Science & environment

Lithuania: Rubbish champions

29 April 2011
Veidas Vilnius

More practical than a dustbin, the river Neris in Vilnius.

More practical than a dustbin, the river Neris in Vilnius.

Each year, every Lithuanian throws out 500 kilos of household waste and “forgets” to sort the recyclables. Slowly, though, attitudes are starting to change.

Generally, our fellow citizens have demonstrated an incredible ability to pollute. A study released recently by Eurobarometer proves this, with figures that show that each Lithuanian throws out about 500 kilograms of household waste every year, or 1.5 million tonnes per year countrywide. Two thirds of our fellow-citizens polled by sociologists, however, believe that we don’t pollute “too much”. Not only are we a nation of garbage dumpers – we don’t even worry about it.

In terms of the sheer quantity of waste, some countries, such as Romania or Bulgaria, continue to surpass us. But in our tardiness in sorting our garbage, no one comes close. We even hit a record, in that 33 percent of respondents neither sort nor compost, which is something that nine out of ten Europeans do.

Opportunities to sort and recycle in Lithuania do nonetheless exist. Since 2006 the Ministry of Environment has purchased around 20,000 bins to collect glass, plastic and paper. Furthermore, the sorting of waste is a public service and can be made accessible to all. The director of the waste management department at the Ministry of Environment says that bringing in a system for sorting waste is completely free. Residents just have to express interest and contact the competent institutions.

Lithuanians are not inclined to sort, experts agree. Since they are not willing to buy goods made from recycled products, unlike other Europeans, why do it? In Sweden, for example, a label that boasted “Made from recycled paper” would be an advantage. In Lithuania, it’s the opposite. A product made from recycled material would be left on the shelf by 49 percent of the shoppers.

Metal, paper or glass containers are the most recycled products because people can receive money by collecting them. The situation with plastics is more worrying. Plastics are seen as having no value, and so no one separates them out from the household waste. It's not for nothing that the politicians are raising the possibility of introducing a deposit on plastic containers, a move that would substantially cut down on the amount of plastic garbage that litters riverbanks and parks. That plastic would be collected by people seeking to earn a few cents.

In Lithuania fines are often inappropriate, since being reported is often less “expensive” than recycling the waste. So says Almonte Kybartai, director of the company EMP Recycling. Processing one tonne of galvanic batteries, he says, costs 8,000 litas (2,318 euros). The cost of the fine for the same tonne left untreated, however, is just 500 litas (145 euros).