WPA Visits Sweden
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AUA Acopian Center’s WPA Program Organizes Visit to Sweden 

4 min read

GÄVLE, Sweden From June 11-13, the Sweden-funded Waste Policy Armenia (WPA) program of the American University of Armenia’s (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment organized a study visit to Gävle, Sweden to explore the country’s long-standing experience in waste management, gain insights into implementing sustainable practices in Armenia, and build sector capacity.

Key delegation members included Ani Hakobyan, spokesperson for the Republic of Armenia (RA) Ministry of Environment (MoE); Vahan Potosyan, senior waste management expert from the RA Ministry of Territorial Administration and Infrastructure (MTAI); Davit Torosyan, head of Sevan Municipality Development Programs and Tourism Department; Armine Ghukasyan, staff secretary at Sevan Municipality; and Sergey Hambardzmyan, director of Kotayk and Gegharkunik Solid Waste Management, LLC. WPA representatives included Harutyun Alpetyan, waste governance expert, program manager, and lecturer at the Acopian Center; Vartouhi Yesssaian, program coordinator; and Arpine Haroyan, program communications expert.

WPA is a four-year program that aims to achieve three main objectives: (1) to support the RA MoE in developing and adopting an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system based on European Union best practices; (2) to support the RA MTAI in the development of a national model for source separation of solid waste and introduce it as a system in the town of Sevan and other target municipalities; and (3) to build sector capacity for scaling up the achieved program results. 

The study visit was hosted by Gästrike Återvinnare, an association responsible for waste management in five Swedish municipalities. Known for its successful practices of introducing new waste management services and public communication campaigns, Gästrike Återvinnare regularly hosts study groups to showcase Sweden’s advancements in waste management.

During the three-day visit, the WPA delegation explored various sustainable waste management practices in the city of Gävle and its surroundings. The delegation visited the Gästrike office to see the daily coordination of services and observed waste handling operations at sorted waste collection centers, recycling sites, and a modern sanitary landfill. They also visited a biogas plant, where food and garden waste are treated to produce fertilizer and biogas for local public transportation. “Our goal with this study trip to Sweden was to expose relevant stakeholders to exemplary waste management practices and provide insights on the ways those could be introduced in Armenia,” said Alpetyan, WPA program manager.

“While each country and municipality has to figure out its own solution to waste management,” continued Alpetyan, “understanding the conditions that make certain practices work well is crucial.” He added: “Armenia is undergoing waste management reforms, particularly with the introduction of the EPR policy and waste source separation models under the Waste Policy Armenia Program. Understanding different approaches is crucial for identifying the most sustainable methods for our country.”

The visit also featured work sessions on various aspects of waste management, which covered topics such as the real cost of services and their affordability for different economies, taxation and sector-specific policies, and efficient enforcement of regulations.

Alpetyan explained that over the past 50 years, Sweden has revolutionized waste management into a highly efficient system by reshaping public attitudes and behaviors. This transformation begins with a simple act of sorting waste at the source. But citizen behavior alone cannot realize the desired goal. He added that Sweden has gone through tough policy reforms, introducing a high landfilling tax that made any other treatment of waste financially more attractive. 

“Landfilling one ton of municipal waste would cost the operator more than 150 euros, which is incomparable with the 0.15 euros charged in Armenia. Another crucial element in sustaining this system is the high waste management fees paid by the public, which ensure the system’s ongoing effectiveness and success. On the other hand, a well-functioning EPR system shifts some of the burden of managing certain types of waste from municipalities to the private sector. The challenge for Armenian policy makers is to come up with socially affordable solutions that sustainably ensure higher standard service provision in the longer run,” Alpetyan explained.

The delegation from Armenia also explored various communication efforts regarding waste management and its reforms. Public awareness of the benefits and challenges associated with new services is essential. In this regard, the delegation had a chance to explore the ongoing reforms in source separation practices in the city of Gävle and Sweden in general. They observed new recycling initiatives in residential areas and learned about effective communication strategies to engage the public — a vital aspect of the “Sevan Waste Sorting” project, part of WPA Component 2, which aims to introduce a source separation system in the town of Sevan. This includes equipping Sevan Municipality with sorting bins and a dedicated collection truck, organizing public awareness campaigns, and conducting staff training programs.

Reflecting on Sweden’s approach, Ghukasyan said: “‘It is better to see once than to hear a thousand times.’ This saying perfectly encapsulates Sweden’s evolution from routine waste collection to a culture of waste management. This transformation starts with awareness and communication campaigns. Gaining insights into various approaches will greatly inform our efforts in Sevan.” 

The study visit further strengthened relations between the representatives of the agencies and units responsible for waste governance in Armenia, namely the MoE and MTAI, as Hakobyan noted: “Our visit contributed to aligning our approach within different components of the WPA program, including the implementation of the EPR policy in the country. Sorting waste at the source is crucial for the success of EPR, and I want to particularly highlight that exploring different communication techniques with the public has provided valuable insights.”

The AUA Acopian Center for the Environment, a research center of the American University of Armenia (AUA), promotes the protection and restoration of the natural environment through research, education, and community outreach. The AUA Acopian Center’s focus areas include sustainable natural resource management, biodiversity protection and conservation, greening the built environment, sustainable energy, as well as information technology and the environment. Visit