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State authorities, mostly customs officials, must heighten control of imported waste

What kind of waste is imported into North Macedonia? How effective is the control over what is imported? Who has the highest responsibility? Do we import more waste or export it? Should waste even be imported from abroad as energy source? These are some the questions that have been opened since the Blatsion LTD investigation in Bulgaria started.

Skopje, 5 February 2020 (MIA) – What kind of waste is imported into North Macedonia? How effective are controls over what is imported? Who has the highest responsibility? Do we import or export more waste? Should waste even be imported from abroad as energy source?

These are some the questions that have been opened since the Blatsion LTD investigation in Bulgaria started, concerning the unregulated import of 25 containers full of Italian waste through the Burgas port.

This question probably wouldn’t have gained so much traction were it not for the appearance of Goran Angelov’s name in the investigation.

He was head of the Drisla landfill, and he is part of the Blatsion LTD ownership structure. Angelov claims that, no matter his role in the company, the landfill operated according to the laws.

According to the Burgas Prosecution, the waste in the containers isn’t radioactive or toxic, but there is still a discrepancy between what the paperwork says the containers hold and what they actually hold.

The waste was transported by ship on September 5, 2019, and it was to be timely stored within 90 days. The investigation continues with samples being taken, and requests for international warrant since the containers were shipped from Italy.

The next day after the case was opened, which received extensive media coverage in both countries, Drisla became a public company under a decision of the Central Registry. Skopje Mayor Petre Shilegov announced at a press conference that Drisla would be managed by the City of Skopje, noting that no hazardous waste has been imported, neither in Drisla nor in the country.

Does the country import or export more waste – this has been the pressing issue in recent days. According to data of the Ministry of Environment, North Macedonia exports more than it imports.

Most of the waste imported from Albania and Kosovo for re-treatment

Ana Karanfilova Maznevska, head of Waste Management Sector at the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, says that both hazardous and non-hazardous waste is being imported. There is a rulebook which contains a so-called green list.

“The rulebook is aligned with European legislation. EU’s Regulative 1013 exists in order to ease and improve administration and waste shipments. The unified documents regulate all of this,” she points out.

Karanfilova Maznevska says that waste accumulators are being imported as hazardous waste, stating that North Macedonia has the re-treatment capacity required, equipped with appropriate technology and licences from the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning.

“Some companies which have licences for retreating waste are waste importers. This means they import the waste, retreat it, and they get a certain product or semi-finished product. The law says that only companies which can retreat waste can import it. Waste for the purpose of disposal or storage cannot be imported,” she says.

In terms of the import vs export in North Macedonia, Karanfilova Maznevska states that the ratio has remained unchanged in the past couple of years, meaning more waste gets exported than imported.

“In 2014, we issued 52 licenses for import, export and transit. Of those, 10 were for import, and the rest involved transit and (mostly) export. For example, in 2017, we issued 269 licenses, out of which 64 were used for import, whereas the rest were used for export.

Usually, the most waste gets imported from Kosovo and Albania for retreatment purposes. We import steel and iron, waste accumulators, waste paper for which we have a retreatment installation, plastic waste, shredded tires etc. Shredded tires are used for fuel production.

We have a fuel production installation, as well as an installation which uses shredded tires as additional fuel,” she clarifies.

Non-hazardous waste can be dangerous, too

After conducting on-site inspections, the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning didn’t find any significant irregularities neither in Drisla, where waste gets treated and put away, nor in larger companies that use waste for fuel.

Karanfilova Maznevska says that North Macedonia should follow the international rules as set by the Basel Convention, which North Macedonia has signed. It regulates waste shipments: import, export, and waste transit.

“All those importing or exporting waste fill out special forms which contain certain data requested by the law, in terms of the waste’s origins, what the code, who transports it, what border it’s crossing, the amount, etc. Finally, customs have to stamp it to confirm that the waste has been imported, exported, or transported.”

She also points out that non-hazardous waste can be dangerous if handled incorrectly.

“Communal waste can develop microorganisms which can lead to illnesses, it can also lead to the appearance of rodents if left to rot. In certain conditions, it is dangerous to human health despite not being a threat in and of itself,” Karanfilova Maznevska says.

Customs officers must be aware of what is being imported in the country

As regards waste disposal in Drisla, Environment Minister Naser Nuredini has told MIA that the only hazardous type is communal waste. He says that recyclable and reusable waste gets imported into the country.

“The only kind of hazardous waste which exists in our country is communal waste. We do not allow any kind of landfill or storage waste to be imported. The only imported waste gets retreated, recycled, reused, and nothing else. If there are any doubts about any suchlike activities, we will begin an investigation and make sure it never happens,” Nuredini has stated.

In regards to who controls what is imported in the country and who is responsible for it, Nuredini has said that the Ministry creates policies, and that customs officials must be aware of what gets imported.

“We, as an institution, create policies, prepare laws, and strive to apply them. We do not allow landfill or storage waste to be imported. An import license can only be obtained for re-treatment, recycling, and reuse of waste,” he says.

Nevertheless, Nuredini stresses, these questions require additional investigations. We will cooperate with Bulgarian authorities to ensure that this does not happen in North Macedonia.

“Who is responsible? Customs officers must be aware of what gets imported into the country. There are rules and regulations stating that border control must be thorough. We will support them any way we can, and we will do all in our institutional power,” Nuredini has said.

The Bulgarian investigation raised red flags with the Customs Administration as well, which announced that the degree of control has been elevated for all kinds of waste and material which could put citizens’ health at risk.

“In accordance with the strategic objectives of Customs Administration in relation to the health and safety of citizens, the import and export of hazardous waste, as goods posing risk, are always subject to customs control which is always done in accordance with the law. This entails a mandatory import license from the appropriate Ministry, in this case it is the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning,” the institution says.

According to customs data, Blatsion LDT – named as an importer of hazardous waste in Bulgaria – does not appear as a sender in an import customs process in this country.

“The total amount of imported waste in the past year is 2.215 tons for which each importer provided a license issued by the appropriate ministry, with no hazardous waste being imported,” the Customs Administration claims, adding that in 2019 only one company used waste for fuel.

Husni Tachi from the State Environmental Inspectorate tells MIA that any company should have a license for the amounts of waste that it owns.

“The license sets the conditions for a company’s importing of 100, 1000 or 2000 tons of waste. They will be able to import this amount over the course of one year. Whether or not there will be a need for the total amount requested for import doesn’t mean that the company will import the whole amount. They will import as much as they need,” he adds.

Karanfilova Maznevska adds that the Customs Administration abides by the paperwork, having the right to conduct certain lab analyses if doubts arise.

“If they determine that they’re dealing with hazardous waste such as oil, or mazut, just by a glance, then it’s necessary to conduct further analyses.

However, everything listed as waste is followed by a piece of paper by an accredited laboratory that says exactly what the waste is comprised of, what the parameters are.”

Then, she says, customs officers acts in line with the permit issued by the Ministry, which allows the paperwork to basically ‘travel’ with the truck transporting waste into our country.

Samples are taken if doubts arise, but these analyses take a long time, she clarifies.

“You can’t keep closing borders to stop all vehicles and wait for the results to come back. It just doesn’t work. That’s why there is a trust system. Even though Macedonia is not an EU country, it accepted these regulations and aligned them with their legislation. As signatory of the Basel Convention, we trust each other when crossing our borders,” she says.

Six charges pressed by the State Environmental Inspectorate in 2019

In the documents MIA received from the State Environmental Inspectorate, we noticed that in 2019 there was one order for a company to suspend operations, 46 misdemeanors, 6 charges and a EUR 100,000 fine.

Husni Tachni says the company in question is Paper Mill, based in Kochani

“It was determined that Paper Mill had exceeded the acceptable CO and CO2 emissions. In the meantime, they installed filters and reduced pollution parameters to the levels established in the  license levels,” Tachi said, adding that the misdemeanors are related to water, environment, waste and air.

The misdemeanors resulted in fines regarding the determined irregularities, whether or not the minimal technical conditions for waste storage have been fulfilled, whether they had a license or not. A committee is tasked with deciding whether to issue a fine or not.

After paying the fine, companies are obliged to meet the conditions set by the Inspectorate.

As regards to inspections in companies which use waste as fuel, MIA asked Tachi if they’ve noticed larger quantities of waste than what the company needs. He says that the company is allowed to import or purchase as much waste as it needs, as long as it has a licence.

“The pollution done by the companies which we control is as much as the licence allows. The licence imposes parameters they mustn’t surpass,” Tachi concludes.

Waste burning poses highest risk for air pollution

Waste directly affects air quality. Certain kinds can evaporate, and if handled incorrectly, we determine the way in which the waste should be timely stored, incinerated or disposed of. Different kinds of waste affect pollution differently, according to Karanfilova Maznevska, claiming that the worst offence is burning waste, pointing to non-standard landfills being the culprits for this.

Unfortunately, she adds, such landfills exists in our country, and municipalities use them for household waste.

“We insist on minimal conditions at the very least, meaning there has to be a fence, water, a security service to avoid burning waste, which is the worst thing that could happen.

We focus on dealing with non-standard landfills and setting up a regional waste management system, so that multiple municipalities use the same location. This is safer and more cost-effective.

A landfill requires lots of funding. There have to be lots of investments to ensure the existence of a landfill that follows regulation and doesn’t cause pollution. It’s not just about air pollution, it’s about soil and water pollution too.”

IPA funding will not be enough to cover the whole territory of North Macedonia, so the Ministry needs additional funding, perhaps through credit so that this system can be implemented in all regions.

Imported waste as an energy source – yay or nay?

Amendments to the Waste Management Law, submitted by the party DOM, are being considered in Parliament. DOM demands that a ban should be imposed on importing waste as an energy source. On its part, the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning announced it would change its waste management regulations with a new set of laws.

Considering the ban consisted in DOM’s motion, aiming at reducing pollution, Karanfilova Maznevska says that only two installations in the country have a licence to use waste as an energy source. Since most waste is used for retreatment, these changes wouldn’t affect air quality much.

She adds that the companies’ energy sources should be paid attention to, and to insist on implementing measures as stated in the issued licences concerning air emissions.

Inspections at every level are key. In regards to the lack of a state laboratory, she says that private labs do the job right. The labs being private does not deter from their relevancy.

“As a Ministry, we work on strengthening the capacities of our lab so that it may be accredited to characterize waste. Private companies don’t lose credibility solely for being private.

There is an accreditation body that applies across Europe, which issues certificates to laboratories,” she adds.

The amendments proposed by DOM’s Liljana Popovska and Maja Morachanin and backed by the O2 Initiative, in fact involve a ban on imported waste as an energy source.

“Even though the Waste Management Law was prepared on the basis of the Basel Convention, which doesn’t restrain importing waste, it shows that we, as a country, do not have the possibilities and capacities to fully fulfill the Basel Convention provisions.

To completely eliminate air pollution, industrial installations using waste as an energy source should have a closed system – so that no fumes make it outside to the air,” Popovska clarifies, adding that this ban doesn’t have to last forever, and it can be lifted once it shows that we have enough institutional control.

While the bill insists on suspending importing of waste as an energy source, the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning considers that limiting import must come with previous broader consultations and analyses due to North Macedonia being a signatory of the Basel Convention, which could step outside of European standards. There are also fears that European countries will not be interested in importing waste from the country.

Simona Mitrovska

Ana Cvetkovska

Translator: Dragana Knežević

Photo: Frosina Naskovikj

Video: Andrej Brankovikj

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