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Ecology on the sidelines of the Russian conscience

Ecology on the sidelines of the Russian conscience

13.07.2012 — Analysis

Russia keeps on "lavishly" contaminating the planet with technogenic waste. Every year brings new waste dumps and drain sumps with toxic substances, and their number is increasing steadily, as waste utilization is still a pending issue in the country. Manufacturers blame science, which cannot offer cost-efficient technology of waste recycling and utilization. Scientists, in their turn, raise a protest, saying that they solve those problems that are backed up with earmarked funds. As the RusBusinessNews columnist has found it out, big business has no intention to shoulder waste utilization, opting for settling the issue through agreements with officials and paying pollution charges. As a result, ecology takes the hundredth place in the hierarchy of the Russian values.

Ekaterinburg hosted an international convention where scientists, officials and manufacturers discussed the condition and prospects for utilization of technogenic waste. The capital of the Sverdlovsk Region had been selected as the venue for the forum for a good reason: the region has already more than 8 billion tons of waste, with 180 million tons adding annually.

In Russia, only 20% of the built-up hazardous substances are utilized, while the world has reached 90%. Companies operating in the Russian mining and metallurgy sector account for the largest percentage of the waste; however, even shrinking commercial ore reserves does not motivate them to turn to utilization. According to Leopold Leontiev, the chairman of the Research Council for Metallurgy and Metal Science at the Russian Academy of Sciences, the zinc content in ore does not exceed 4%. In economic sense, it would be much more feasible to recover this metal from flue dust, where its content is much higher and which is readily available at smelters. The researchers of Uralmekhanobr, OJSC, came up with the relevant technology a few years ago, but the ecological situation has hardly changed. Experts offer a number of reasons to explain this phenomenon.

Alexander Yeremin, the deputy minister of natural resources of the Sverdlovsk Region, points out that the existing technologies offer only 3-5% reclamation of waste; the remaining waste must be put into storage again, and it is still not clear what to do with it. Sometimes such secondary wastes may become more hazardous than the primary ones: there were cases when metal recovery resulted in accumulation of soluble cadmium in dumps. Boris Demin, the head of the laboratory at the Ural Institute of Metals, speaks about the lack of efficient technologies and, consequently, increasing quantities of slags.

Galina Gazaliyeva, the deputy director of Uralmekhanobr, OJSC thinks that the lack of cost-efficient technologies can be explained by the fact that the research that Russian scientists rely on was conducted about twenty years ago when they did not have state-of-the-art equipment. Such equipment is available today, but research institutes face another problem – the shortage of specialists. Research is generally financed by large industrial companies. The government gives no money for research – scientists work solely under contracts signed with private employers. 

Big business, according to B. Demin, is in no hurry to make investment in utilization of technogenic waste: there are no tax incentives and the feedstock for recoverable materials cannot compete with natural raw materials. The market for recovered materials is generally limited and processing costs are quite high. Enterprises can count their money quite well and, therefore, they prefer to build more tailing storage facilities and sludge collectors.

A. Yeremin thinks that industrial enterprises must find it unprofitable to store wastes. There can be several options: for example, the pollution charges can be increased substantially or the wastes that can be processed should be forbidden to be stored.

Experts are sure that this idea is most unlikely to work out. The need for tougher environmental laws has been discussed for almost ten years, but all the initiatives sink to the bottom in the State Duma. According to A. Yeremin, legislative proposals are impeded by vast amounts of money of oligarchs. They stick to their time-tested runaround: utilization costs will be included in the cost of products.

Experts do not think that any considerable increase in pollution charges is going to be effective. Boris Demin reminds that the system of penalties has always been in place, but it has invariably failed to perform its main function – motivation of manufacturers in waste processing – as manufacturers have no problem reaching agreement with officials. Apparently, the same practice is going to survive any upgrading of financial liability for waste disposal.

Leopold Leontiev has no doubt that waste utilization must be backed up by the government: for example, one third of funds will be provided by the owner and two thirds will be allocated from the budget. However, the private and public partnership leaves much to be desired, along with any progress in processing of technogenic waste.

The main reason is that both manufacturers and officials do not care about nature preservation and do not see it as an aim in their activities. In their system of values, environmental protection is on the sidelines of their conscience; therefore, they make every effort to squeeze whatever they can out of underground resources.

Vladimir Terletsky 

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