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Please keep Romania clean

'Read my lips,' says Catalin Culinescu, the managing director of Rom Waste Solutions, looking straight into my eyes, 'if we do not act now and take the right decisions on recycling according to our EU responsibilities, the landfills across Romania will fill twice as quickly, with dire consequences for the environment and everything that comes with it'.
Culinescu, a former production manager with Philip Morris International where he supervised production plants in Romania and Serbia for almost five years and former CEO of SE-GES, a power generating company, knows how to calculate precisely the impact of economic and political decisions on the environment. A graduate from the Bucharest Polytechnic Institute and former rugby player, Culinescu is not shying away from tackling the problems head-on.
“The truth of the matter is pure and simple: when it comes to environmental issues, the economic considerations have to settle for the second place because the first one is rightfully reserved for far more important issues, such as: public health hazards, the quality of the air we breathe and the water we drink, preserving biodiversity and the breathtaking natural beauties that God has blessed this country with. We simply cannot afford to allow Romania to be buried under mountains of garbage”.
For the past year or so, a dispute has been raging on in the world of waste management and recycling. According to the EU accession treaties, the authorities in Bucharest pledged to do more for protecting the environment and aligning Romania to the European good practices and legislation. Hundreds of millions of Euros have been spent on EU-funded waste management projects and modern landfill sites, on projects that encouraged and facilitated selective garbage collection and recycling. But when it came to regulating, implementing and punishing those who failed to comply with the legal requirements, the authorities fell short of their mission. Added to that, the lateral thinking and the legal imagination of various types companies asked to do their part – or, rather, percentage - in recycling the very plastic and aluminum they were flooding the economic and commercial cycles with, were second to none.
To cut short a very complicated and stinky story to its legislative essence, let’s say that a draft legislation that lowers almost 10 (ten) fold the penalty for failing to reach the recycling targets for paper/plastic/aluminum packages brought into the commercial cycle is waiting the final vote in the Chamber of Deputies after gloriously passing through the Senate during a mere 20 minutes debate and despite the former government’s recommendation to refute such an initiative. An attempt to enact the bill failed in November last year due to a lack of quorum in the Chamber of Deputies but the bullet is still in the barrel and the safety lever is down as the draft bill is still there waiting to be voted on.
“The truth of the matter is that the principle that <<the polluter pays>> is in force in all and every civilized country, including Romania. The economic argument of those who want to lower the fine for failing to abide by a sound and healthy legal requirement is that a) it will fatally affect their businesses and b) the Romanian consumer can’t afford it. The truth of the matter is that the penalty of 2 lei/kilo for the quantity of package waste they fail to recycle in order to reach their legal quota as stipulated by Law 249/2015 on package and recycling has been in force for the past 6 years and the apocalyptic scenario is blatantly contradicted by the profits the respective companies reported for the last three years. These data are public for anyone to see, says Catalin Culinescu. As for the consumer issue, let’s just say that if companies would have paid the penalty for the whole quantity (and no one paid it so far, as it was not the case), it would add 0.01 lei/soft drink can, or 0.03 lei/cooking oil bottle, or 0.007 lei/pack of flour. Furthermore, the latest economic data show a double digit steep increase in consumption that refute the claim. Lowering the penalty from 2 lei/kilo to 0.3 lei/kilo for the quantity of unrecycled package waste in accordance to the legal requirement will have a devastating impact on the environment and the recycling efforts as the costs of simply dumping the waste will be significantly lower than the costs of recycling. If we take this course of action, we are facing EU infringement on the matter with financial costs that are hard to contemplate” warns Culinescu.
As this wasn’t a bad enough news, the authorities came up with a proposal that will bring another blow to the efforts of keeping Romania clean. As from 1st of January 2017 a landfill tax of 80 lei/ton of garbage deposited came into force. The measure, meant to encourage selective collection, the recovery and the recycling of paper/plastic/aluminum/rubber etc. and punish the polluters, was supposed to be introduced years ago but it was postponed on “electoral inopportunity”. In an attempt to abide by the EU requirements and reconcile it with the populist credo, one came up with the proposal that the 80 lei/ton fine should be applied not on the entire quantity of garbage deposited at the landfill but only to the differences between what has been recycled and the allotted legal quota. Again, the “financial costs” have been cited as the main reason for such a measure, because, isn’t it, throwing the garbage at the landfill is the cheapest waste management “technology”.
“We have to accept that keeping Romania clean has a cost. The cheapest way is to take everything to the landfill, as any other technology adds costs to the equation. Basically, the cost of depositing the waste is setting the ceiling for anything you can do on the collecting / treating / recycling processes chain. Why? Because we have to choose between treating waste or landfill it, and the economics prevail in this decision-making process. Of course, you might say that this tax of 80 lei / tone of landfilled waste is a burden. It may be true, but translating it into a cost per person, I dare to say that is not huge: we calculated it to approximately 1.7 lei/month. So, with 20 lei/year (the price of three cups of coffee per year!) we would be in a much better position in solving all the environmental challenges of the country.  These 20 lei/year expense versus getting rid of the envy we go through every time we visit environmentally-conscientious countries like Germany, like Austria, like Switzerland, like Norway or Sweden, says Catalin Culinescu. In all and every country that succeeded in recycling most of its waste, depositing at the landfill is the last and the most expensive option as the penalties are hefty. Why do we need to reinvent the wheel every day and for everything when decade-long experience of other countries are there, to be implemented? We simply cannot afford to ignore the effects of pollution on the environment and trade in the long term interests of the people of this country. We simply cannot afford to allow Romania to be buried under mountains of garbage.”

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