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INTERVIEW #3: BAMEE on resource efficiency in Bulgaria, and the steps to tapping potentials

Posted on: 31.07.2018
by The EREK team

BAMEE is the Bulgarian Association of Municipal Environmental Experts, the latest addition to the EREK network, and the first organisation in Bulgaria to join the Centre. The association is comprised of municipal environmental experts, engineers working in Bulgarian municipalities, companies, NGOs, consultants and other interested parties.

BAMEE was founded more than 25 years ago. Today, 176 of the 262 municipalities in Bulgaria are members of the association. During their many years of existence, BAMEE has implemented many projects in the field of resource efficiency and the circular economy.

The EREK editorial team asked Nikolay Sidjimov, Executive director of BAMEE, what the potentials of resource efficiency in Bulgaria are, as well as what is needed to tap them. Followed up questions focused on how the booming tourism sector in Bulgaria should address resource efficiency.

We are thrilled to count BAMEE as a member of EREK. For those who do not know BAMEE, could you describe its work and mission?

BAMEE’s mission is to enhance the environmental management systems in Bulgaria. In order to do so, we help municipalities increase their administrative capacity and develop better environmental services and more transparent environmental policies. In our daily activities, we organize different events, trainings and meetings that help us achieve these objectives. We provide consultancy and services both for municipalities and our members. In the provision of our services, we approach different aspects of waste management, energy efficiency, the utilization of waste water, and run small scale projects for biological waste treatment.

Waste management is a primary assignment for all Bulgarian municipalities, and so our main line of action and field of expertise is the sustainable handling of waste. Our work consists in helping municipalities implement the related policies in this area while ensuring the integration of environmental considerations. The municipal environmental experts of BAMEE have always considered waste as a valuable resource, and in the provision of our services we systematically integrate the principles of resource use maximisation, and of reduction and prevention of waste generation and pollution.

Adequate waste management practices are integral to achieving greater resource efficiency. All new waste management practices are proving this. New recycling schemes provide huge amounts of plastic, glass, metals and paper materials for secondary uses. Producer responsibility schemes contribute greatly to raw materials and energy savings. Source separation of bio-waste provides compost, options for energy production and eliminates the production of greenhouse gases (e.g. CO2 and methane) in landfills. All these options are regularly considered in the projects led by BAMEE experts.

BAMEE has promoted the uptake of better environmental practices for many years, and as such has witnessed different evolutions in Bulgaria. What are in your opinion the most pressing issues related to resource efficiency in Bulgaria? What are the untapped potentials?

Bulgaria has made some big improvements in the area of resource efficiency. Many investments were made to upgrade the existing industrial technology park and ensure the new park integrates efficiency at its core. Efforts were directed at reducing energy consumption, eliminating wastes, and minimising the use of raw materials. In the housing sector, major renovation and rehabilitation programs were implemented based on large energy efficiency audits. Important improvements were also achieved in water and waste water management. Some municipalities previously experienced water losses of more than 70% of the total. Thanks to new investments in water supply and drainage systems, these losses have been significantly reduced.

The next important steps to take are related to the utilisation of food and bio-wastes by Bulgarian municipalities. The Operational Program “Environment” envisages the development of three new large-scale bio-waste treatment facilities, and a lot of local compost facilities have already been established. Thanks to these investments, Bulgaria will not only comply with EU regulations and strategic goals but will also encourage waste valorisation and resource use maximisation, minimising methane gas emissions, producing energy and creating new jobs.

Food and bio-waste use are also closely linked to the tourism industry, a large producer of food and bio-waste. We already disseminate some good practices on the matter, such as the efficient circular scheme of Albena resort. This vast sea resort organises its own agricultural production of foods for its hotels, possesses an anaerobic digestion plant for bio-waste, utilizes the discharge of the digestion in its agricultural production, implements measures to reduce water consumption and plans to invest in the utilisation of waste water for irrigation.

Finally, an important topic in Bulgaria is the use of RDFs (Refuse Derived Fuels) produced from household wastes. At the moment all produced RDF in regional waste management systems are utilised in cement factories. A new project in Sofia involving RDFs is planning to provide energy, heat and electricity production. We strongly support that some key factors are in place before considering the use of RDF:

  • Effective recycling schemes;
  • Effective quality control on RDF;
  • Effective methods of utilisation, with all necessary cleaning technologies.

What is needed in Bulgaria to tap those resource efficiency potentials? (e.g. awareness, funding, knowledge/skills)

First of all, they should be considered a priority at the highest political level, that includes not only national targets but also important related aspects at local level. Despite the adoption of strategic documents at national level, some local leaders still regard resource efficiency as only buzz words, without envisaging the actual potentials that lay in carrying out the implementation of resource-efficiency-oriented policies. Fortunately, the trend is already positive, and new financial programs are stimulating this prospect.

The lack of financial capacity at municipal level is an important barrier to developing proper resource efficiency programmes. They require investments that often are not within the financial capacity of municipalities, and especially smaller municipalities. However, some innovative approaches, including public-private partnership could solve this problem.

We believe that using wise schemes for public-private-partnership, could bring a lot of opportunities to Bulgarian municipalities who cannot find the necessary funds to promote resource efficiency. Unfortunately, these schemes are still not properly developed in Bulgaria, and efforts should be made to explore the benefits they could bring. Opportunities could be foreseen in waste-, waste water- and fresh water management, developing ESCO (European Skills/Competences, qualifications and Occupations) schemes, or improving communication efforts on the benefits of resource efficiency in B2B (Business to Business) exchanges.

What have been the most successful ways implemented by BAMEE to help turn a municipality resource efficient?

In our years of work with municipalities, we have been able to identify several good practices. We found two driving forces of resource efficiency at municipal level:

  • On the one hand, the implementation by the municipality of resource efficient practices in its own public institutions – schools, hospitals, kinder-gardens, elderly houses,
  • And on the other hand, leveraging the responsibility of municipalities to create the right environment for businesses to innovate and remain competitive, and raising awareness on the way resource efficiency policies can help achieve the latter.

In our work, one particularly successful instrument was the use of a resource efficiency calculator (developed together with our long-term partners, the TIME foundation) in the municipality of Dobrich. Our colleagues there were very satisfied with the results of the service provided, and the information combined with the potentials identified gave them additional incentives to work further in the direction of resource efficiency.

Tourism is an important sector in Bulgaria, how can the sector become resource efficient, and why should it?

Once hotel owners realise that resource efficiency yields important financial savings, they will pay much more attention to it, and will start using measures and schemes that save them money along with helping preserve the environment! The environmental policies already being developed at European and national level support, and will continue to support, companies that go in the direction of resource efficiency. Contrariwise, business models that are not environmentally friendly will be increasingly constrained by these new rules and will gradually lose to their environmentally performing peers.

Unfortunately, and from our own personal experience with small and big hotels, many gaps in practices still exist – including lack of information, lack of trained and experienced personnel, and lack of awareness among hotels and other tourist business managers.

There is still a lot to do in this sector – potential for savings are vast.

You can find the available support pogrammes on resource efficiency in Bulgaria on the EREK support programme database. The EREK Self-assement tool also specifically addresses how to tap resource efficiency potentials in Hotels and restaurants, make sure you check it out. It provides tailored tips on becoming resource efficient, and examples of those companies who are already there!

You can read more on BAMEE here.