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INTERVIEW #12: SMEs in Estonia: How the Estonian government handles industrial waste

Posted on: 15.04.2019
by The Erek Team

While resource efficiency is a huge challenge for SMEs, many countries are dealing with the major issue of industrial waste on a national scale. Considering the vast environmental consequences of this type of waste, ensuring efficiency in the production process will go a long way in tackling this problem. EREK news asked Mihkel Krusberg, the advisor of the Estonian environmental management department, how Estonia deals with industrial waste, and specifically in the case of SMEs.

The Estonian government has identified industrial waste as one of the major challenges it faces today. Why is this such a pressing issue for Estonia specifically, and what other challenges does the country face?

Industrial waste is a major challenge, because most of the waste in Estonia is generated by oil shale industry. Estonia faces the challenge of low resource productivity and how to get different actors together in the transition to a circular economy and to ensure policy coherence. Challenges also include low awareness of resource efficiency (especially its advantages and best practice), lack of confidence and risk-taking in financing sustainable projects, and lack of information on material content and hazardous substances in products. Another challenge is how to encourage a secondary raw materials market.

As mentioned before, the Estonian government has identified industrial waste as one of its main priorities. How does the Estonian government support SMEs in both ensuring efficiency during the industrial process, as well as dealing with the waste produced afterwards?

In the context of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014–2020, Estonia decided to support EUR 100 million investment for more resource-efficient solutions mainly in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mainly manufacturing industry – “Resource efficiency measure in enterprises”. Activities include raising awareness of companies, training resource specialists/auditors, supporting resource audits and investments in resource efficient solutions. Calls for audits and investments are opened from 2017 and 2018 respectively. The first call for investments was opened to the most resource usage intensive industry sectors (such as mining, wood, food, paper and cellulose and minerals sector), but from the second call, all mining and manufacturing industry companies in Estonia can apply for investment support. From the first call which was directed to 5 priority sectors about 75% of projects came from the wood industry. Due to wood being one of the easiest raw material to use more efficiently when implementing new machinery and modern IT-solutions. For example, implementing scanners to detect the quality of wood automatically and to make cuts more efficiently (with less residue).

How can SMEs improve the synergy between the public and private sector in terms of resource efficiency? What kind of initiative can they take?

We need more collaboration between different actors. In Estonia, SMEs in mining or manufacturing industry can apply for free consultation by resource specialist to have a first overview if they have resource efficiency potential. Secondly, SMEs can apply for resource analysis’ support to be conducted by specialist and based on report, they could apply for investment’s support.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about regarding resource efficiency and SMEs?

Resource efficiency measure has generated a necessary movement to improve Estonia’s resource productivity. It has been shown that low awareness is a significant issue and needs to be dealt with. Especially SMEs don’t have enough capacity to invest into resource efficient solutions. The key to success is comprehensive approach – raising awareness with the help of trained experts that companies can rely on and financial support from the state. Another important factor is collaboration between private and public sector to find opportunities for economic improvement.