Together with representatives from the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Lithuania, the Vilnius Regional Waste Management Centre, the municipalities of Vilnius City, Vilnius District, and Elektrenai, as well as the Ukmerge Bus Park, we visited Lidköping in Sweden. Here, food waste has been sorted into separate bags since 2012. Over more than a decade, the Swedes have managed to get residents to separate about 60% of all generated food and green waste into separate bags.

“In Scandinavia, there is already a deeply ingrained culture of sorting food and other waste. However, it is important to understand that the Swedes achieved this result not in a few months, but over many years of consistent work and the creation of new habits. They employed multiple annual advertising campaigns, journalists, politicians, and public figures who encouraged people to separate food waste into special green bags – and only after a decade did they achieve positive results. In Lithuania, we still face expectations that the desired results should be achieved quickly and without much effort,” notes Algirdas Blazgys, CEO of Energesman.

In Lidköping, which we visited, food waste has been sorted into separate bags for 12 years and will continue to be so for another two years. As residents have learned to properly separate waste with minimal contamination, from 2026, the city will start using a separate container system. Food and kitchen waste will continue to be placed in special bags and then into these containers.

Residents of the Vilnius region have been sorting food waste for half a year, as required by the EU directive that came into effect at the beginning of the year. We are continuously improving our processes and seeking innovative solutions to manage this waste.

The example of Sweden shows us that the process of forming new habits is long and challenging. However, by consistently moving towards our goal, we can achieve similar or even better results in the future.

Since the beginning of this year, Energesman plant has been receiving and separately processing food waste delivered from across the Vilnius region: Vilnius City and District, Trakai, Elektrenai, Ukmerge, Salcininkai, Sirvintos, and Svencionys municipalities.

We have been named a TOP company in Lithuania for business stability and reliability by the country’s largest business data manager, Rekvizitai.lt.

Each year, Rekvizitai.lt, part of the Verslo zinios group, compiles a list of top companies. This list includes companies that conduct transparent business, uphold financial reputation, competitiveness, responsibility, and respect for their business environment. This year, our company has received this recognition.

“We are delighted to be recognised as a top company for the first time in our operational history. Our business is built on responsibility. We strive for sustainable and long-term relationships with our partners, clients, and employees. We understand our impact on the environment, and therefore, we continuously invest in new technologies to become more innovative and ensure business success,” says Algirdas Blazgys, CEO of our factory.

We have invested EUR 10 million under the company’s investment programme. This consists of three main parts: equipment for SRF product manufacturing, glass sorting equipment that will increase glass sorting capacity to 11,000 tonnes per year, and innovative food processing technology using insect larvae. These larvae will later be used to produce industrial proteins, biofuel, and fertilisers.

Not all companies meet the criteria

According to Marijus Morkevicius, Director of UAB Rekvizitai, which operates Rekvizitai.lt, only 6% of companies in Lithuania meet these high standards.

“It is likely that these companies will remain stable in the future and will be able to fulfil their financial obligations,” states the award certificate.

The Rekvizitai.lt website notes that top companies are profitable businesses that create long-term value and lay a solid economic foundation for the Lithuanian state. They are recommended as promising and economically stable companies with which one can expect successful and sustainable cooperation.

Selection criteria

To achieve this recognition, companies must meet stringent requirements. Selection criteria include being profitable, established for at least two years, timely in submitting financial reports, and having revenue that has grown, remained stable, or not significantly decreased over the last two years.

Additionally, the number of employees must be no less than three, with a stable or growing average. It is essential that companies are not listed in various debtor and obligation fulfilment registers and have not had significant or long-term debts to the State Social Insurance Fund Board (Sodra) in the last year. The average salary paid to employees must also be considered – in the first half of 2023, it had to be more than EUR 950.

For eight years, our factory has been sorting and processing mixed municipal waste brought from across the Vilnius County, which includes eight municipalities: Vilnius City, Vilnius District, Trakai, Elektrenai, Ukmerge, Svencionys, Salcininkai, and Sirvintos districts. This year, we have also begun to separate and process food waste from the Vilnius region. Annually, we sort about 220,000 tonnes of waste.

Algirdas Blazgys, Director of Energesman UAB

Residents have been sorting food waste for four months now. In the Vilnius region, they separate it into orange bags, which they then place in mixed waste containers. During this period, numerous ideas and proposals have been put forward on how to improve food waste sorting – composting food waste at special accessible sites for residents, replacing plastic orange bags with paper ones, or using separate underground containers specifically for food waste.

Let’s explore the benefits and drawbacks of these alternatives. Perhaps it will become clear that the current system is a convenient, effective, and environmentally friendly choice?

Composting at home

Composting food waste at home is certainly a good solution. We have examples from other European Union countries that do this. It wouldn’t be an issue in Lithuania if individual houses and cottages predominated in Vilnius and other cities in the region, allowing us to compost food and green waste in our yards with compost bins. Indeed, many residents of individual houses and cottages already do this.

However, we are predominantly an urban area with many apartment buildings, and we don’t have enough space for communal composting sites. Would residents really be pleased if we installed compost bins in already cramped apartment courtyards? And these bins would emit unpleasant odors. Who would maintain them – the residents themselves or the municipalities?

I highly doubt that residents would support such a solution, and such improvements would not be welcomed by tourists or the municipalities themselves.

Paper bags

Another proposed alternative is paper bags. This sounds appealing – they would compost along with the waste and be a sustainable choice.

But what thickness of paper would be required to prevent them from disintegrating from moist peelings or liquid dinner leftovers, causing sorted food waste to end up back in the mixed waste stream? What would be the point of sorting then?

Unfortunately, paper bags are not currently a more sustainable choice than plastic ones. Studies show that the production of one paper bag from non-recycled paper leaves a carbon footprint of 40-100 g of CO2. The carbon footprint of producing a polyethylene bag is 4-5 times smaller, at 10-20 g.

Yes, a paper bag looks nicer, but its production causes more pollution and destroys trees. Should we really destroy natural resources for aesthetically pleasing food waste sorting? I think this is certainly not a priority for our planet.

Separate containers

Finally, many believe that separate containers for food waste are the best solution. After all, Vilnius has already installed some separate underground containers. Why couldn’t we use them and expand the network? This would be the most expensive, least convenient for residents, and environmentally unfriendly choice.

Firstly, separate trucks would be needed to service separate containers. Once residents are accustomed to sorting food waste, approximately 70,000 tonnes of biodegradable waste will be generated annually in the Vilnius region. Only about a third, or 20-30,000 tonnes, will be purely kitchen waste, which residents would dispose of in the containers.

One waste collection truck, which can carry about one tonne of such waste, emits 9.5 kg of CO2. To transport all the biodegradable waste, approximately 665,000 kg of CO2 would be emitted annually. Even if the trucks were electric, they wouldn’t improve the situation in another aspect – they would regularly drive through the city, and Vilnius already suffers from significant traffic congestion.

Each additional vehicle means even more traffic jams and more time spent by residents in traffic, as well as increased air pollution. I’m sure no resident or politician responsible for implementing the EU Green Deal wants this.

Moreover, it wouldn’t be possible to install additional containers for food sorting everywhere due to space constraints, for example, in the old town. This would also be the most expensive solution, requiring millions in investments for container installation, more trucks, and more staff for their maintenance. And, of course, residents would ultimately have to pay for this – collection would cost an additional €12 million per year, which is about €15 per resident.

Residents running with buckets

The biggest downside of this sorting model is the inconvenience to residents. Imagine having to dispose of waste in such a container without any bag. What would be the point of sorting in a separate container if we still use bags?

This would mean residents would have to remember the Soviet times when we carried waste in a bucket and emptied it into the waste truck without any bags – because they simply didn’t exist back then. Would this really be convenient? Where would residents wash the waste-stained bucket – in their shower? I doubt many would like that.

The most likely result would be that this would discourage residents from sorting food waste. Such waste disposal is completely incompatible with the modern lifestyle, where we usually take out the rubbish on the way somewhere – before going to work, walking the dog, or going to the store. How many of us would want to return to the flat to put away the bucket, especially a dirty one?

I am sure that in this case, only the most enthusiastic would sort food waste, and most of it would end up in the mixed waste stream again, as it did before the introduction of orange bags.

Orange bags

There have been concerns about plastic bags ending up in landfills or being incinerated. It’s important to emphasize that sorting the bags and returning them for recycling is not difficult and is being done.

Used and sorted orange bags are fully recyclable, and there are several technological solutions for this. Recently, we conducted real tests with our orange bags filled with up to 4.5 kg of residents’ waste. We achieved excellent results – automated equipment correctly sorted 100% of the bags with food waste. This means not a single orange bag will end up in a landfill or among incinerated waste.

Finally, questions arise about the durability of orange bags. On average, 2% of bags burst during transport, and this number never exceeds 10%. The bags withstand the journey to the waste sorting plant when only food waste is placed in them. If residents throw a glass oil bottle into the orange bag, thinking it’s food waste because the bottle is smeared with oil and contained food, then yes – there’s a high chance the glass will break during transport, and the bag will burst. So, it’s all in our hands.

Currently, the orange bag system operating in the Vilnius region is designed for people, for their convenience, but also with rational thinking on how to achieve results effectively without increasing the negative impact on the environment. It is said that the devil is in the details, and there are indeed many in this puzzle. Therefore, I invite you to delve into them to manage waste responsibly and make the best decisions.