The View From Here: Trash Talking

Lviv

Volodymyr Kish. Ukraine’s picturesque historical City of Lions (Lviv) is full of trash talking these days. By that I don’t mean the kind of colourful exchanges that happens between competing teams at sports venues, but literal dialogue about the trash, garbage or refuse that humans in urban communities tend to produce in copious quantities in our modern societies.

Lviv is no different in this respect. What has become a major issue is the fact that Lviv no longer has any place to dispose of all that waste. Existing landfills are at capacity and temporary dumps in and around Lviv are starting to become an environmental and health hazard, never mind being a monumental eyesore to the detriment of the tourist industry which has become a major contributor to the city’s economy.

The problem was seriously exacerbated in May when a major fire erupted at one of Lviv’s biggest landfills in the village of Hrybovychi. The fire blazed for weeks and killed three firefighters as well as an environmental worker. That disaster prompted other landfills to restrict the amount of garbage they would accept. With mountains of trash beginning to pile up throughout this city of some 750,000 people, the situation has become so dire, that Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi recently called upon Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers to declare Lviv an environmental disaster area.

The issue also exposed how primitive Ukraine’s waste disposal system is compared to their neighbours in the European Union. Most countries of the EU have well-developed programs that recycle almost half of all their waste. Europe is also a leader in environmentally friendly incineration systems that produce energy as a byproduct. Canada also has a fairly successful program for recycling domestic waste. Durham Region where I live has a recycling success rate of about 55%. Across Canada, the rate is somewhere around 30%. In Ukraine, the recycling percentage sits at a meager 5%.

To make matters even worse for the beleaguered citizens of Lviv, the problem has become a political football game between the local municipal authorities and the central government in Kyiv. The Mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovyi accuses the authorities in Kyiv, who control the oblast (provincial) administration, of obstructing his efforts at finding alternative landfill sites in neighbouring regions. On the other side, President Poroshenko’s party faction leaders in Kyiv are laying the blame on Sadovyi and calling on him to solve the problem as soon as possible or resign.

One should be aware of the fact that the Mayor is also the head of the third largest party (Samopomich) in Ukraine’s parliament and a major contender to replace President Poroshenko in the next elections coming up in 2019. The implication of course, is that the Poroshenko bloc is deliberately trying to undermine the Mayor over this issue to destroy his political career. There is little doubt that there is more than just a little political gamesmanship going on here with the poor residents of Lviv suffering from the consequences.

What is not in question, is that this issue has been woefully neglected ever since Ukraine became independent, and now it has become a major crisis. With a weak economy and many contending priorities, waste disposal has received little attention and even less capital investment, not only in Lviv, but all across the country.

As well as trying to find alternative landfill sites to address the current crisis, the city authorities are working with experts from France to develop a state of the art waste disposal and recycling facility. They have secured a 75 Million Euro loan from the European Investment Bank for this purpose and are hoping to start construction within the next year. However, it would still be many years before this facility would come online, and would do little to solve the immediate problem.

So the garbage continues to pile up in Lviv, and as the city heads into the heat of the summer months, the situation from both an esthetic as well as a health perspective is only going to get worse. Resolution of the problem will require that both the municipal and the central authorities set aside their political agendas and work cooperatively and in good faith to prevent an even worse disaster.

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