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Carrots for trash collectors

A new organization has been set up by the government to manage the collection and reuse of products charged with environmental tax. The National Waste Management Agency (OHÜ) plans to improve the country’s waste management by embracing a new philosophy.

A more transparent and simpler system is about to replace and correct the faults of the previous one, Sándor Fazekas, Rural Development minister promised. The aim of the new legislation is to improve the proportion of residential recycling (5-15%) and to make producers adopt practices that produce less waste.

The environmental tax is a means to help people differentiate between products that are environmentally friendly and those that are harmful to the environment. For change work, the government needs to make market players interested in working out eco-friendly solutions. An exemption from taxpaying and the administrative burdens of recyclable and returnable goods, which comes into effect as of 2012, is one way to achieve that. New legislation and a framework for the system are currently being drafted. 

Consumers, too, must be engaged. Very few today would seem to grasp the benefits of selective trash disposal islands. Take the drop zones scattered in cities, which have failed to live up to the expectations. Only 10-12 out 100 people will take the trouble of carrying different kinds of waste to the color-coded bins and throwing them in one-by-one.

Learning from previous mistakes, the government wishes to follow an Italian example that rewards citizens for taking part in waste selection (such as placing machines that collect used bottles in shopping malls). The establishment of a similar system begins next year. The agency will continue to rely on public waste collectors but will try and involve retailers and private waste management companies. Drop zones will gradually disappear, to be replaced by other methods like reverse vending machines, waste collection with sacks and various product fees.

OHÜ does not expect spectacular growth in 2012 in the amount of waste selectively disposed for recycling, mainly because residential waste collection is expensive – and it costs even more in the industrial sector. Aluminum cans, PET and non-returnable bottles and electric devices are an exception as it is anticipated they will be disposed of in large numbers even from next year (see table 1).

To ease their collection, OHÜ will install reverse vending machines. Around 1 million drinking containers are in circulation in Hungary. A recent calculation (approved by manufacturers) has shown that approximately 600-700 reverse vending machines and the related infrastructure would be needed to reach a 65% return ratio. Of these, 100 can be put into operation next year to keep installation costs down. By 2014, the ministry wants to see several hundred machines working. (By comparison, in the past five years, only 50 were installed.)

The government expects to generate HUF 49 billion from the environmental product-tax next year. Some 70% of the revenues would be spent on waste collection, transport, management and usage. Another 7% would cover awareness raising and 6% the operation of the agency. The government would invest the remaining 17% in projects to establish a modern selective waste disposal system. Machines that collect drink containers placed in shopping malls are one such example.