Those of us who live in wealthy, industrialized nations often take trash removal for granted. We throw something in the garbage or recycling bin and it goes magically “away.” In developing nations, however, this basic service goes unprovided, and improper trash disposal remains a significant environmental problem. One such place is the former Soviet republic of Armenia.
Armenia – a small nation between the Black and Caspian Seas that is about the size of the state of Maryland – has about 430 rural dumps and 50 urban dumps. None of them have been constructed in a sanitary or environmentally sound fashion. In many places, trash is just tossed in gorges, ravines, or stream beds. Many Armenians take their garbage, including plastics, and burn it – a practice that releases toxic fumes into the air. Trash piles line the roadways and clog the rivers, posing hazards for animals, birds, and fish. Animals and birds scavenge the piles and dumps and spread germs and disease.
One of Earth Island Institute’s newest projects – the Armenian Environmental Network – is working to change this situation.
Fortunately, Armenia has a number of waste laws that, if followed, would greatly reduce the dangers posed to both humans and the environment by improper disposal. Unfortunately, Armenia lacks any coherent waste-management policy enforcement or procedures to create landfills. Nor are there any mechanisms for monitoring waste stream flows and disposal practices.
The Republic of Armenia is a signatory to several international conventions aimed at protecting the people and environment from hazardous wastes, chemicals, and other pollutants. These conventions, including the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes (1999) and the Stockholm Convention (2004), require the proper reporting and disposal of hazardous wastes in structurally sound facilities. Armenia is also a signatory to the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (2003). But the country has been in violation of all three of the above conventions, with a particular proclivity for repeated violations of the Aarhus Convention.
In an attempt to remedy the situation, the Armenian Environmental Network (AEN) – in partnership with the Urban Foundation for Sustainable Development, the American University of Armenia, and rural villages throughout the country – is set to implement Armenia’s first comprehensive integrated waste management project. The project will focus on recycling and reuse of household waste, public education about waste segregation and management, a comprehensive composting program, and the construction of an appropriate technology sanitary landfill in the village of Akhurian.
To make a donation of money or technical expertise to AEN, please visit www.armenia-environment.org. International pressure is one way to convince the Armenian government to take action on the waste issue. Visit gov.am/en/structure/5/ and ask First Deputy Minister Simon Papyan to make waste disposal a priority.
The project is designed specifically for implementation in rural areas, where public funds are in especially short supply. The challenge for AEN and its partners is to create a system that is both affordable and sustainable. Using appropriate technology, regional sanitary landfills can be constructed for a fraction of the cost of landfills in Europe and the United States. These landfills necessarily are low-tech and designed to be maintained without too much effort. At the very least, the landfills will have to prevent any leaching into natural water sources, allow for the safe dispersal of methane gas, and cover wastes daily. The pilot project will also demonstrate how landfills can be easily accessed by garbage trucks, and structure a recycling program.
AEN’s project concept is designed to be replicable so it can serve as a model for other rural villages that hope to solve their waste problems. AEN envisions that villages close to one another could combine resources to create regional landfills. Approximately 50 medium-sized regional landfills would be sufficient to accommodate the country’s needs.
Armenia’s amazing natural beauty can shine through only when trash and litter are contained properly.
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