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The Albanian government on Tuesday argued in the Constitutional Court that a referendum on a banning imports of trash would only flood the country with yet more hazardous waste.
Activists united under an umbrella called the Alliance Against Waste Imports, AKIP, have collected 64,000 signatures seeking a referendum that would delete two articles of a waste management law that allow for the import of 25 waste materials.
But the Deputy Minister of Environment, Taulant Binaj, who represented the government in front of the judges, claimed that scrapping articles 49 and 22/3 of the law would, in fact, liberalize imports and allow all kinds of waste to be imported.
“Instead of banning waste imports of 25 non hazardous materials… it would lead to total liberalization and allows the import of 550 dangerous wastes,” Bino said after the court hearing.
Andi Kananaj, a lawyer for the Res Publica center, representing AKIP in the case, said the government's position is that the referendum request would create a legal vacuum, arguing that the two articles are essential to the whole law.
According to Kananaj, the other question was whether the referendum request would meet his aim and the express the will of most voters to ban waste imports.
“We tried to explain to the court that by annulling the two articles, it was enough to ban imports, because the authority that grants the licenses and the procedure is then annulled,” Kananaj told Balkan Insight.
“But the government is trying to play on semantics and play logic games to block the referendum,” he added.
Kananaj also expressed skepticism about the impartiality of the constitutional court panel.
“All the time they seemed to be... filling the gaps... in the arguments presented by the government,” he concluded.
If the request is approved, it will be the first referendum in Albania’s history called by voters.
The only two referendums held since the collapse of the Communist regime of former dictator Enver Hoxha in 1991 were on approving the constitution.
In total, nine companies have requested waste import licenses from the Ministry of Environment since 2011.
The ministry has approved requests to import 692,200 tons of waste annually, mostly aluminum scrap, rubber, plastic and old cars.
The import quotas represent 92 per cent of the total installed capacity of the industry.
The government maintains that waste imports are necessary to keep Albania’s recycling industry afloat until the management, collection and recycling of local trash is improved.
However, AKIP argues that by allowing in such imports Albania risks turning itself into the garbage can of Europe.
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