Garbage dumping protests, disruption of the separate waste collection program, and court actions against the companies providing removal of waste – all these things are included in the current agenda of the Vladimir region, which is located some 130 km to the east of Moscow and is known as one of most popular tourist destinations in this country. Since one of the key pre-election promises of the incumbent Governor, Vladimir Sipyagin, was to put things in order as regards the problem of garbage collection and recycling, experts’ assessments of the impact on his popularity rating differ.
On March 4, 2020 the Arbitration Court of the Vladimir region started legal proceedings that are aimed to fix the fate of garbage disposal from the Moscow region to the regions of Russia. At the same time, it might unpredictably affect Gov. Sipyagin’s popularity rating. During the election race in 2018, Sipyagin promised the residents of the region that he would not allow the importation of household waste from other regions. In the wake of mass protests against garbage dumping in 2017-2018, that problem was particularly acute.
In the summer of 2019, construction of a new landfill site began in the Aleksandrov district of the Vladimir region. It was one of the things that the local residents were against. At the end of 2019, the authorities of the Moscow region came up with a new territorial scheme of waste management. According to it, over the next 10 years, a total of 9 million tonnes of garbage will be moved to the Vladimir region, onwards of 666,000 tonnes in 2020.
The garbage dumping protests brought together several thousands of residents of Vladimir and the towns of Filippovsky, Aleksandrov and Lakinsk. In addition to previous requests to stop accepting garbage from Moscow, a new one was made – for separate waste collection in the regional center. The locals claim that since January, trash containers have been decreasing in number, while the heaps of garbage continue to grow. It should be noted that unlike many regions, which have been included in the so-called "garbage reform" since January 1, 2019, the Vladimir region authorities postponed their decision for exactly one year, saying they were ill-prepared. The Biotechnologii company that had become a regional operator for the removal of solid domestic waste, did not have enough time to equip all the sites with containers. It shifted the responsibility for that onto its predecessors, claiming that they had removed their containers too soon. In addition, all the containers for separate waste collection disappeared. As explained by the transportation company Spetstrans Vladimir, the owner of containers, it has no right to take out garbage from residential buildings as of January 1, since it has failed to come to terms with the waste management operator. Therefore, the project of separate waste collection was actually suspended in Vladimir.
"The nationals of the Vladimir “kingdom” do notice not only the growing dumps near Lakinsk and Alexandrov, but also the lines of Moscow garbage trucks that are invading the region, which its governor-knight promised to defend,” Sergey Golovinov, editor-in-chief of Zebra TV, writes in his column. “Moscow Mayor's Office officially responded to the question from Zebra TV about the grounds for taking out garbage to the Vladimir region. According to it, it is based on long-term contracts with the Khartiya and Ecoline companies. These contracts are protected by the federal law and will be valid until 2026.”
However, at a press conference on January 21, Gov. Sipyagin said he was not aware of that information. He demanded that the exact facts of household waste importation be provided to the Department for Natural Resources Management. Opponents of Moscow's garbage used a very unusual way of dealing with the issue -- Moscow artist Pavel Otdelnov decided to find out for himself where the garbage is removed. In order to do this, he put GPS-trackers in the waste bag and tracked the route. The destinations were the landfills near Alexandrov and another one not far from Boldino. Responding to the reporters who mentioned these facts, Sipyagin asked for Otdelnov’s contact details of Otdelnov so that his assistants would be able to get in touch with him.
Under the pressure of protest acts and the facts mentioned by the media and public figures, Sipyagin took an unprecedented step: he banned the tansportation of garbage from the Moscow region into the Vladimir region. Ecoline Group which provides waste removal services from Northern and Central Administrative districts of Moscow, and Ecoresource, the Vladimir-based branch of Ecoline, challenged this decision in court. The companies stated that Sipyagin did not have sufficient power for a ban of this kind and that the execution of the state contract with the authorities of Moscow and the Moscow region was under serious threat. Representatives of Ecoline Group say that they had to bend to the political ambitions of the local authorities. They recall that in 2019, the Russian government denied the constituent territories’ power to pass their own decisions on the ban on the imports of garbage. Thus, the federal authorities remain in charge of these decisions. In addition, the companies insist that before the end of the legal proceedings, they are entitled to bring household waste into the Vladimir region.
However, the local authorities do not agree with them. Last week the regional prosecutor's office issued a warning for importing garbage to a dump near the township of Mashkovo in the Aleksandrov district.
As wek.ru managed to find out, the Vladimir region is not the only one that tried to prohibit the deliveries of other regions’ household waste into its territory. Certainly, the landfill near Shiyes in the Arkhangelsk region remains the most striking example. In addition to it, the ban was imposed by the authorities of the Kostroma region, and landfills in the Ryazan region stopped accepting Moscow garbage without citing any reasons. There were attempts of unauthorized shipmentы of Moscow waste to the Tver region, but law enforcement officers stood up against them.
Ruslan Gubaidullin, the executive director of the Chistaya Strana [Clean Country] Association of Waste Management Operators, is convinced that if the waste removal companies lose the court battle, it will become a test case for regional authorities. "Both the industry and the country as a whole will remain in a difficult situation. The regions will start restricting the deliveries of goods, transport flows, and entry of tourists or foreign workers into their territory. The case of the Vladimir region shows the need to improve the algorithm of settling the disputes between regions within the framework of federal legislation."
“In this situation formal regulations and socio-political circumstances in the region came into collision,” Moscow lawyer Vadim Kirillov comments on the current situation. “In accordance with the language of law, waste removal companies are likely to win the trial. Both the signed government contract and last year's resolution, which forbids the regions to make such decisions, work in their favor. But we must remember that a decision of this kind may have some socially significant consequences. Garbage dumping protests happen quite a lot in the region. The authorities would better think in advance about the strategy after losing the trial.”
Teckteck Telegram-channel quoted its sources saying the lawsuits are only a part of a tricky multi-move combination which Sipyagin thought out in advance. “Very likely, he received the monies for the waste, but then suddenly realized that signing an agreement with Moscow might cost him the governor's post. Viewing himself a puppeteer, Sipyagin organized the waste removal companies’ lawsuit to challenge the territorial patterns of the region. Obviously, the idea of artificial restrictions on the transportation of anything into the region runs counter to the basic laws of the Russian Federation. Therefore, the Vladimir region is likely lose the case in the Arbitration Court, which will give Sipyagin an opportunity to extricate himself out of the situation,” the channel writes. In its turn, the Babyshka33 Telegram-channel, adds: "While the Presidential Administration of Russia is preparing to vote on amendments to the Constitution, Vladimir Sipyagin is spelling a new electoral trouble for Moscow just 150 km from the capital city. There is always a limit to someone's patience, and Gov. Sipyagin is rapidly approaching it.”