100s Join Recycling Campaign

100s Join Recycling Campaign

Published: December 5, 2012 (Issue # 1738)

Hundreds of local environmental activists took part in a citywide smart recycling initiative Saturday organized by the St. Petersburg branch of the international ecological pressure group Greenpeace. Local residents joined Greenpeace members in a waste collection and separation event that was held in eight districts of the city.

“Our goal was to promote the idea of separating waste for recycling,” said Maria Musatova, spokeswoman for the St. Petersburg branch of Greenpeace. “For a healthy environment it is essential that residents do not perceive used items as “garbage” but rather understand the policy of recycling, and how, for instance, plastic items should be treated and processed differently from waste paper and cardboard.”

Since Greenpeace launched its recycling project in summer 2011, volunteers have collected 35 tons of waste paper and nine tons of glass as well as several tons of plastic, Musatova added. “More than 4,500 people of different age groups and social circles have joined our ‘Waste Separation’ Internet group and participate in our events.”

The process of separating glass, paper, metal and organic waste is common in developed countries. But in St. Petersburg, paper refuse and various other recyclable materials are usually mixed up with non-organic materials, making them impossible to recycle.

Since the collapse of the Soviet system of separating refuse materials such as waste paper or scrap metal at schools and other state organizations for delivery to factories, no other system has been developed to replace it. The industry has seen very little investment and virtually no competition.

Greenpeace provides information on its website about where recyclable materials can be deposited in an attempt to encourage people to recycle and make it easier to do so.

“Garbage dumps continue to pollute the environment for more than 100 years after they are closed. Waste burning plants turn some of the burnt waste into more toxic substances than the garbage that it once was, and release it into the environment,” Greenpeace said.

In an effort to reduce the volume of waste, Greenpeace suggests using reusable bags when shopping, and buying products made of recyclable materials.

As Greenpeace activists point out, St. Petersburg companies have shown no haste in purchasing equipment and introducing technologies that would support the principles of separating waste for recycling. One of the very few positive examples is the St. Petersburg brewery Baltika, which has introduced additional industrial beer filtration systems. Baltika sends spent brewer’s grains to farms in the countryside, as they make a useful nutritional supplement in dairy and animal farming and may also serve as a soil nutrient.

As Musatova stresses, it is crucially important to change the mindsets of companies. Some of the methods do not call for innovative technologies, and require only a rational look at waste-management policies, she said.

According to official statistics, St. Petersburg produces at least 10 million cubic meters of garbage per year.

Independent environmental experts estimate that up to 60 percent of the garbage could be recycled, but the city does not have the resources and equipment to do so.

Even City Hall admits that St. Petersburg lacks the waste-processing facilities needed to treat refuse, and that unless new plants are built, most of the waste will either be sent abroad or piled up and left to decompose at local storage sites.

“Confrontation with City Hall over the waste management issue has been our biggest problem,” said Dmitry Artamonov, head of the St. Petersburg branch of Greenpeace.

Earlier this year, Greenpeace obtained a letter signed by Sergei Kozyrev, deputy governor of St. Petersburg responsible for the city’s housing maintenance and utility policies. In the letter, Kozyrev urged heads of local industrial giants to offer their thoughts and suggestions about the construction of a waste-burning plant.

“Launching a waste-burning facility will be beneficial for the city,” Kozyrev argues in the letter. “Electricity and heat energy will be generated in the process of burning solid household waste.”

What worries environmentalists, however, is that the plant would treat all waste together. The incineration technology that would be used at the facility would severely damage the environment by contributing to air pollution, ecologists say.

“Since 2002, Greenpeace has been campaigning for the introduction of separated waste management in the city, and it is bureaucracy and backward thinking that have been the biggest issue,” Artamonov said. “Officials have been talking about local residents not being ready to embrace the European policies of waste collection and treatment, while in fact, it is their own apathy, hands-off attitude and cowardice that is the real obstacle.

“The enthusiasm of ordinary people that we have seen should really put the authorities to shame,” he added.

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