Stench, fire, flies & rats – billions of forints disappearing from waste facility near Balatonfűzfő

After one hot summer day, residents of Balatonfűzfő would open their windows to ventilate their homes, but instead of the cool, fresh air, they only feel a stench of rotten garbage. Having an evening barbecue in the garden or eating dinner on the balcony has become impossible. Beside the smell, the area is infested with flies and rats. The root of the problems is the waste disposal facility nearby.

The facility in Királyszentistván, the village next to Balatonfűzfő started operating in 2011. The waste depository was built from a large, regional EU-funded project, and cost ca. 26 million euros. The owner of the facility is a consortium of 158 local governments of the North Balaton region (Észak-Balatoni Térség Regionális Települési Szilárdhulladék-kezelési Önkormányzati Társulás). This consortium was founded in 2005, with the aim of jointly operate and develop the waste management system of the whole region. The waste management facility in Királyszentistván is also part of the regional system.

The facility is operated and maintained by another company (Észak-Balatoni Hulladékgazdálkodási Nonprofit Kft.) formed by six companies of Veszprém, Ajka, Balatonfüred, Balatonalmádi, Tapolca and Pápa municipalities. Before merging as one public service provider, these six municipal companies collected and managed the waste in their towns and surroundings.

What is managed and disposed in Királyszentistván?

Household waste is collected in 158 towns of the region. Paper, plastic, metal and glass is collected separately and is handed over to special waste management companies. Mixed domestic waste as well as green waste from gardens, however, lands in the Királyszentistván facility (under normal operation). There, plastic, metal and paper is separated from the waste, and is sold to specific waste companies, power plants and cement factories. All other types of waste goes to disposal, thus, the Királyszentistván waste facility operates as a landfill site as well.

Residents of the neighbouring villages begun to complain about the bad smell a few years after the facility had started its operation. The stench can usually be smelled in the early and the late hours of the day. In 2017, the Municipality of Balatonfűzfő commissioned an analysis to determine the sources and causes of the smell. Fourteen different facilities in the area (e.g. a wastewater treatment plant, a livestock farm, a waste incineration plant) were examined as potential sources. During the investigation, however, all other facilities were excluded, and the Királyszentistván waste management facility was unequivocally identified as the source of the bad smell. The experts could often smell the stench even from a 3-5 km distance.

The main cause of the problem is the geographic location of the site. The prevailing wind direction in the area is north-easterly or northerly, therefore, it usually blows in the direction of the Lake Balaton and Balatonfűzfő. The situation is worsened by the so called temperature inversion: a reversal of the normal behaviour of temperature, in which a layer of cool air at the surface is overlain by a layer of warmer air. This phenomenon is basically caused by the cool surface of the Lake Balaton. Since the waste management site lies higher, the smell is drawn down to the cooler air layers, being trapped close to the ground.

Besides the unfortunate location of the facility, the management of waste is reported to be of poor quality, machines are run down, proper maintenance and replacement of the equipment is not ensured, filters are inefficient, the waste treatment halls are not covered and closed. In 2019, the waste stored in Királyszentistván caught fire three times, in March, June and August, covering the surroundings with thick black smoke, nail and soot. According to our information, the fire was caused by auto-ignition, which usually indicates the high content of organic waste (that mustn’t go to landfill from 2024 on, as required by the relevant EU regulation.)

How about the authorities?

During the recent years, hundreds of complaints, formal and informal letters as well as forums took place, however, the responsible Authority (Government Office of Veszprém County) has so far been unable to enforce a real solution. In the contrary, in 2017 the Authority issued a renewed environmental license valid until 2026, despite the fact that the complaints of residents and the problems around the waste facility were well-known by then. In 2019, a modification procedure was launched related to the above mentioned license, and the Authority again made the decision to grant permission to operate the facility, until a prolonged date of 2031.

The Mayor of Balatonfűzfő has appealed against the decision in September 2019, presenting several objections in his appeal.

A group of local people in Balatonfűzfő has also been very active in this issue, and this year they founded an association with their most important aim to close down the waste disposal site in Királyszentistván as soon as possible. The severe fire in August 2019 sparked anger among the residents, especially as they found out that the Authority had not carried out any proper measurements to determine whether the air contained any poisonous materials due to the fire. Local citizens organized a 28-day road blockade and demonstration at one of the major, busiest roads in the area. Due to their action, negotiations have started among the stakeholders, including local residents.

Billions of forints disappearing

It seems that the facility is rather underfinanced, lacking funds to the adequate management and development. It is interesting why this is the case. The chart below shows, that until 2015, the waste collection and management system of the region was fulfilled with a yearly income of ca. 1 billion HUF of the managing company. From 2016 on, though, it seems to be more and more expensive to manage the same regional system: in 2018, the annual income of the management company increased to more than 4 billion HUF. Interestingly, the company is still making slight losses, despite the constantly growing income.

Parallel, remarkably high amounts of money are streaming out from the company, and are subcontracted to unknown recipients. These money-flows also begun to rise in 2016, and grew from 490 million HUF in 2015 to 2,4 billion HUF in 2018. Unfortunately we did not receive any information regarding the beneficiaries, so we submitted a freedom of information request in which we asked for the list of subcontractors.

Written by Orsolya Fülöp. You can read the more detailed Hungarian version of this article here.