From: Artan Rama & Andi Bora
Albania is Drowning in its Garbage

Just 15 km outside Tirana, Albania’s capital city, more than 3 thousand families are surrounded by flames. It is a hot summer with high temperatures, but the cause of the fires are unusual: giant piles of trash are burningon in an open field called Argjenature.

This is the way the Municipality of Kamza treats its urban waste.

Once a green field along Tërkuza river, Argjenture has now been transformed into a waste dump, a good part of which ends up in the river. People living in the surroundings have complained constantly about the bad smell and the pollution, but nothing has changed. That is why some of them have taken to the streets to protest.

But Kamza is not the only municipality that employs such approach.

The town of Berat — a major tourist attraction in the south of Albania and  officially a UNESCO world heritage site — has also placed it landfill next to a river that passes through it. The Osumi, famous for its canyons, is another polluted river, due to towns’s waste being dumped on its shores.

In fact, the majority of waste dumps in the country are located along rivers.

Land alongside rivers is free and burning trash doesn’t cost a dime to the local authorities of this poor country.

But in reality they are burning away millions in future profits, while poisoning important natural resources.

Garbage situation has spiralled beyond government’s control

Albania is one of the six countries in the Western Balkans and a candidate for EU membership. Though the country has made some progress in economic terms, the development of its administrative capacities, especially in the field of waste management, has been a complete failure.

Government officials claim that the level of waste recycling in the country conforms with the targets set by the EU, but they are hiding a horrible truth: public services are managing increasingly less waste, while the amount of generated waste is growing each year.

According to recent data published by INSTAT, in 2013 one in every five tons of generated waste was not collected by public services; in 2015, public services left uncollected two in every five tons of waste. The public waste management system is collapsing under the burden of increased waste.

Treated & Untreated Wastes

This means that in 2015 on average only two out of five households were served by the public waste management services, while in Europe such services are provided to basically everyone. If Albania were to join the the EU, it would rank much lower than the worst performing EU country — Romania — with regard to waste management. In fact, for each household not covered by the waste management system in Romania, Albania would have three.

And we’re producing a lot more of it

While people around the world are increasingly and more aware of the reality of global warming, Albanians continue to produce trash at an alarming rate.

Waste Generation 2006-2015

A basic waste management policy is reduction of the waste generated. In the last decade, the EU has reduced its annual amount of waste by 6 percent, but such waste reduction programs are unfamiliar in Albania — during the same period, Albania doubled its waste output.

This means that increasingly more waste is ending up in landfills such as the one in the Argjenature field. For every ten tons of waste sent to landfills in 2013, in 2015 were sent 14 tons. In the EU, the trend has reversed: for every ten tons of waste sent to landfills in 2013, two years later there were sent two tons less.

Officials from the Ministry of Environment are drafting a strategy to control the situations, but nobody is able to tell when it will be ready. Meanwhile, the government has allowed the construction of three incinerators, in order to eliminate the piling mountains of trash throughout the country. But burning trash may be a fast solution, but it isn’t a smart one.

Recycling figures are twice lower than officially reported

There are no recycling programs in Albania. Officials claim that 25 percent of the generated waste was recycled in 2014, but data provided by INSTAT shows that only 14 percent of the waste was recycled, about half of the amount claimed by the officials.

The rate of recycling is not keeping up with the galloping increase in waste production. In 2013, for every 20 tons of waste generated, four tons were recycled; two years later, only three tons were recycled. If this trend continues, Albania will not reach its target to recycle 55 percent of its waste by 2020.

European processes

Waste recycling is part of a larger EU strategy to guarantee a clean and safe environment. According to Eurostat, in 1995 for every 20 ton of waste generated, 13 tons were sent to landfills, 3 tons were incinerated and only 2 tons were recycled (the rest was composted). Twenty years later the situation looks different — in 2015, for every 20 tons of waste generated, 5 tons went to landfills, 5 tons were incinerated, and 6 tons were recycled.

Profiting from garbage

Such a strategy requires taking into account both the economic and environmental benefits of recycling. In several cases, burning of the waste can be used to generate electricity, but it also increases pollution. This process releases heavy metals into the air and water, hurting the health of the those living nearby.

Based on cost–benefit analyses, the majority of EU countries have set recycling as their priority. Moreover, for certain waste materials, such as aluminium cans, recycling is also the best economic approach, as part of an integrated waste management system.

But the Albanian government has no such recycling strategy in place. Instead, it has chosen to spend more than €190 million to build three large incinerators, which is a only short-term solution to a long-term problem.