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Sound and independent information
on the environment


SOER Country

Waste (Estonia)

Why should we care about this issue

Waste Waste
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Waste is an issue of growing environmental importance in recent years in every country including Estonia. Waste is generated by all human activity and in all economic sectors and it is usually regarded as an unavoidable outcome of these activities. On the one hand, waste generation and management may put significant pressure on the environment due to emissions to air (including greenhouse gases), water and soil, as well as various other nuisances and serious impacts on human health and nature. On the other hand, waste generation indicates a loss of material resources and energy, and imposes huge costs on society for waste management – collection, treatment and disposal.

Generally, in recent years in Estonia, waste quantities have been growing, mostly due to developments in the field of industry, economy and consumption. However, the total waste generation has to some extent been decoupled from economic growth. Nevertheless, initiatives to promote waste prevention and recovery and reduce disposal of waste are considered to be the most effective options for minimising environmental risks associated with waste generation and management as well as for sustainable use of natural resources. One of the biggest problems is currently linked to the oil shale industry – mining, energy production and chemistry. Another problem is linked to municipal waste management – separate collection, and minimisation of waste disposal, especially disposal of biodegradable municipal waste. These aspects are highlighted in main strategic documents designing the development in the field of waste management – National Waste Management Plan (2008–2013) and Estonian Environmental Strategy 2030.


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The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Over the years, the total waste generation in Estonia has steadily increased, exceeding 20 million tonnes in recent years (Figure 1). The greatest growth has taken place with regard to generation of non-hazardous waste. Hazardous waste has decreased from well over one-half of all waste generated up to 2000 to around 40 %. The share of waste deposited in landfills compared to the amount of waste generated is decreasing.

Most waste is generated by the industrial sector. In the period 2003-2007, the sector was responsible for approximately 80 % of generated wastefrom which 72 % of total waste generation comprised wastes from oil shale industry. It has to be noted that over 95 % of all hazardous waste generation in Estonia is generated by production of energy and shale oil from oil shale.

Figure 1. Generation of hazardous and non-hazardous waste, 1995-2007. Data: EEIC

The generation of municipal waste has been relatively stable, an average of 400 kg of municipal waste was generated per capita in 1999-2007. However, a slight increase in generation has been noted in recent years. Landfilling is still the main treatment operation of municipal waste. 66 % of collected municipal waste was landfilled in 2007 (Figure 2). Nevertheless, the deposition of municipal waste in landfills decreased significantly in the period 1999-2007. At the same time, recovery of municipal waste increased. In 2007 recovery of municipal waste (with export) made up 29 %.

Figure 2. Handling of collected municipal waste in 1999-2007. Data: EEIC

Estonia is gradually and firmly moving towards better waste management. Several economic measures are in place to ensure the waste management enhancement of such waste types as packaging, used tyres, and electric and electronic equipment. For example pollution charge, packaging excise duty and the producers responsibility principle. All these measures have had a great positive impact on improvement of recovery.

Definite environmental gains have been achieved with the closure of landfill sites not complying with environmental standards. When Landfill Directive 1999/31/EC was implemented in 2001, the majority of small countryside landfills were closed (Figure 3). The number of operating landfills has decreased significantly from 170 in 2000 to 30 in 2007. In addition, on 16 July 2009 all other remaining landfills that failed to conform to environmental requirements were closed, leaving in operation only 11 landfills from which 6 are designated for non-hazardous waste.

Figure 3. Number of landfills in use in 2000-2007. Data: EEIC


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The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The main reason for the increase in quantities of waste is the general economic and commercial growth. Especially the generation of municipal and construction wastes are directly influenced by increasing construction activities and consumption of households. There is a clear correlation between GDP and total waste generation increase (Figure 4). However the positive sign is that municipal waste generation still increases less in relation to relative GDP increase.

Figure 4. Change in waste generation and GDP in 1995-2007 as an index, baseline level 1995. Data: EEIC

Landfilling causes significant pressure on the environment. To reduce the amounts of waste disposed in landfills, it is vital to considerably reduce the generation of waste, while improving the efficiency of using natural and other resources. To that end, it is important to cut off links between the generation of waste and utilisation of natural resources on the one hand, and the economic growth on the other, i.e. economic growth must not result in increasing utilisation of natural resources, growth of waste generation and negative environmental impact.


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The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The outlook for 2020 is included in the Estonian Waste Management Plan 2008-2013. In line with the long-term perspective for the  year 2020, the oil shale waste generation has decreased significantly. A large part of mineral mining waste and oil shale ash is used in cement production or as road construction material. The recycling rate of municipal and similar wastes is over 50 %. Biogas and high-quality compost is produced from biodegradable waste, whereas the biogas is used as energy source for public transportation. All combustible waste suitable for energy production is treated in high-efficiency combined heat and power plants. Waste prevention and minimisation measures are applied and working. The waste generation rate is not significantly higher than the existing level, however society’s overall responsibility for environmental impact accompanied by high living standard is high.


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Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The set of different policy instruments are in place and implemented – recovery and recycling targets for packaging waste, WEEE, end-of-life vehicles (ELVs), batteries and accumulators etc. In addition, tires are covered separately with the producer-responsibility principle and are not allowed to landfill. The ban of landfill of unsorted municipal waste with basic requirements to the municipalities for organising source separation of paper and cardboard, green garden waste and hazardous waste, as well as packaging waste through the public collection system have been enacted since 2008. Landfilling of non-hazardous waste had decreased by 20 % in 2008, due to higher landfill taxes and decreasing economy. The same is anticipated for 2009. Continuous and widening application of BAT requirements under the EU IPPC Directive in major production activities also contributes to the relative waste reduction.

It is obvious that higher landfill tax, recovery/recycling targets, landfill bans etc. have decreased landfilling significantly, but their effect on waste generation remains more loosely linked. The key issue of improvement of the municipal waste recycling lies in taking cooperation between municipalities to a higher level, which would also improve the general effectiveness of waste management.


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The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
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