Waste management in Estonia: what you need to know about waste sorting rules

Do I have to sort my household waste in some way, how to do it and where to take it?  We have compiled an overview of how you should handle waste at home when living in Estonia.

Waste management in Estonia has been made relatively simple, sorting and recycling is easy, but you still need to know what to take where because sorting and disposing of waste properly helps reduce the environmental risks resulting from waste.  It is very important to understand that dumping waste in natural spaces is prohibited, and it is also extremely wrong and dangerous to burn waste in a furnace or bonfire.

In order to prevent our environment from being engulfed by waste and to save natural resources, one should try to make as much effort as possible to prevent waste generation and also gather and recycle the waste one does generate in an environmentally friendly manner. Although preventing waste generation is the most effective way to preserve the environment, it is not always easy. Whether you buy food or other things in a store or have food delivered home, packaging waste is generated on every step.

What to do with packaging?

Rather convenient opportunities for gathering sorted waste have been created in Estonia, and most of household waste can be disposed of without you paying a fee.  Taking your waste somewhere for recycling may seem slightly complicated at first, but it is in fact simple because most of our waste comprises packaging that can be submitted for recycling free of charge. If you separate any packaging from the rest of your household waste and take it to special packaging containers, you will significantly reduce the amount of your household waste, which is transported at the highest cost.

But where do you take packaging waste? There is one extremely useful web page, It is a map application which allows you to see where you can take waste packaging and also such unnecessary items as old clothes, electric appliances, furniture, or kitchenware as well as recyclable waste: containers, paper, packaging, construction waste, etc. The web page is easily usable in Estonian, English and Russian.

A number of apartment buildings provide separate garbage containers for packaging. Detached house owners in several municipalities, too, can order regular packaging waste removal, which is a free service.

Collecting waste packaging at home is not rocket science. Just make sure the packaging container is completely empty and more or less clean. You do not have to wash it thoroughly with dish soap: just a quick rinse is generally enough.

Compost your biodegradable waste!

Cooking generates biodegradable waste, so what should you do with it? Apartment blocks usually have containers for biodegradable waste. The best way to sort it is to gather food waste in a separate bin and empty it directly into the biowaste container. You can also use a biodegradable bag to line your biodegradable waste bin at home. Biodegradable waste can be processed for making compost or biogas.

If you start sorting daily household waste, removing biodegradable waste and packaging, you will notice there is quite little left which cannot be recycled. What you can throw away as household waste is the packaging that could not be cleaned, old shoes and clothes worn to rags, disposable tableware and foam plastic food containers, diapers, cat litter and some other random things that we do not exactly throw away every day.

Clean and usable clothes, shoes and other items can be donated to the chain of stores Uuskasutuskeskus. (Estonian for ‘Re-Use Centre’). Humana also collects used clothes for further recycling.

The Ministry of the Environment has devised some useful materials with guidelines on waste sorting. For example, you will find the ‘Wheel of waste’ here: