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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Puts Russia in Waste Disposal Catch-22

Western firms are flooding Moscow with offers to help the city process its mounting waste by building new incinerators, but all of the proposals include a catch: Russia must in return process imported Western waste products.

Vladimir Glushkov, general director of the Uchitel trading firm, said Friday that he has found a German firm willing to build a plant for recycling 110,000 tons of oil waste into diesel oil per year, and to provide a credit of 25 million Deutsche marks ($14.3 million) to cover construction costs.

The only condition: The plant also has to process German oil waste for at least two years, Glushkov said, declining to name the German firm.

"We have no choice but to agree," said Glushkov. "We can't get 25 million Deutsche marks on our own."

To Glushkov, the scheme is the only way Russia will be able to build waste processing plants that can take the place of the current, ecologically hazardous, dumps.

But for Greenpeace activist Oganes Targulian, who helped publish a list of 96 Russian waste trade schemes last year, such plans are a guise for dumping Western waste on Russian soil.

"Russia has lots of its own waste that it can't even process," Targulian said. "What do we need Western waste for? Let Russia process its own waste first."

Uchitel is one of a growing number of Russian firms approached by Western companies eager to export waste to Russia, which is equally eager to build new disposal plants.

Leonid Fyodorov, general director of the municipal Ekotekhprom waste management association, said that Moscow is looking for ways to reduce its waste surplus by building 10 waste-processing plants and incinerators.

Moscow now has only two plants, both incinerators, forcing the city to deposit most waste in huge dumps, some over 100 hectares in area. Fyodorov said his office was deluged with proposals from West European firms to construct waste incinerators, but could not find the funds to pay them.

Many Western firms have offered to pay, Fyodorov said, but they all have the same condition: In exchange for financing construction they require that up to half of the waste processed at the plant, in most cases industrial waste, is imported from Western Europe.

"Moscow will not accept such conditions," Fyodorov said.

In Kaliningrad, convenient for waste imports because it has a port on the Baltic Sea, officials are considering several similar proposals, most from German firms, according to local environmentalist Alexandra Korolyova.

Greenpeace opposes building incinerators, Targulian said, because the smoke they emit contains hazardous levels of dioxine and heavy metals, while the remaining slags are hard to dispose of. The Western proposals usually offer outdated technology that Russia could produce on its own, so import schemes are unnecessary, Targulian added.

Rustem Mamin, in charge of waste management at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said the government would deny licenses to any incinerators designed to process Western waste.