Arben Kopliku, Valbona Karakaçi & Zenebe Uraguchi
Waste, rubbish, trash, junk, garbage… you name it! Growing cities in many parts of the world face serious problems from increasing generation of waste. If not well managed, it can be an environmental and health problem, but also an economic loss.
In this blog post, we share the experiences of the Decentralisation and Local Development Programme (dldp) in Albania that tried to improve the integrated waste management system. The overall aim was better (quality, accessible and affordable) services for citizens. The project approached the problem from local, regional and national levels. At the local level, it supported enhancing awareness and capacity building in integrated waste management. It also shared innovative local government practices at the national level for prioritisation of actions and policies for the waste sector (e.g. defining cost and tariff principles, providing data and organising trainings for planning local waste management).
Integrated Waste Management: a complex public service problem
Integrated waste management is about both waste management and waste reduction. It is a process of collecting, transporting, processing/disposing, managing and monitoring of waste materials. Integrated waste management in Albania is at a low level. Increasing generation of waste has been a burden on the municipal budget because of the high costs associated with its management. There was also a lack of understanding factors that affect the different stages of waste management and the linkages necessary to enable the entire handling system functioning.
During 2014, Albania implemented a significant territorial and administrative reform reducing the number from 384 in 61 municipalities. Now the municipalities have a much bigger territories with different typologies within one municipality (rural, urban, remote mountain, touristic, seaside, poor, industrial areas).
After the territorial reform, the project conducted analysis of the waste sector in September 2015. There were three key problems.
- Integrated waste management plan has not been part of the country’s agenda as well as the priorities of the Local Government Units (LGUs).
- While the legal framework responded to EU requirements, this did not have meaningful impact due to lack of investments.
- Many of the LGUs were also too small to organise integrated waste management, leaving entire areas without any service. For example, they did not have planning process to define the steps, reduce the gap between urban centres and rural peripheries, and to do proper cost analysis for optimising the system and calculating their budget.
Redesigning and strengthening waste management
The project engaged external experts to redesign the system and strengthen waste management of municipalities. It supported municipalities in writing the Local Waste Management Policy. The aim was to improve the needed infrastructure for waste management service, as well as to put in place the procedure (e.g. tendering process) for engaging private sector enterprises to provide efficient and effective waste management services.
The Local Waste Management Policy introduced the obligation for the municipalities to monitor performance on waste management. The objective was to enable municipalities to understand the current situation on waste management by considering the quality of the service, and its environmental and institutional sustainability. It was also a strong communication tool towards citizens by providing municipalities useful information for recording and monitoring data. It was the first step to implement benchmarking on waste management throughout the country – an opportunity that increases the scalability of integrated waste management plan in Albania.
Did the waste management system improve?
Overall, the integrated waste management plan successfully brought about two key improvements.
First, it led to the development of local financing of waste management, following the polluter-pays principle. Second, it contributed to reducing the cost of waste management to an affordable minimum, looking for the cheapest solution allowing basic service delivery. Progress in these two areas has been very crucial because environmentally and economically sustainable waste management requires cost and benefit considerations. This recognises that transporting waste has environmental, social and economic costs and therefore waste should be managed as near to the place of production as possible (e.g. through recycling, reusing, minimisation or prevention).
Operational local waste planning: has provided waste streams from different sources and quantities to be managed, enabling performance based service delivery as required by the new law of local government in Albania. A benchmarking system has been developed, which is recognised as a good practice. The Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe is at present scaling up the benchmarking system. In addition, the waste management system uses tools to increase tariff collection based on an affordable cost calculation. The cost and tariff calculation is done through public consultation.
Better procurement procedures: strengthened public-private partnership in waste management. Municipalities proactively encourage the participation of the private sector at all levels of the management cycle by making the sector attractive to businesses through well-developed and certified business plans. The national government and LGUs have agreed on the final destination of waste treatment through developing solution for landfill.
Institutionalising waste management in the education system: national institutions (e.g. Albanian School of Public administration) are involved in waste management to build capacities in planning, service optimisation, cost, tariff, and performance service delivery. This is crucial for raising awareness of citizens on the long-term costs of poor waste management. For example, 9,000 students participated in recycling campaign, collecting five tons of recycled waste (within three months). However, managing waste is not only disposing in landfill or how much recycling is done, but also how citizens can cut down creating waste.
From here to where?
The case shows how understanding the root causes of poor performing waste management enabled the project to design interventions by engaging appropriate actors in the sector. This has contributed to stimulate change in behaviour and capacities of actors – public and private – so that they are better able and motivated to perform important functions effectively. The system has clearly showed improvements in collecting, transporting and disposing waste – together with initiatives to reduce waste generation and increase waste recycling.
One main challenge has been clarifying the roles and responsibilities of institutions at national level by ensuring sector regulations based on recent developments and reforms undertaken at the local level. In addition, it is crucial to ensure ownership by the municipalities through regulating the roles of the national government in implementation and investment related especially to hot spots, dumpsites, landfills and incinerators. Adequate expertise for the sector and assuring capacity building of local administrations will require integrating waste management issues into vocational education. Addressing these issues ensures how the actors in the waste management system can work more efficiently and sustainably in the future.
Arben Kopliku is the Deputy Programme Manager of the dldp project. He leads the intervention of the project in public services (waste management). He has more than 15 years of experience in local governance and the media.
Valbona Karakaçi is the Programme Manager of dldp. She has extensive experience in development programmes mainly with Swiss financed programmes. She has been engaged in cross-border and EU assistance programmes at national and regional levels.
Zenebe Uraguchi is the Programme Coordinator for Eastern Europe and Senior Advisor in market systems development based in Switzerland.