How waste management works in Romania

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Romania is one of the countries with lowest performance on waste management in the EU.  

Romania generates between 5 and 5.5 million tons of municipal waste annually, and waste generation has increased about 10 percent over the past five years. This corresponds to 280 kg/cap in 2019, clearly below the EU average of 502 kg/cap. The country still relies heavily on landfilling, even more than five years ago. For Romania, the recycling rate is 11,5 % in 2019, which is 43,5 percentage points lower than the 55% recycling target for 2025. Romania does not yet have a PAYT system in place and separate collection at the source is not a pattern for Romanians. The country does not have compost regulations in place, thus most of its municipal waste ends up in landfills.

Integrated waste management systems (SMIDs)

Romania is divided into territorial administrative units (UAT), which include counties, cities, and communes.

The country has a total of 41 counties (Romanian: județe), which along with the municipality of Bucharest, constitute the country’s official administrative divisions. They represent the country’s Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics – Level 3 (NUTS-3) statistical subdivisions within the European Union and each of them serves as the local level of government within its borders.

A prefect represents the national government in each county. The prefect and his/her administration have executive powers within the county limits, while limited legislative powers are assigned to a County Council elected every four years during local elections. The territorial districts of the Romanian judicial system overlap with county borders, thus avoiding further complication in the separation of powers on the government.[1]

  Territorial Administrative Units (UAT) Classification[2]        Quantity
Municipalities (including the Municipality of Bucharest)103
Sectors of Bucharest Municipality6
Total UATs and sectors  322

Intercommunity development associations (IDAs) are forms of association that localities and counties were formed in 2009, to access EU environmental funds. Separately, building a water-sewage network for a commune or modernizing the utility system of a small town were such small projects to the EC that they could not get EU funding.  Thus, mayors came together to establish IDAs to get EU funding.

As per a guide produced by the Ministry of Interior, the territorial administrative units have the right to collaborate and cooperate in order to jointly carry out development projects of zonal or regional interest or to jointly provide public services by establishing inter-community development associations[3].  In 2015, Romania had 391 IDAs at the national level.[4]

The Federation of Intercommunity Development Associations (FADI) has as “Object of Activity, Integrated Waste Management,” which was established for the purpose of cooperation and institutional development in the field of waste in Romania. [5] FADI represents all of the IDAs on waste issues, with common objectives and deadlines.  FADI also serves as a forum for information exchange and shared logistics.

All countries must have Waste Management Plan in place to join the EU. Romania developed a waste management plan for this purpose in 2006. This plan, written based on 2006 conditions, was used as a basis to develop regional plans.

More than 1 billion euros were collected for the commissioning of Integrated Waste Management Systems both from European funds contracted in the period 2007-2013 (PHARE programs, ISPA – Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession) and in the period 2014-2020 (Sectoral Operational Program – SOP for the Environment).

The Integrated Waste Management System (SMID) is a set of processes and operators that cover the territory of a county, through which municipal waste is collected, transported, sorted, treated or stored ecologically, according to EU rules.

At the time the management plans for SMIDs were developed, SMIDs were seen as revolutionary projects that would align Romania with minimum sanitation standards and open a new stage in waste management in Romania (in 2006 in Romania, many localities did not have access to waste sanitation services and recycling or recovery projects were very few).

Unfortunately, although these projects were supposed to be functional by 2013, after 8 years and 2 rounds of financing, most of them are still not functional for reasons ranging from lack of desire to make them functional, procedural delays in procurement procedures, or sometimes lack of administrative capacity on the part of the public authorities who have to administer them.

Of the 42 counties (including the city of Bucharest), 34 counties benefited from funding through programs within the Ministry of European Funds for the implementation of SMID projects. At the end of 2020 the situation was as follows[6]:

  • In 16 counties, SMIDs are functional: facilities have been built and contracts have been concluded for the operation of the facilities. Argeș, Bacău, Bistrița-Năsăud, Călărași, Covasna, Giurgiu, Hunedoara, Mureș, Neamț, Olt, Sălaj, Sibiu, Teleorman, Timiș, Tulcea, and Vaslui counties are in this category.
  • In 10 counties, the SMIDs are partially functional: not all the facilities can be used for a variety of reasons including renovations, environmental permits not requested, = tenders for designating operators have not been completed. Arad, Bihor, Botosani, Caras-Severin, Cluj, Dolj, Iasi, Mehedinti, Prahova and Suceava counties are in this category.
  • In counties the SMIDs are non-functional, for a variety of reasons including incomplete tender process, commissioning order for the installations not issued by the County Council, and contracts not signed with installation operators. Alba, Braila, Constanta, Harghita, Maramures and Vrancea counties are in this category.
  • In two counties, the SMIDs are in the project (design) stage
  • Seven counties (Brasov, Buzau, Dambovita, Gorj, Ialomita, Ilfov and Satu Mare) and Bucharest municipality did not receive funds for SMID projects; these areas have facilities for municipal waste management, as follows:
    • By private sector operators using their own funds
    • Through the ISPA and Phare project
    • UATs can receive national funds

Currently, some of these seven SMIDs require additional funding to become functional. For example, some treatment plants need require upgrades to become functional. The functional SMIDs carry out sorting and treatment to recycle, capitalize on energy, and reduce the quantities of waste stored. Ninety percent of the operational SMIDs have, in addition to compliant landfills, sorting and mechanical-biological treatment facilities and composting stations (open or closed). SMIDs are an essential step not only for improving waste management at the national level but also for starting the process of transition to CE. Without ensuring the functionality of SMIDs, the transition to CE will be much more difficult.


Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norawy – Active citizens fund – logo

Projekt „Rady na odpady” finansowany przez Islandię, Liechtenstein i Norwegię z Funduszy EOG w ramach Programu Aktywni Obywatele – Fundusz Regionalny

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