Why is Lithuania failing to do away with outdoor toilets?

The European Union requires that the vast majority of people living in settlements of at least 2,000 people be connected to a centralised sewage system. In Lithuania, only around half of the country’s 60 municipalities have reached this goal. 

In 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Lithuania over the failure to implement the requirement to do away with outdoor toilets. If the issue is not addressed in time, Lithuania faces millions of euros in fines.

Different opinions

Marija moved to her home in Opšrūtai village in the district of Vilkaviškis four years ago. The house had no sewage system at the time.

“There was a simple outdoor toilet. We installed the treatment plant so that we wouldn’t have to use the outside toilet, which is unhygienic. We did that before the compensations were offered,” she told the LRT RADIO.

But according to the woman, most of her neighbours still use the outdoor toilets.

“There are outside toilets in almost every homestead. The old homesteads all have outside toilets, even if there is a toilet in the house,” Marija says, adding that most people continue to use outdoor toilets to save money.

Outdoor toilet (associative image)

Mindaugas, another resident of Opšrūtai village, says that it takes “an awful lot of money” to do away with outdoor toilets, while the municipality reimburses only part of the costs. This makes it especially difficult for the elderly.

“Not a problem,” he says about the outside toilets. “A bunny is also pooing in the forest, so what’s the problem? It’s just a waste of money.”

Just over 200 people live in Opšrūtai, so the EC requirement does not apply here. However, the Vilkaviškis District Municipality is trying to solve the problem district-wide.

“This is a problem, as in the whole of Lithuania, but our municipal council has made a decision and is supporting the installation of individual treatment plants. We started this last year and continue this year. The municipality is contributing 1,200 euros,” says Vitas Gavėnas, director of the Vilkaviškis District Municipality Administration.

Last year, 27 applications were submitted for the installation of treatment plants in the district, 24 of which were successful. This year, 92 applications have already been submitted.

“Another thing is that the new financial period has now started, and it includes the installation of wastewater management and wastewater facilities through the regional development programme,” Gavėnas said.

“For our municipality, the approximate amount is somewhere between 10 and 12 million euros, but the municipality will have to contribute half of that. There are towns, from 200 to 2,000 inhabitants, where mainly wastewater system will be installed because sewage is already available almost everywhere,” he added.

Wastewater (associative image)

According to him, the number of applications has increased because the Environment Ministry has simplified the requirements. But Gavėnas admits that the process is still complicated for older people.

“Knowing that there are elderly people in the villages, they are probably not able to prepare [the applications]. And it is still expensive – it still costs around 3,000 euros, maybe more, to instal,” the municipal administration director noted.

In the Kretinga district, which has around 38,000 inhabitants, around 11,000 subscriptions are connected to the centralised sewage system. Mayor Antanas Kalnius says that the situation in the district is good, but it will never be possible to eliminate outdoor toilets completely.

“There are still individual outside toilets in the district. Fines can be imposed, but the outside toilets will always remain because the municipality alone will never be able to bring wastewater system to every single village,” he explained.

Kretinga District Municipality also reimburses part of the costs for residents who want to install a wastewater treatment plant but cannot connect to the centralised sewage system.

“You can get 50 percent of the money back. This is for new construction or those not older than five years. There are certain nuances here. We, the municipality, are not in a position to provide it fully,” Kalnius said. “We know the problem, we know the desire, but, quite simply, the budget is such that we cannot allocate more.”

Infringement procedures

There is no data on the number of outdoor toilets in Lithuania, says Irmantas Valūnas, a representative of the Pollution Prevention Policy Group of the Environment Ministry. According to him, about 23 percent of the country’s population manages wastewater individually.

In his words, outdoor toilets themselves are not the problem. The most important thing is that wastewater is managed properly.

Village (associative image)

The Environment Ministry says there is support for municipalities to connect to and develop centralised sewage systems, but individual wastewater treatment plants are not reimbursed by the state.

Valūnas also notes that the Wastewater Management Information System started operating this year. The data collected will be used for reporting to the European Commission. The system should lead to a reduction in the number of cases of inadequate wastewater management, the ministry hopes.

The EU’s Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive stipulates that all cities and towns with more than 2,000 inhabitants should have sewage systems. In other words, all outdoor toilets must be converted and connected to the central sewerage system, Marius Vaščega, head of the European Commission Representation in Lithuania, explains.

“Outdoor toilets are a thing of the past, and by the 21st century, we should have sorted them out, and all the inhabitants should have access to proper urban sewage systems,” he said.

“In 2017, the European Commission launched an infringement procedure, asking Lithuania to provide information on how it is implementing this EU law. Following Lithuania’s reply, a second phase was launched in 2019 with a so-called reasoned opinion. Since then, there has been active work with Lithuania to put the infringement in order,” he explained, adding that the EC would like to avoid fining Lithuania over outside toilets.

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