Disposing of toxic waste in Bulgaria

Article, 18.10.2019

Switzerland is helping Bulgaria dispose of toxic pesticides left over from the communist period in an environmentally responsible way. The pesticides, which are now banned, were stored in over 200 warehouses that are slowly falling into disrepair. Switzerland’s contribution is helping to solve this serious environmental problem.

Man in protective clothing on a truck with containers of pesticides.
Specialist waste disposal companies repackage pesticides and transport them to strictly controlled incineration plants. © SECO

Thirty years after the fall of the Iron Curtain several thousand tonnes of pesticides left over from the communist era still need to be disposed of in Bulgaria. The pesticides are stored in over 200 warehouses, which are slowly falling into disrepair, and present a growing danger to local communities. Toxic substances are seeping into the soil and groundwater, putting the environment and human health at risk. The affected communities, mostly in rural areas, do not have the financial or logistical resources to tackle pollution on this scale.

In 2014, Switzerland therefore decided to contribute up to CHF 19.9 million to facilitate the environmentally sound disposal of these banned pesticides. Clean-up and waste disposal operations have been under way for about a year. The assistance provided by Switzerland will continue until the beginning of December. By October 2019, 2000 tonnes of pesticides were disposed of and 650 tonnes repackaged ready for transport. 

Disposing of toxic substances in an environmentally responsible way is a costly process

Properly disposing of pesticides involves collecting, transporting and incinerating them – a costly process that must be undertaken by specialist companies. There are no approved incineration plants in Bulgaria, which means waste must be transported to other countries, including Switzerland. The transportation of toxic waste between jurisdictions is governed by the Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal and the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. These strict international rules require all transit countries and countries of destination to issue and check authorisations. 

Switzerland has provided funding for pesticide experts to be deployed. They are tasked with ensuring that warehouses are properly cleared and cleansed and that pesticides in warehouses are properly repackaged. The experts take photographs to document the condition of warehouses when they are opened and are involved in the process of repackaging, weighing and loading the pesticides onto trucks.  To discourage waste disposal companies from dumping pesticides illegally, Switzerland only pays them for waste actually delivered to the incineration plants.

Waste disposal as a focus of cooperation

Bulgaria invests more than a third of the enlargement contribution in disposing of hazardous waste. In addition to assisting with the environmentally sound disposal of pesticides, Switzerland supports the construction of collection points for hazardous household waste