Uzbekistan has seen stable urban growth in the last 10 years with its urban population reaching 36.4% of its total population in 2015.
The rate of urbanization in the country has brought pressure on the environment and has resulted to new development challenges: aging infrastructure and out-of-date municipal service delivery mechanisms. In particular, the country’s old solid waste management system (SWM) can hardly cope with rising pollution levels and poor SWM practices causing negative environmental and health impacts.
Uzbekistan approximately generates over 12,000 tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) daily, equivalent to over 4 million tons in a year. Tashkent alone, with its 2.3 million population, currently produces over 500,000 tons annually. This is expected to increase to more than 700,0000 thousand tons annually by 2030—a potential cumulative generation of over 10 million tons over a 17-year period (2013–2030).
The SWM facilities has served the city since 2006, and is in need of immediate and complete rehabilitation in order to avert potentially serious service disruptions. Most of the 700 MSW collection points require restoration, while collection and transfer vehicle fleets require urgent replacement, and transfer stations need major overhaul works.
National SWM challenges are fully recognized by the Government, and ADB assistance has been sought to improve SWM and urban services in its cities, primarily its capital Tashkent. In 2013, a $69 million loan for the Solid Waste Management Improvement Project was approved and became effective in December 2014.
Toward a clean and healthy Tashkent
The ADB project fully supports the government’s priority of improving Tashkent’s SWM system through an investment package to accelerate waste minimization and recycling initiatives, upgrade and rehabilitate the city’s MSW collection and transfer systems, and develop a new sanitary landfill facility (SLF) with a long-term capacity to potentially serve the city at least until 2060. Concurrently, the project will assist the government to develop a national SWM strategy and investment program in order to guide national SWM sector improvements over the medium term.
The project will also provide capacity development support to develop the capacity of Maxsustrans, a state-owned enterprise managing waste in the city, and support sector improvements in three key areas: (i) waste minimization and recycling program development; (ii) formulation of a parallel media and public awareness program about waste minimization and recycling; and (iii) operational and management support for SWM system operations including a logistics study. The project’s capacity support component will assist Maxsustrans to establish and launch waste minimization and recycling initiatives in Tashkent, in parallel with the design and implementation of a media and public awareness campaign.
Current behavior and practices
Maxsustrans has a fixed collection fee that is adjusted every 6 months, but because this was inherited from the former Soviet Union social welfare system, the fee barely covers the operations and maintenance cost of waste management and cannot guarantee long-term investment payback. As a result, the government has to provide subsidies to Maxsustrans to sustain its operations, which in turn limits the incentives for investing in modernizing equipment, as well as salaries for staff.
Prior to the project, Maxsustrans has to collect residual waste dumped among the 700 collection points spread across mahallas or neighborhoods, and transfer this to a landfill (a dumpsite converted into a controlled landfill some 20 years ago).
Each of the 700 collection points is equipped with two collection bins with a capacity of 500 kilograms. Maxsustrans needs to keep the collection points and bins clean and maintained. Staff were hired to do the cleaning, equipment maintenance, and other work. However, since these collection points are scattered around the city, it is difficult for staff to carry out the patrol and monitoring work. Moreover, maintenance cost is very high and there is a shortage of staff (many are not motivated to work lengthily due to the smelly collection points).
There is also a lack of centrally funded information, education, and communication program to change behavior and attitudes toward SWM. However, Tashkent City does fund its own promotional campaign aimed at achieving widest possible participation and support for environmental protection, more specifically, for SWM.
Inclusive thinking creates jobs for the homeless
In Tashkent, it is common to see homeless people wandering the streets rifling through garbage for items such as plastic bottles, waste paper, used clothes, scrap metal articles, and other junk that can be sold to private recycling businesses. The government, however, has had difficulty managing these vagrants, and their practice of trash-picking has been a cause of turmoil amongst them due to disorderly competition as they scramble for the most valuable items. As a result, collection points are often left in disarray and with a stench after such altercations.
When the management of the collection points became challenging for Maxsustrans, an idea came up during the project preparation. I asked, "Why not turn a problem into a solution?”
Thus, 700 homeless street dwellers were recruited to maintain the upkeep of the collection points. They were provided with a room, a bath facility, and basic salary in exchange for cleaning the collection points and segregating plastic waste. They were also allowed to sell other recyclable waste as additional income.
The project jumpstarted its implementation not only with mere SWM infrastructure development but also with creating social impacts. Due to this initiative, the collection points are now in good condition. Moreover, the homeless street dwellers were provided with shelter, basic sanitation facilities, and a stable income.
Just as important, waste are sorted out, reducing the volume dumped in the landfill.
Overall, residents are beginning to enjoy an improved and cleaner environment; awareness on the benefits of good sanitation practices has increased; and the lives of 700 poor people have changed for the better.
 Index Mundi:
 ADB. 2013. Report and Recommendation of the President to the Board of Directors for the Proposed Loan Uzbekistan: Solid Waste Management Improvement Project.