be met.

The audit found that almost half of municipalities are likely to reach their 2020 targets. Most of these municipalities are large cities, and they are the largest municipal waste producers. It also pointed to the areas where the share of sorted waste in the Slovak Republic could be demonstrably increased.

Based on the audit results, the SAO SR formulated 13 recommendations for ME SR and 201 recommendations for individual municipalities, for example:

  • To provide a control mechanism that will be able to identify elementary deficiencies already when processing municipal waste reports;
  • To establish a system of annual monitoring of the fulfillment of the municipal waste management objectives in the area of ??waste separation (at least in municipalities above the certain limit of population);
  • To carry out an analysis of the current situation in the field of responsibility by producer organisations and to ensure the control of their management and the fulfillment of their legal obligations;
  • To review the calculation of the collection standard and remove any discrepancies that make it impossible for this established norm to be of a referential value;
  • To communicate actively with producer responsibility organisations and apply all rights under the Waste Act and from contracts with these organisations;
  • To continue seeking restriction for disposable crockery and cutlery; to find the possibility of depositing as many packaging products as possible.