Under siege for 846 days, here is what Ukraine plans to do with its 75,000 cubic metres of ‘destruction waste’

Over a quarter of Ukraine’s territory affected by war; unsorted waste leads to formation of spontaneous landfills 

Apart from the massive humanitarian and economic crisis, the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has also caused an unprecedented waste management challenge. In the 846 days of the war, thousands of buildings have been destroyed, turning the war-torn cities into fields of rubble. 

Terming this ‘destruction waste’, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said 75,000 cubic metres of it have accumulated in Bucha in the country’s Kyiv region and may need decades to be handled. It has outlined a strategy to address the situation with the help of Euopean Union and local authorities in a new report released June 11, 2024.

“Ukraine never saw such a scale of destruction before, so there never was the need to handle such waste, there was no system,” stressed Roman Shakhmatenko, UNDP team leader of the Environment Portfolio, in the report.

This landfill (of accumulated war waste) was formed right after Kyiv region’s de-occupation, he noted. “The waste of destruction was not initially sorted here – then it was necessary to clear the settlements as soon as possible so that people could begin to return. The problem confronting us in the Kyiv region today is immense – thousands of houses have been damaged.”

The innovation 

UNDP and the EU informed that they supplied equipment like mobile crushers and excavators for the waste management site and provided training personnel. The Bucha city administration has allocated a four-acre plot of land for the facility, according to the report.

The mobile crusher, which processes waste for it to be reused later, is key to the said operation, said Shakhmatenko. The machine is said to have the capacity to process 80 cubic metres of waste per hour. “For example, one large truck is 15 cubic metres. That is, the crusher processes five such vehicles per hour. This will be sufficient for the needs of the region,” he explained. 

Stages of waste processing

“At the waste processing station, the first stage involves clearing the rubble and sorting the wood, plastic and glass,” Serhi Mostipaka, head of Buchaservice utility company, mentioned in the report. 

As per Mostipaka, practically all of the company’s equipments was almost destroyed as a result of the war. “What is already being transported to the second location is processed by a crusher. The machine can crush concrete and brick into different sizes, from the largest to the smallest.”  

“In this almost waste-free production, waste is transported to a landfill, sorted, processed and reused. Only waste containing asbestos cannot be recycled and disposed of.”

A special laboratory will be set up on the premises to detect asbestos – from the waste and in the air where work takes place – in line with international standards, shared UNDP.

“Special places will be needed for its (asbestos) burial and separate technologies for its handling. We have already developed appropriate protocols for dealing with asbestos. It is packed and taken out for temporary storage in specially designated places, where it will remain until special places for its disposal become available,” the UNDP leader said.

This is the first such UN project in war-torn Ukraine, and plans are underway for other regions of the country like Chernihiv and Kharkiv.

The project also aims to address longer-term issues such as recycling, given that waste is always accumulating, UNDP stressed.

The mayor of Bucha, Anatoly Feduruk, stated that over 4,000 buildings, including high-rises, were damaged in the city alone.

“Even during peace time there is always a need to recycle brick, concrete, foam concrete – there is always construction waste because the city is being built all the time,” he said.

Shakhmatenko also recognised the role of local bodies in tackling this crisis. “It is to be remembered that 60 per cent of the work in this case was done by local authorities and the utility company, and UNDP helped. A lot depends on local leaders.”

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