In Georgia, just as everywhere else, if there is one public service people tend to overlook, it is solid waste management. No one wants to know what happens to the rubbish we throw away. Once it’s dumped in a bin, all we want is for it to go away. But where it goes and the way it is treated actually makes the difference between a liveable, safe urban space and a dangerously contaminated one.
So the work of someone like Tamaz Tutusani, a municipal driver of refuse-collector trucks in Rustavi, is crucial for preserving our cities and allows us to carry on with our lives without having to worry about the final destination of our waste.
Until recently, waste disposal was a serious issue for Rustavi, an industrial city 25 kilometres east of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, and home to 120,000 people. Solid waste was transported and dumped into the same landfill that serves the capital. But that landfill doesn’t have the right capacity or the necessary hygiene standards to guarantee a risk-free environment.
So Rustavi’s municipality decided to construct an integrated sanitary landfill and finally implement international standards for waste management that can ensure the entire system is efficient and sustainable in the long run.
And this innovative plan has now become a reality thanks to an EBRD loan worth €1.6 million and grant co-financing from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and BP that provided €1.7 million and over €700,000 respectively.
“We established a new waste management company to look after all landfill operations” explained Khatuna Tegetashvili, the director of LTD Rustavi Landfill. “Our employees were trained to boost their know-how of all matters relating to solid waste, from health and safety to equipment maintenance and public tendering for supplies.”
The rubbish Mr Tutusani collects is now taken to the brand new landfill. The landfill is safe for the environment because it has been constructed in compliance with EU directives, which, for instance, make sure rain does not penetrate inside and control the accumulation and migration of gas formed by the waste.
The landfill serves also the small town of Gardabani, which, as per the municipality’s overall renovation plan, has shut down its old, unsanitary dumpsite.
Moreover, the project introduced waste recycling to Georgia for the first time. The large warehouse where the new sorting line is located, right next to the landfill, is the first stop for Mr Tutusani’s truck. The waste is unloaded on a conveyor belt where trained workers can manually divide plastic, cellophane and cardboard from the rest.
All different materials are then collected and compressed together. In this way they will be sold and reused by various industries.
For now only three per cent of the total solid waste that reaches Rustavi’s landfill is recycled. It’s an encouraging first step that eventually, in the municipality’s long-term vision, will lead to the introduction of recycling at source, which is more effective and less expensive.
“Our work and the whole waste collection and disposal process have improved,” said Mr Tutusani in a rest break while his truck unloaded rubbish bags.
The Georgian government has every intention to replicate the success of this project in other regions. And the EBRD and its donors are ready to provide their financial support and expertise so that the people of Georgia can continue to live in clean and safe cities, blissfully oblivious of what happens to their rubbish.