* Environmentalists want waste import law scrapped
* Prime minister says legislation will make Albania cleaner
By Benet Koleka
TIRANA, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Several thousand Albanians protested in the capital on Saturday to demand Prime Minister Edi Rama scrap a law allowing waste imports for recycling that has revived fears the country could become Europe’s refuse dump.
Rama angered environmentalists last week by reinstating the legislation in a bid to prop up the country’s flagging recycling industry just three years after he repealed a similar law proposed by the previous government soon after coming to power.
Environmental activists say the law will let wealthy neighbouring countries such as Italy send dangerous and polluting waste to be destroyed in Albania, one of Europe’s poorest nations.
Walking behind a poster saying “Enough with our own garbage”, protesters waved red cards at Rama’s office and threw black rubbish sacks with his photo printed on them. Others had sprayed the names of Rama and other government ministers on bins throughout the capital, Tirana.
“We want the law scrapped because it has devious loopholes that allow imports of waste, such as to generate electricity from burning garbage,” Lavdosh Ferruni, an environmentalist told Reuters. “This inevitably leads to more pollution.”
Another protester accused Rama of betraying his own vision of a “renaissance” for Albania.
Rama has defended the law, which passed parliament with a wafer-thin majority, stressing that imported waste of plastic, paper and wood will be recycled and that incineration and landfill are banned. He says only recycling plants can get licences to import waste and customs will check all shipments.
“Let me tell every citizen among the protesters who thinks he wants Albania to be cleaner than I do: You’re wrong. The law serves your goal exactly,” Rama said on Twitter.
Successive post-Communist governments have tried to prop up the recycling industry over the past 25 years and many Albanians fear lax controls will let in dangerous waste in a country plagued by corruption and poor infrastructure.
Three years ago, widespread discontent forced Rama to back down on his promise to the United States to allow Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal to be dismantled in Albania.
The new law comes as the recycling industry complains it cannot survive unless it imports though it now recycles 17 percent of waste in the country, up from 10 percent in 2013, according to Rama. (Editing by Thomas Escritt and Helen Popper)