“The city has only one functioning landfill, which is only suitable for household waste, not construction scrap,” maintains 45-year-old Gevorg Petrosyan, a social worker who has been involved in environmental advocacy for 15 years. “Also, residents can remove walls and roofs, for example, but cannot get completely rid of harmful substances, which remain behind, polluting the environment and posing threats to people’s health.”
These materials include asbestos and mineral wool which are both widely used for insulating buildings, making roofing shingles. A naturally occurring fiber which is mined, asbestos is a silicate mineral composed of long and thin fibrous crystals whose tensile strength and poor heat conduction make it the material of choice for insulation. Mineral wool is a man-made material made from molten glass, stone or industrial waste that is spun into a fibre-like structure. Both material can be released in the atmosphere by abrasion with long-term effects on people’s health - asbestos is known to be carcinogenic and exposure to the material can cause cancer in the lungs, larynx, and ovaries.
Waste management, including regulations for specific refuse, is a dire issue and Armenia is no exception. It is estimated that just five to seven percent of waste is sorted across the country.
“The current legislation sets that construction waste should be first sorted, which means that it should be determined on site what can be reused, and which waste materials should be transported to landfill,” details Harutyun Alpetyan, 39, a circular economy expert at the Yerevan-based Acopian Center for the Environment.
Alpetyan agrees that trained experts are needed to find a solution to remove construction waste due to its harmful substances. “Problems have been piling up for years, now the authorities are trying to solve them,” he adds.
In May 2019 the government announced the establishment of an ad-hoc task force to coordinate waste recycling activities. The first phase of the programme entails the study the quantity and composition of municipal solid trash, including the classification of construction and demolition industrial, electrical and electronic, agricultural, medical, and automotive waste by region and communities.
The study would be used to assess projects and investments in waste collection, recycling, soil remediation possibilities, and energy recovery.
At the local level something is already happening. Vahan Tumasyan heads the Shirak Centre, an NGO working to provide housing solutions for homeless people. A team of about ten people, mostly volunteers, demolish the shelters of the families the organisation manages to accommodate in regular houses. The centre has found housing for 160 families and demolished the same number of shelters since 2007.