Without forest, Baikal and separate collection. How the war in Ukraine is killing the nature of Russia

Garbage based fuel

At the end of April, United Russia deputies Bekhan Agayev and Alexander Kogan submitted to the State Duma a bill “On production and consumption waste”, which equates the production of fuel, compost and other fertilizers from waste to waste disposal. The explanatory note says that the project will help to fulfill the task set by the president - to reduce waste disposal at landfills by 50% by 2030. The Russians will pay for this - they want to include the production of fuel, which will then be burned again, in a single tariff for the services of regional operators.

The bill provoked a strong reaction among almost all environmental communities. The Russian branch of Greenpeace has launched a collection of signatures for a petition to cancel the initiative. Environmentalists believe that it is dangerous for two reasons. The first is the development of incineration, which will lead to harmful emissions of mercury, lead, cadmium and dioxins. In Russia, hazardous waste such as batteries, thermometers, electronic waste and toxic PVC plastic is not systematically collected. All of them end up in the general stream of garbage, and in practice it is impossible to get them out of there.

In other words, the composition of RDF fuel (Refuse-derived fuel) is highly likely to be very harmful. And its use is even more toxic than the classic waste incineration at the incinerator. According to an Italian study , burning RDF fuel releases nine times more mercury, three times more cadmium and 203 times more lead into the atmosphere, all in a country that has introduced segregated collection. In Russian realities, the concentration of harmful substances will be ten times higher.

Secondly, the project will finally destroy the separate collection. It will be unprofitable for businesses to sort waste and produce plastic from plastic. Greenpeace notes that companies will receive money, compress and crush waste, and then send it to incineration:

“It is technologically simpler and cheaper than investing in separate collection and processing. The bill will allow the authorities and regional operators to report on the high level of recycling without actually doing it.”

No sorting or processing

Experts warn that waste sorting stations throughout Russia may stop, as they work on foreign equipment. The recycling industry is 70% dependent on foreign components and technologies. The components of Russian equipment also contain a large number of imported components. These are mainly high-tech elements that have no Russian counterpart. With the outbreak of war, the import of foreign components stopped. At the same time, waste processors hide the problems associated with anti-Russian sanctions in order to comply with the Ecology national project. By 2030, 100% of municipal solid waste should be sent for sorting, now this figure, according to some reports, does not exceed 7%.

Waste sorting stations throughout Russia can stop, as they work on foreign equipment.

The current two-container collection system in the country assumes that all waste must be passed through sorting stations. Last year, 1 billion rubles were distributed among the subjects for the installation of 63,000 containers for separate collection. But when the sorting equipment starts to fail, the system will stop working. An expert of the Separate Collection movement, Anna Garkusha, doubts that the containers will be able to work until an alternative appears:

“Sorting lines need bearings, belts, optical separators and other components. It is not clear whether the existing conveyors will last until the necessary parts of domestic production appear.

Textile processing plants may also close. After the sanctions, they lost 85% of their raw materials. It was mainly imported from abroad, where the collection of old clothes is established, this is 73%. After the outbreak of the war, this raw material ceased to flow. And with the departure of the H&M chain, in whose stores they also collected shabby clothes, enterprises lost another 12% of raw materials. Textiles from Russian assemblers remained, but this is only 15% of the total. This is not enough for the functioning of enterprises. If they close, then there will be nowhere to recycle old clothes and they will go to landfills or incinerators.

Waste incineration will become even more dangerous

Sanctions affected not only sorting and processing, but also waste incineration. The fate of the waste incineration plants under construction and the maintenance of existing waste incineration plants is questionable. They are being built in Russia by Rostec's subsidiary RT-invest. The plant under construction near Kazan has the biggest difficulties. The project was developed on the basis of Japanese-Swiss technology, which was to be supplied by Hitachi Zosen Inova. Nikolai Atlasov, deputy of the Kazan City Council, is not sure that the plant will ever work at all:

“The Rostec project is based on Western technologies, access to which is blocked due to sanctions, the already paid equipment, which was expected to arrive in February, has not arrived.”

The Prime Minister of the Republic of Tatarstan Alexei Pesoshin said that the authorities are looking for a way out of this situation. What it will be - it is not difficult to guess. If they cannot agree, then there is a high probability that there will be no trace of Japanese-Swiss technologies.

The absence of foreign components means the untimely replacement of old equipment with existing MSZs. This, together with the replacement of foreign systems with domestic ones, may make waste treatment at incinerators less efficient.

Replacing foreign systems with domestic ones may make waste treatment at incinerators less efficient.

RT-Invest is building five waste-to-energy plants in the Moscow region and Tatarstan, and is also trying to coordinate a project for 25 incinerators across the country. If all these plants operate using domestic technologies, then more dioxins dangerous to humans will be in the air.

Abandoned oil wells

After a month and a half of negotiations, Western countries agreed on a partial embargo on Russian oil imports. It concerns primarily tanker deliveries and, to a lesser extent, pipeline fuel. Despite the bravura statements by Russian officials about the search for new markets and buyers, it is obvious that under the embargo, Russia will have to cut oil production.

Knowing the peculiarities of Russian treatment of subsoil, environmental activists fear that now some of the newly developed wells will have to be abandoned. It is possible to temporarily suspend the operation of wells without conservation of the production site for 6 months. This period is extended only when measures for the safe use of subsoil are carried out.

“Most likely, they will be abandoned without going through the entire conservation process, and it costs about half the cost of creating a well,” the coordinator of the environmental movement “We Live Here!” told The Insider. Dmitry Kochanov.

Decommissioning a well costs about $150,000, and resuming production up to $500,000. Recovery may take several years, explains Irina Kezik, an expert at the Intersectoral Expert and Analytical Center of the Union of Oil and Gas Producers of Russia. In addition, there is a danger that as a result of a decrease in reservoir pressure, oil will go "in depth", it will become less and development will be economically inexpedient. Abandoned and unconserved mining sites are objects of accumulation of environmental damage. They can also become explosive, warns Deputy Prime Minister Victoria Abramchenko.

As a result of a decrease in reservoir pressure, oil can go “in depth”, it will become less and development will be economically unfeasible.

According to the results of the year, production in the Russian Federation may be reduced by 5-8%, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak believes. But many experts believe that the country will have to cut production by 30%. Under such conditions, the abandonment of wells will become massive, and conservation may seem pointless: the lifting of sanctions, and, accordingly, an increase in production, Russia is not threatened in the near future, therefore, new wells are unlikely to be needed in the foreseeable future.

Logging without obligation

The Ministry of Defense wants to get the right to cut wood on the lands of the forest fund by the end of 2022 without any obligations, permits and without warning the local authorities. The department has prepared a corresponding draft government decree - and it is unlikely to be rejected. Amendments are proposed to be made to the resolution "On the peculiarities of licensing activities in the Russian Federation in 2022".

The project gives the military the right to cut wood in any quantities, if the resulting wood is declared as necessary "for the needs of defense." It will even be possible to notify the authorities of the regions about fellings after the fact - within 30 days after they are carried out. Now the authorities of the constituent entities and local self-government bodies are engaged in coordinating applications for the development of forests. Consideration takes from 10 to 15 days.

Logs and boards are needed in large quantities by the Russian military in Ukraine, they are used to build trenches, dugouts for strongholds and other fortifications. They try to cut wood closer to the Ukrainian border, so that it would be easier to deliver.

Logs and boards are needed by the Russian military in Ukraine for the construction of trenches, dugouts of strongholds and other fortifications.

As it became known to The Insider, volunteers are now doing this in the Belgorod region. They cut trees without permits and documents. Then the logs are sent to the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine to Russian soldiers. The longer the fighting continues, the more wood is required.

The government decree will not only make it possible to cut down thousands of hectares of forest, but will also open the door for "black loggers" who will refer to the order of the Ministry of Defense. It will be impossible to verify the legality of their actions: according to the project, even the execution of an electronic document is not required.

Cars with zero environmental friendliness

To save the auto industry, the government allowed factories to produce cars that produce three times more carbon monoxide than was possible under the Euro-5 standard. The corresponding decree has already been signed and will be valid until February 1, 2023, unless, of course, it is extended. It allows Russian car factories to produce cars of any environmental class - even Euro-0. A similar standard was adopted by most European countries in the late 80s. The need arose against the background of the suspension of the supply of electronic control units from abroad. Concerns have already assembled several thousand of these machines.

In cities, 83% of pollution comes from cars, 12% from trucks, 2.8% from special vehicles and only 2.2% from buses. Source: "Comparative analysis of the toxicity of car exhaust gases and ways to reduce it", N. Karimkhodzhaev, M. Z. Numonov, 2020

"Euro-0" is actually not quite the correct wording. The name itself appeared after the adoption of the next environmental class "Euro-1" in 1992. And the document refers to the Russian "environmental class 0" with similar limits. Compared to Euro-5, the allowable content of carbon monoxide in the exhaust increases from 1 to 2.76 g/km, hydrocarbon emissions - from 0.1 to 0.24 g/km, and nitrogen oxides - from 0.06 to 0.18 g/km. The standard does not regulate particulate matter emissions and smoke. Applies to gasoline engines.

The return of the environmental friendliness of exhaust to the level of thirty years ago means a catastrophe, primarily for residents of megacities. In large cities, motor transport provides 30–50% of air pollution, and in the center its influence is even higher. Accordingly, the concentrations of all major pollutants will triple, environmentalists suggest. This is fraught with an increase in cancer. Road dust contains benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen that enters the atmosphere when motor fuel is burned, according to a new study by Russian scientists published in the journal Environmental Geochemistry and Health. If the shortage of electronics drags on and environmental regulations are completely abolished, then the return of more polluting carbureted engines cannot be ruled out.

Source: "Comparative analysis of the toxicity of car exhaust gases and ways to reduce it", N. Karimkhodzhaev, M. Z. Numonov, 2020

In connection with this decision, as well as with other deecological initiatives, in March the authorities postponed the implementation of the Clean Air federal project for two years. Its goal is to reduce air emissions by 20% from 2018 levels in 12 of Russia's most polluted cities. Businesses must now meet the stated targets by the end of 2024.

Baikal is under threat

In the relay race of anti-environmental projects, it is worth noting the initiative , which activists have already called "the killer of the Baikal biosphere." These are amendments to Order No. 83 of the Ministry of Natural Resources of Russia dated February 21, 2022. The authorities are going to reduce the requirements for the composition of wastewater that is discharged into Baikal and the rivers that feed it.

If the project is approved, water containing organochlorines, dioxins and DDT (an insecticide used against mosquitoes, pests of cotton, soybeans, peanuts - ed.) can be legally dumped into the lake. Many of these substances are toxic, carcinogenic, and can accumulate in organisms, causing functional impairment and death. Indicators for the content of adsorbed organohalogen compounds (AOH) will increase 200 times, suspended solids - 1.6 times, iron - 10 times, chromium - 1.3 times, mercury - 13 times.

The bill is insidious in its deceptiveness. The specified concentrations of pollutants are really small, and at first glance, they are unlikely to cause serious damage to nature. The problem is that equipment capable of treating wastewater to such an extent is simply not available at local enterprises, according to the Greenpeace website. Therefore, they can start dumping waste into Baikal massively and without complying with the requirements.

They can start dumping waste into Baikal massively and without complying with the requirements.

Baikal pollution has already affected the flora and fauna of the lake. In places of local pollution (mainly where tourists are based), the spread of spirogyra algae is observed, a public figure, chairman of Rubin TOS, Lyubov Alikina, told The Insider. An increase in the concentration of toxic substances can destroy endemic, that is, species that are not found anywhere else, for example, the Baikal seal. The immunity of the inhabitants of Lake Baikal is not adapted to the fight against pollution.

The project was also criticized in the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Scientists believe that the proposals are not scientifically substantiated and are in direct conflict with the Federal Law "On the Protection of Lake Baikal". Experts proposed to abolish the possibility of dumping the most dangerous substances into the lake. In addition, environmentalists fear that the crisis and sanctions will cause an increase in demand for domestic tourism. In an attempt to develop this area, the authorities will further weaken environmental control around Lake Baikal, and unique ecosystems will disappear under the influx of Russian and Chinese tourists.

Cancellation of public examination

The authorities also decided to abolish the public environmental review (PEE). It will be banned from citizens and public organizations, as well as foreign agents. Only regional authorities will be able to initiate PEE. Interestingly, the bill was submitted to the Duma by the same United Russia Alexander Kogan, who had previously proposed equating the production of fuel from garbage with its disposal.

In most cases, PEA is carried out by independent environmental organizations when citizens or environmentalists have doubts about the quality of the surveys carried out by the developer company, construction organization or the state. Independent experts can assess the environmental impact of a development project. If the bill is approved, they will not have such an opportunity. Neither citizens nor environmentalists will see the project documentation. And the authorities in the regions will not be able to carry out PEE properly, as they do not have the necessary resources, competence, and in many cases they are also an interested party.

The authorities in the regions will not be able to carry out PEE properly, as they do not have the necessary resources and competence.

The bill also reduces the requirements for state expertise. Firstly, it reduces its terms, which cannot but affect the quality. Secondly, it saves the authorities from re-checking in case of changes in the project documentation. Ecologists fear that the assessment of the impact on the environment of the next waste incineration plant, landfill or route will be carried out exclusively on paper.