Ukraine, like other countries of the former Soviet Union, inherited highly inefficient and polluting solid waste management systems upon independence in 1991. The country has been struggling with its garbage ever since. According to a recent World Bank study, Ukraine generates 17 million tonnes of waste per year. Its waste recovery rate is alarmingly low—about 5 percent. The rest ends up in landfills or illegal dumps near cities, posing health and environmental risks to the public and contributing to harmful greenhouse-gas emissions. Regardless of future government actions and potential changes in consumer behavior, Ukraine needs to significantly expand its landfill capacity.

The Ukrainian government has taken important steps to foster a legislative environment that will enable the processing and recycling of waste. Encouragingly, municipalities have recognized lately that tapping landfill gas for power generation is an effective component of a comprehensive solid waste management system. The USAID Public-Private Partnership Development Program (P3DP) is in the forefront of this movement, helping two Ukrainian municipalities develop biogas technology as part of their respective waste management systems through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

These partnerships are a relatively new tool in the government’s arsenal for improving infrastructure and delivering public services. The approach produces energy and reduces environmental impact while potentially freeing up scarce budget funds that can be applied elsewhere.

Value in Vinnystia

Vinnystia, a city of 370,000 in western Ukraine, plans to decommission its existing landfill and generate electricity from its landfill gas, which mostly consists of methane—a greenhouse-gas with over 20 times the impact of CO2. The city’s developing PPP project will generate and sell electricity using biogas that is currently flared. The proceeds will be used to recultivate and close down the landfill once its capacity expires.

The municipality has completed feasibility studies and expects to be ready to issue a competitive tender in 2014. An independent study showed that the project could attract up to $3 million in private sector investment, generate $5 million in tax revenues, and reduce gas emissions of nearly 460,000 tonnes of CO2.

The idea is catching on. After visiting the site in Vinnytsia, the town of Ivano-Frankivsk pushed for a similar PPP in its region. A feasibility study is underway and is expected to be completed in mid-2014.

With solid waste management a top priority for the Ukrainian government, this is a good time to demonstrate how PPPs can improve the collection, processing, and disposal of solid waste.

The demonstration effect

With approximately 100 landfills in Ukraine suitable for extraction and utilization of landfill gas, these encouraging steps forward could be replicated across the country. If this becomes an ingrained aspect of Ukraine’s solid waste management system, landfill gas utilization will ultimately contribute to more efficient and environmentally friendly use of the country’s resources.

Other benefits include:

Lower energy costs. The high cost of energy in Ukraine is a drain on the economy and local budgets. Business is uncompetitive and municipalities do not have the necessary funds to address infrastructure needs.

Greater energy independence. Ukraine imports most of its natural gas from Russia, making it vulnerable to geopolitical pressure. Using landfill gas will reduce the need for imports.

Opportunities for small business. Local Ukrainian businesses will have greater opportunities to participate in the solid waste and energy sector.

Reduced greenhouse-gas emissions. Ukraine is a leading contributor to carbon emissions on a per capita basis. A study by Biogas, an engineering firm, estimates Ukraine could save the equivalent of 6 million tonnes of CO2 annually by using landfill gas.

With solid waste management a top priority for the Ukrainian government, this is a good time to demonstrate how PPPs can improve the collection, processing, and disposal of solid waste throughout the country. PPPs bring private sector investment for infrastructure and public services, as well as new technologies and managerial skills that play a major role in increasing energy efficiency and mitigating climate change. Landfill gas PPPs could lead the way, forming an integral component of a sustainable solid waste management program.