Multiple attempts to implement waste sorting practices in Uzbekistan, led by both governmental and international organizations, have been discontinued.
According to the World Bank report, global waste production is forecasted to surge by 70% from present levels by 2050, unless nations undertake necessary interventions. Waste generation in lower middle-income countries is expected to double in 2050, including several emerging economies.
Uzbekistan, as one of these economies, currently produces around 7 million tons of solid household waste and only recycles 32% of this amount. It is worth noting that local media investigations have uncovered that the recycling rate of 32% reported includes waste imported by businessmen for recycling purposes. Regrettably, the majority of the remaining waste is disposed of in landfills that do not meet sanitation standards. Uzbekistan has committed to achieving SDG-12 by pledging to cut waste generation by 50% before 2030. However, a recent parliamentary commission meeting highlighted alarming observations about a projected doubling of waste generation by 2030, in contrast to this sustainability goal.
The World Bank‘s research in both developing and developed nations underscores the fundamental significance of waste sorting as the primary stage towards successful waste management. As such, it is recommended that Uzbekistan commence nationwide waste sorting activities. This comprehensive approach would effectively tackle waste management concerns, such as waste collection, recycling, and landfilling, thereby advancing a more sustainable waste management system.
Attempts to Introduce Waste Sorting in Uzbekistan
One of the initial efforts to promote waste sorting in Uzbekistan among the population was undertaken by UNDP in 2020. During the period between January and April of that year, UNDP partnered with the Tashkent city administration and Makhsustrans, a waste collection company, to encourage waste sorting in Muqimi mahalla (neighborhood) within Tashkent. Over 200 families received color-coded waste containers, while green footprints were utilized to direct residents towards the waste disposal site. This endeavor has yielded favorable outcomes as there was a monthly rise in waste collection from 8 tons in January and February to 10 tons in March and April. Additionally, the proportion of sorted waste among all collected waste rose from 14.5% to 46%. Furthermore, the percentage of sorted waste out of all collected waste surged from 14.5% to 46%. Based on a survey conducted in that neighborhood, 56% of respondents opined that their neighbors would continue to sort waste while 63% believed this practice could be extended citywide. The initiative displayed short-term achievement and public willingness to adopt new waste sorting behaviors with sufficient incentives, despite the COVID-19 pandemic impeding further large-scale implementation.
In 2021, Makhsustrans and a leading environmental NGO in Uzbekistan launched a three-year waste sorting project. This program aimed to promote the separation of waste in Tashkent neighborhoods in 2021, expand this practice throughout Tashkent in 2022, and establish a national comprehensive waste classification system in 2023, with a strong focus on community participation. Nevertheless, the ongoing status of the project is unknown.
Meanwhile, during the press tour organized by the Ministry of Ecology on the topic of waste collection and sorting, experts said that waste sorting has been started in Tashkent, but the population is not engaged in it. They also pointed out that there are more than 1100 waste collection and sorting facilities in Tashkent, and that waste is sorted by operators who see profit from waste sorting in these places. However, it remains uncertain whether this experience can be applied in other regions of the country.
Challenges in waste management
In Uzbekistan, managing tariff policies and their collection presents significant challenges for both public and private waste management enterprises, alongside the ongoing effort of waste sorting.
Between 2017 and 2018, 13 state unitary enterprises dedicated to waste collection, processing, and disposal were established, along with 172 branches across districts and cities. Furthermore, nine clusters were created by entrepreneurs to comprehensively address the issue of household waste.
However, despite these efforts, the owner of a waste collection and recycling cluster highlights a critical issue. There has been a notable decline in mandatory waste fee collection from the population, particularly outside Tashkent, where it stands at just 30-40%. This decrease is attributed to the absence of an organized fee collection entity, necessitating the employment of individuals by the clusters for this purpose. Consequently, waste enterprises have accrued significant debts, with data from the Ministry of Ecology in January 2022 indicating that the population’s debt for waste removal services has reached $ 34 million.
Moreover, due to inefficiencies in the waste management system, only 4-5% of potentially useful waste makes it to waste processing facilities out of a range of 20-30%. Homeless individuals, sanitation workers, and individuals who deposit rubbish at local points for paper and glass containers sort the remaining waste along the way.
Additionally, there is a concern that tenders for regional waste disposal are awarding contracts to individuals and enterprises affiliated with the Ministry of Ecology, even if they lack the technological, resource-based, knowledgeable, and potential capabilities established within waste management clusters. This lack of objectivity could have consequences for waste disposal efficiency and ultimately harm the environment. A revision of the tendering system is necessary to prevent these issues.
The increase in waste production and inadequate processing capacity in Uzbekistan has also had detrimental health effects on its population, as indicated by statistics from the open data portal in 2020. It was revealed that over 340 people died due to diseases linked to household waste pollution, marking a fivefold increase compared to previous years. These interconnected challenges underscore the pressing need for comprehensive reform and improvements in Uzbekistan’s waste management systems to protect both the environment and public health.
Some measures to improve waste management in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan faces challenges in waste management despite its existing strategy. To address this, the country implemented measures such as charging for plastic bags since 2019 and offering tax incentives and loans to waste-related enterprises in 2022.
Moreover, new landfill meeting sanitation standards, costing $17 million and supported by the Asian Development Bank, is under construction in Akhangaron (district of Tashkent region). This landfill will include safeguards against environmental damage, like methane gas collection pipes and waste liquid pumps.
Additionally, a South Korean company’s investment of $55 million is supporting a project to produce a minimum of 16 MW of electricity from waste gases at the Akhangaron and Maydontol landfills.
Uzbekistan is also embracing Zero Waste principles. A presidential decree issued on May 31 mandates the separate collection and disposal of household waste types. The Ministry of Ecology has been entrusted with developing a program aimed at enhancing efforts towards environmental protection.
South Korea as a role model for Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries
Central Asian nations like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan confront comparable waste management difficulties.
For example, only 18% of landfills in Kazakhstan meet standards and municipal solid waste recycling is limited to 18% due to insufficient sorting and low public awareness. Although private companies enhance recycling in larger cities, ineffective penalties and low tariffs hinder waste removal service development. An underdeveloped market for secondary materials is impeding progress in waste management, but the implementation of initiatives such as mandatory recycling and concessional lending could provide solutions.
In 2017, Kyrgyzstan faced waste management challenges, with just 30% of areas having proper collection and a 10% recycling rate. As of 2022, the country generates over 1.1 million tons of household waste annually and has 406 landfills, but only 107 are authorized, resulting in 2.38 billion tons of waste covering 600 hectares. Kyrgyzstan’s waste sorting practices are limited, primarily occurring in major cities like Bishkek. Outdated waste management methods, such as landfilling and open burning, still dominate, while informal waste sorting activities further complicate the situation.
Globally, waste management strategies differ considerably depending on economic status, population size, and environmental awareness. Numerous countries are presently enhancing their waste management practices to protect public health and the environment. A remarkable illustration of this dedication is South Korea, which initiated a transformative process in 1995 by implementing the Volume Based Fee System (VBFS). This innovative method promotes recycling by imposing higher fees on disposable waste materials, thereby motivating sorting and recycling. By 2003, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system enforced a regulation mandating all producers to sort and recycle waste according to defined rules, backed by fines for non-compliance. Additionally, in 2013, South Korea’s food industry introduced the VBFS. These measures led to a remarkable 50 percent reduction in waste generation and a 95 percent recycling rate, establishing South Korea as a global leader in waste management and recycling.
Uzbekistan faces a pressing challenge in waste management, characterized by low recycling rates and inefficient waste sorting practices. Despite initial efforts by UNDP and local organizations, many waste sorting initiatives have faced discontinuation. This is concerning considering Uzbekistan’s commitment to SDG-12 and the anticipated doubling of waste generation by 2030, which goes against sustainability objectives.
Challenges in tariff collection, financial sustainability, and contract allocation, along with inadequate waste processing facilities, have worsened the waste management problem. The negative health impacts of improper waste disposal are apparent. Although certain measures like charging for plastic bags and building new landfills have been taken, comprehensive reform and community participation are crucial to effectively address these issues. Studying successful waste management models such as South Korea’s VBFS and ERP can provide valuable insights for Uzbekistan’s waste sorting and management initiatives.
Learning from the experiences of other countries, particularly South Korea, can help establish an efficient waste sorting system not only in Uzbekistan but also in other Central Asian nations. This method holds significant potential for enhancing waste management methods and making a considerable contribution towards environmental sustainability in the area.