In 2004–2007, several changes were witnessed in waste management due to Estonia's accession to the European Union. New acts entered into force, including the Waste Act, Packaging Act and sub-legislation based thereon.
The strategic goals in the field of waste management are based on the general environmental policy of the EU and Estonia, the main aim of which is to prevent generation of waste and to promote recovery of waste, including reuse and recycling. The development of waste management in the period of 2004–2007 was mainly based on the national waste management plan. In 2008, a new waste management plan was adopted by the Government of the Republic, defining general trends of waste management until 2013.
During the reorganisation of waste management, the number of landfills in non-conformity with environmental requirements was decreased (with 6 non-hazardous waste disposal sites left after 16 July 2009); waste (including packaging waste) recovery rates were increased, separate collection of household waste and the deposit refund system for beverage containers were implemented.
Although the waste transport system organised by local governments does not yet cover all local governments, it has still had the effect of extending the service to rural areas. Investments have been made in the network of recycling stations allowing residents to recycle waste free of charge. The network for collecting hazardous waste has grown by new recycling stations and collection points.
The recovery of waste has been extended and new manufacturer's liability organisations have been founded, which have established networks for the collection and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment, old tyres and packaging. In addition, the number of collection and demolition sites for end-of-life vehicles complying with environmental requirements have also increased.
Generation of waste
In 2006, non-hazardous waste generated exceeded the amount of 20 million tons. The average amount of hazardous waste generated is 7million tons a year. In 2003–2007, 80% of waste was generated by industry and 72% of the total amount of waste generated was related to oil shale extraction and power industry. A significant part of industrial waste was also generated by the timber industry and manufacture of cement, which were, however, recycled to a considerable extent.
In 1999–2007, municipal waste generated amounted to 400 kg per person. The large part of municipal waste collected separately is constituted by waste paper and paperboard, followed by waste of glass, metal and wood and biodegradable kitchen and canteen waste. Municipal waste collected separately in 2003–2007 has been a stable 11% of the total amount of municipal waste generated.
Dumping of waste in landfills decreased considerably during the period of 1999‑2007. Dumping mostly concerns mixed municipal waste that has partly been sorted in advance. Reutilisation of municipal waste has increased, mostly in the form of land treatment and organic recycling (especially composting). Packaging waste is separated from the rest of municipal waste.
Uncontrolled dumping is one of the biggest problems – municipal waste can be found lying in roadside ditches, suburban forests, on the banks of water bodies, etc. It is an impermissible and environmentally unfriendly activity. In order to prevent this, residents must be provided with municipal waste transport services. For this reason, the obligation of organising waste transport within their administrative territories was imposed on all local governments (143) with the size of at least 1500 residents in 2005. Organised waste transport means that each local government shall call a competition for finding a waste transport company for their administrative territory. The proportion of residents provided with obligatory organised waste transport services should be 94%. However, implementing waste transport has proved to be a real stumbling block for local governments, being the reason why about 55% of the residents had been reached by the beginning of 2009.
The price of waste transport services has increased by about 35% on the so-called free market in a year and a half (from the end of 2007 to the middle of 2009). The price of the service in these regions that enjoy organised waste transport has generally maintained the same level or gone up by a few per cent. In addition to a more stable price, the price level in these regions is lower, being half as much as it is on the free market.