Built on the crystal-clear waters of the Vjosa, none of the landfills in Përmet, Këlcyra and Tepelena are llegal as they are not equipped with environmental permits. The Environmental Inspectorate has fined the mayors of these municipalities for not meeting the sanitary conditions, but the problem seems very from a solution and quite difficult to be achieved.
Author: Ervina Shehaj
Only 3 km from the exit of the city of Tepelena, is the largest waste collection area, not only of the city of Tepelena, but also of the 24 surrounding villages. With an area of tens of hectares, tons of waste are deposited every day in this landfill, which is located at a dangerous distance, only 10 meters from the crystal-clear waters of the river Vjosa.
The road leading to this landfill is flooded with garbage, while an employee of the parks and recreations and cleanup company sets fire to the garbage dumped in this area.
The situation becomes even more alarming due to the fact that this is an illegal landfill. The Municipality of Tepelena admits that it does not have an environmental permit, as it is an emergency landfill.
Approved by the decision of the municipal council in 1998, sources close to the Municipality of Tepelena confirm that they have applied for environmental permits, but could not be provided with this important document, as it does not meet the conditions, as it is an unsanitary landfill.
Despite being illegal, this is the only waste deposit field approved for the Municipality of Tepelena, which has been using it for more than two decades.
The situation is acknowledged by the Environmental Inspectorate itself, which has fined the mayors of these municipalities.
“None of the landfills in the Gjirokastra region are equipped with an environmental permit. Measures by the Environmental Inspectorate were once taken in 2015 against mayors with fines of 500 thousand ALL. The fines were not imposed on the municipality as an institution, but on the mayors themselves“, – claim sources from the Environmental Inspectorate in the Gjirokastra region.
“These landfills were selected years ago by decisions of the municipal council and then approved by the prefect of the region. Environmental permits cannot be issued, as they do not meet any criteria, especially since they are erected near the bed of the river Vjosa “, – concludes the Inspectorate.
Found for years in this unclear legal situation, the mayor of Tepelena, Tërmet Peçi, has hopes for the new local plan, which would give the green light to a regional landfill. According to him, this is the only way to solve the pollution problem.
“It is expected that the new local plan will be approved, to see if we will have a change of the place of their collection”, – he explained to “INA MEDIA”, while he did not want to give other details, nor to respond to the official request with the plan of measures on this issue.
The Municipality itself says that the Environmental Inspectorate is aware of the situation, but in the same situation are all landfills of the municipalities of the Gjirokastra region.
The waste management plan envisages that after the opening of the Kardhiq-Delvinë road, the waste of Tepelena will be deposited in the Bajkaj landfill.
“There was a lack of a regional waste management plan, based on which the local waste management plan is made. The management plan was drafted in 2019 and envisages depositing in the Bajkaj landfill. The amount that is deposited by the Municipality of Tepelena, the city together with the villages that are covered with the waste collection service is about 2200 tons/year “, – said the mayor of Tepelena, Tërmet Peçi.
Garbage fires have turned into a serious threat to these residents. During last summer, about 15 acres of forest and two dwellings were completely burned down as a result of the fire that started in the landfill.
Activists blame the municipalities for this situation, which in the absence of a landfill, approve the collection of waste by the river and turn a blind eye to anyone who follows the same example.
Olsi Nika, head of the Organization “Eco Albania” says that the pollution of Vjosa from urban waste has been increasing and that the blame for this lies mainly with the municipalities.
“The municipalities of the Vjosa valley do not treat their waste within the required criteria, so they do not go to the landfill, they do not get recycled but go to the river. There are other areas that are called illegal, near the bridge lines and other tributaries of the Vjosa River.“, – Nika rightly raises the concern.
“The problem of waste is solvable when there will be a will to establish an efficient system of their management,” he sees as a solution to the problem .
Another Vjosa defense activist, Aleksandër Toti, has stated that a very worrying problem is the disposal of urban waste, the construction of HPPs, but also the discharge of sewage near this river.
“A number of businesses, but also apartments which are located near the river, dump sewage in it. Vjosa is between three cities; “Përmeti, Këlcyra and Tepelena, which have the same problem, the disposal of waste next to it, at a very close distance”, – he says.
Part of 6 years in defense of environmental issues Toti says he currently has a national plan where he has high hopes that something will be done.
“One of our requests has been the relocation of the landfill, where there is a decision of the municipal council of previous years which determines them there. With the general local plan, which has come as a result of the territorial reform after 2015, it is planned to change the location that will come after the general local plan is approved “, – concludes the activist Toti, who works at the Municipality of Tepelena.
Waste ends up in the Vjosa riverbed
In the small town of Këlcyra, the waste of 4 administrative units is collected at the exit of the town on the right side of the road.
Garbage piles, plastics, glass, food products, tires, or even other various building waste material have occupied the Vjosa riverbed.
As this landfill is small, the municipality of Këlcyrë burns the waste more than often, becoming a serious risk to the health of residents from various diseases.
The Municipality of Përmet dumps urban waste in the village of Kutal, very close to the Vjosa riverbed. Residents say that this situation has become a gangrene for them, but no one listens to them.
“We live among diseases, we are afraid for our children, during the summer a fire broke out due to people setting the waste ablaze”, – says a resident of the area for “Investigative Network Albania”.
Determining the place where the waste will be collected has turned into a “hot” potato for the residents as well. A project for the disposal of the waste of the city of Përmet in the village of Piskovë, has led the inhabitants of this village to protests twice within the month of December 2021.
They have refused to set up a landfill for urban waste near their village at the entrance to the Hotova park, a protected area.
Residents of this village have insisted from the MP of the area, Mirela Kumbaro, who is also the Minister of Environment, the cancellation of this project, which severely damages the environment in this area and directly affects the lives of residents and drinking water that they consume.
“The water here will be polluted with toxic waste, drinking water where there is a well. We have vineyards, agricultural land here, we will plant vegetables and get water from the river. They directly affect our health. The deputy of the area and the mayor should have held a public hearing, not do these things in secret. We are a protected area, no visitors will come to Hotova Park,” said one of the protesters.
Residents of Piskova, have warned to take extreme actions, starting with the blocking of the functioning of the apparatus of the Municipality of Përmet or other actions that will be taken depending on the situation. They swear that garbage in Piskova will not be deposited unless the state tramples on their bodies.
“I came from America to invest in my father’s lands, but I think I’m doubting whether I should continue to invest or not in this country? This is a paradox, this is Chernobyl! It is a step away from a gas chamber! I do not understand this project,” said a young man.
“They have started the works, they are doing excavations, we have asked for our deputy Mirela Kumbaro, she has ignored us, she is hiding, because it turns out that she is a party to this crime”, – said a resident.
“We are making a mistake here because we have children drinking from this water, we want the project to be canceled. This landfill will pollute the groundwater and end up in the river. We will not leave, we will protest every day, we will block the road and we will stop the firm from working,” they said.
Environmentalist Sazan Guri, who supports the protest of the residents, says that they will file a lawsuit against the municipality of Përmet and the Ministry of Environment regarding this situation.
“The Municipality of Përmet wants to build a landfill for waste. The residents of Piskova have protested many times regarding this, and will even open a lawsuit against the Municipality of Përmet and the Ministry of Environment”, declared Guri, pointing to the municipalities that have become in this situation of waste mismanagement, as the solutions are.
“All municipalities can build collection points with a staff to share. Recycling companies take them and process them. The remaining ones are then taken to a regional landfill for the whole area. Municipalities do not do that, because according to the current way, it is more expensive”, says the expert.
But the Municipality of Përmet claims that this landfill is temporary, as the landfill for the whole region will be in Bajkaj. According to the municipality of Përmet, the Albanian government, since 2019 has supported this municipality by investing in raising environmental standards in temporary landfills.
“The purpose of this investment consists in minimizing environmental pollution in the temporary landfill of Përmet, making it possible to increase some standards with sanitary conditions that do not affect water resources, land and visual side. We say temporary because with the completion of the Kardhiq-Delvinë road, Përmeti and the whole Gjirokastër region will deposit the waste in the Bajkaj Landfill in the municipality of Delvinë, while the current landfills will be finally closed“, – declared the Municipality of Përmet for INA Media.
According to the municipality of Përmet, the problems have been inherited from the former communes, from the municipality itself and the lack of minimum environmental conditions in the current landfills, which are also unlicensed by the responsible institutions, bringing impacts not only in the surrounding area, but in general for the touristic image of the city.
The regional landfill was envisaged as a solution for the county in a 2014 study as well.
The study within the “Selea Project”, funded by the IPA Program of the European Union, which started in 2011 and ended in 2014, which provided funding support in the Gjirokastra Region to improve the waste collection and transportation system, came to the conclusion that the area among other things needed a regional landfill.
The project, which envisaged that within the years 2018-2020 would cover most of the county with services and the construction of a regional landfill at a cost of about 4 million euros, remained on paper.
As a result of pollution, the Vjosa River is no longer frequented by residents in these areas for either bathing or fishing.
The Municipality of Gjirokastra, which produces 16 tons of waste every day, is depositing them in the landfill of Gërhot, which is overflowing with urban waste and requires better management so that the situation does not get out of control.
The municipality explains that for 2022 it has foreseen some investments that start from the purchase of machinery to the addition of waste bins with a fund of 24 million ALL, while the Gërhoti depositing area will be closed.
“It has been decided that this collection point due to the great pollution that has been created by the emission of various gasses caused by chemical reactions that pollute the air, water and the ecosystem as a whole to be closed and rehabilitated,” sais the official response for “Ina Media” of the municipality of Gjirokastra, which confirms that this is the only point for waste collection for the city.
“In the draft budget of 2022, we have planned and approved a series of investments that will be performed in relation to the entire waste management infrastructure from A to Z of this process”, explains the Municipality of Gjirokastra.
The Municipality explains that within this year it will make some new investments in Gërhot for the opening of some other skeptic pits, which will be temporary until the construction of the new landfill, which is in Bajkaj. These pits will then be closed, as will the current landfill.
The indiscriminate dumping of waste in the Vjosa River has been accepted by local institutions.
“Knowing that the illegal dumping of waste in the Vjosa River remains a major problem for the entire region, identifying polluting persons or entities and taking legal action would be considered a primary step on this issue. Measures are being taken on this issue in cooperation with the Municipal Police. However, a joint interaction of the municipalities of Gjirokastra region is required to achieve the protection of the Vjosa river”, – concludes the Municipality of Gjirokastra in its response.
Even the Municipality of Memaliaj does not have an approved landfill and has its hands tied for a final solution.
“Waste in the municipality of Memaliaj is deposited in a landfill away from residential centers. We have no landfill other than the existing one. It is a difficult challenge, as the economic opportunities of our municipality are few“, – it is said in the response of this local institution.
This municipality generates 4-5 tons of waste per day, and explains that it has carried out a series of cleaning actions along the banks of the Vjosa River of urban waste and inert waste.
“We have conducted several cleaning campaigns since the beginning of November with all institutions in the territory of the municipality. The National Cleaning Plan is still ongoing“, – concludes the Municipality of Memaliaj in its response.
The Municipality of Dropull, regarding the situation of Waste Management says that the collection is done by the municipality itself and the landfill will be carried out at the landfill in Bajkaj in Delvina, while currently they are deposited in an open provisional point.
“The Municipality of Dropull has performed a cost calculation for waste disposal, where the cost for 1 ton of waste up to the landfill in Bajkaj costs 6,100 ALL per ton, while per day we generate 4.0-4.5 tons. “All this is a challenge for us from a financial standpoint “, – replied the Municipality of Dropull.
The Municipality of Përmet states that the collection of urban waste in the territory of this municipality is performed by this institution itself, while in rural areas this service is not accessible yet.
“In rural areas, waste is usually burned in open places, causing great pollution in the surrounding area. The most used method for waste treatment is that of landfill, although it should be mentioned that these pits do not have a good structure or are located in sensitive areas”, – says the Municipality of Përmet.
Waste is currently being collected in the Brackovo area, a collection point with an area of 3000 square meters. The landfill is located in the northwest of the Municipality of Përmet and the distance from the center is only 5 km.
“The landfill does not have a selection process, and the waste after arriving is buried. The existing landfill where the waste is dumped is not fenced, and there are no protective measures to prevent groundwater from penetrating and consequently the passage and release of heavy metals and other pollutants”, emphasizes the Municipality of Përmet in its response, underlining that the pollution of Vjosa will end only at the moment when waste flows from Greece are identified and when the administrative units in the villages have a better waste management, having collection points in each area.
Regarding the statements of Prime Minister Rama for sanctions for all those municipalities that do not find a solution by 2022, for waste management and disposal, environmentalist Sazan Guri does not call this initiative serious.
“Prime Minister Edi Rama, if he had such a strategy for urban waste management, would do it with professional people, with the few who have remained in Albania. The ignorance of the municipalities is seen in the forefront regarding this issue. In Memaliaj you can find trash wherever. It is far too little to call the people who abuse the environment criminals,” he told INA Media.
While for the head of the Eco Albania Organization, Olsi Nika, this initiative is more of a gnashing of teeth towards the municipalities.
“The Prime Minister has gritted his teeth to the municipalities to implement an initiative that for most of them is unenforceable, thus clarifying the law on Local Self-Government, as a result of the famous reform that took place,” the biologist articulates.
Olsi Nika also dwells on the damage caused by territorial reforms in small municipalities with low budgets that can barely sustain themselves, and no longer make plans with numerous human and financial resources to manage the waste crisis, which has now turned into a national emergency.
“If we refer to the case of waste, the Municipality of Memaliaj, Telepena, etc. as small municipalities, they cannot manage their waste. They do not even have paved roads to get to the containers, if there even was a container. And this chain will not work that way.
There is a way that can work if there will be a will and increase of fees, taxes. Will people in these small municipalities be willing to pay 10-15 times the bill for waste management? I think not. The issue of waste management is an issue that we seek to hide from time to time, in Gjirokastra but also of other regions.
As long as we are witnesses that the army goes to the territory for various cleaning actions, then this is a national emergency. As long as it is a national emergency, this part cannot be managed by the municipalities. If you ask me, only two or three municipalities can do this, so as to waste management, the others are powerless, they cannot do it.” , concludes Olsi Nika from Eco Albania.