An automatic grappler lifts bags of mixed waste from Turku into a furnace.An average of eight hauls of municipal waste is shipped from Turku to Estonia every day. If the waste was not transported across the Gulf of Finland, it would be buried on a dump in Finland.

Waste produced by Turku households has been transported to overseas waste-to-energy incineration plants since 2010 – to the plant of Eesti Energia in Estonia since last autumn and before that to Sweden.

“Emissions from the transport of waste for recovery are notably lower than emissions from its treatment, not to mention burying it on a dump,” says Patrik Jalonen, an operations manager at the Turku region waste management company (TSJ).

The Finnish policy on municipal waste is straightforward: The top priorities are to reduce the amount of waste produced and to encourage its re-use. Recycling is the third option and incineration only the fourth.

“There's a lot of talk about recycling mixed waste, but in practice that is not an alternative just yet,” says Jalonen.

Following a recent invitation to tender, a total of 320,000 tonnes of municipal waste produced by households in South-west Finland will be transported to four waste-to-energy incineration plants in 2015—2017. No tenders for recycling the waste were received.

Drivers Ari Heikkilä from Janakkala and Risto Taiminen from Hämeenlinna drive their lorries from Turku to Hanko, where they board a 186-metre freighter sailing under the Lithuanian flag. The lorries are ushered onto the upper deck alongside vehicles transporting hazardous materials.

The stench in the half-open space hits you in the nostrils, but the drivers laugh off the comments about the foul stench. “You'll get used to it in no time,” assures Taiminen.

Urmo Heinam, the development manager at Eesti Energia, reveals that when the waste-to-energy incineration unit was opened last year, it was obvious that it could not run at full capacity solely on Estonian waste. The incineration plant does not, however, buy the waste that is tossed into its furnaces but charges its customers 25—40 euros per tonne of waste it converts into heat and energy for Estonian households.

Toni Lehtinen, Sami Kilpiö – HS
Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Photo: HS