Russians against waste

When you think of Russia, you probably don't associate the country with being a pioneer in the zero waste movement. Indeed, even with something as simple as recycling the world's largest country lags behind its neighbors to the west. But it's not all doom and gloom. As a very wise Russian saying goes: "Russians are slow to saddle but fast to ride". Already today there are so many talented, energetic and committed individuals all across the country (and not just the main cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg) spearheading the campaign against waste and irresponsible consumption (though this is not without its own challenges). And their numbers keep growing as Russians awaken to the reality in their country and decide that enough is enough. Here are just two of them.

Andrey Polovnikov, founder of the Golodny Leshy natural and ethical cosmetics company.

"I come from the town of Kirov and am a chemist by profession. Cosmetics are interesting for me. In my previous jobs (primarily as a technologist) I had little control over the production process and the direction in which it develops. Your job can be the instrument you use to help nature and mankind. And that's why I decided to launch my own company."

Russian society as a whole is ready to make the necessary consumption behavior changes and it's happening already. The amount of package-free shops is growing on a daily basis all around the country. Community recycling days are attended by people between the ages of 0 and 80. We are all sick and tired of our cities being one big dump. Either we drown in it or we don't - the choice is ours. And I think everyone understands this by now."

"Our cosmetics are safe for nature and for people. We have just moved our production from Kirov to St. Petersburg. These are the principles we stick to no matter what:

1. Wherever possible, we do not use any packaging (i.e. resources), that's why we work a lot of package free shops.

2. If using resources is inevitable, we strive to use as little as possible. For example, if we need to ship the product, we'll use the absolute bare minimum to package and ship it.

3. We reuse resources. We wash the raw material from the canisters and use them again as containers to transport the product to the package free shops. Then the shops return the container to use and it gets reused many more times.

4. The packaging that we do use can be recycled."

"It all started when I was a child who loved nature. We traveled a lot, went on hikes and camping trips. So striving towards zero waste is the logical continuation of views held by people who want to preserve their home - Planet Earth. I was always concerned about how people affect nature because I walked barefoot through cold swamps and hot sands, touched with my hands rocks in the mountains and ferns in flooded forests. I feel that we really are a part of this planet's biosphere and everything is interconnected, we will have to pay for every decision we make now in the future.

I think the main obstacle that people face in terms of reducing the amount of waste generated at home and at work is desirable. If you have the desire, overcoming everything else will either be hard or easy, but in either case interesting. Unfortunately, the necessary infrastructure is not yet fully in place in Russia to enable people to sort their trash and recycle, we don't have too many alternatives to single-use items and they're not widely available. But we feel that it's all moving the right direction. And we're extremely happy to be a part of it.

Russian society as a whole is ready to make the necessary consumption behavior changes and it's happening already. The amount of package-free shops is growing on a daily basis all around the country. Community recycling days are attended by people between the ages of 0 and 80. We are all sick and tired of our cities being one big dump. Either we drown in it or we don't - the choice is ours. And I think everyone understands this by now."

There's a wonderful book by Vladimir Arseniev titled 'Dress Uzala'. In one of the scenes, the main character's companions decided to entertain themselves by shooting empty bottles. Upon seeing this, Dersu said the following phrase: 'where can you find an empty bottle in the taiga?'. I hope that in 10-20 years that phrase will once again make sense and become relevant."

Dina Khitrova, zero waste activist, educator, artist and "plogger" from Yekaterinburg

"I'm an architect by profession but in 2010 I stopped working in this field in order to focus on volunteer work. I am a volunteer at Greenpeace and at the Association of Volunteer Forest Firefighters. Zero waste is the level that I've been aiming for for many years now. In September 2018 I decided to live one year following the principles of zero waste and now it's been more than 15 months that I follow a minimalist philosophy: I don't buy anything for myself apart from food, water and things for everyday needs. It's a high plank to reach, so to speak, but it's doable. You can't transition to a zero waste lifestyle without a bit of preparation, changing your habits, exercising self-control on a daily basis or conscientiously making more ecological choices. But as soon as you adopt your first 'eco habits' it gets a lot easier and more obvious. In Russia it's harder than in the West because we still don't have as many package-free shops or the necessary infrastructure to recycle waste better."

"One thing I realized is that when you do good, sometimes something bad can still result from it. I volunteer as a fire fighter in Karelia every summer and one summer, I realized that once the fire hoses are no longer functional, they just get dumped in the regular trash or are left behind in the forest. That's when my idea for 'firefighter recycling' was born. So I took them back home with me and started making unique little accessories out of them. This project became popular not only amongst my colleagues - all of a sudden everyone wanted a cool little accessory that helps reduce the amount of trash in our landfills and helps firefighters. Sewing one wallet is no easy task: it'd take one whole day to make one. That's why I can't afford to sell them for very cheap but people are ready to pay even 1,000 rubles ($16) for this accessory. I first sew the accessories for myself and test them before selling them. For example, my passport cover, coin purse and wallet have been serving my faultlessly for years!"

"Then there's 'plogging' - picking up trash while jogging. My fellow Yekaterinburgers have often offered to organize 'plogging' runs together. However, I like to jog at my speed and we also usually take our dogs out with us. Secondly, in many places you really have to stop and clean the territory. But I feel that 'plogging' has the potential to unite people who care about nature and show others that this type of behavior is normal, that everyone can take part. It's a great ad for both healthy living and having great eco habits!"

"On the one hand, my actions inspire others to try and consume more sustainably. On the other hand, there are still a lot of skeptics out there. What we need in Russia is relevant information to be easily and readily accessible no matter where you are, we need to advertise this lifestyle and role models to set an example, we need to support those people who want to try but don't know where to start. There are still too many questions and not enough simple, obvious answers. In addition, we need to make the system convenient, simple and logical, as well comfortable because, after all, actually transporting your recycling to a special facility on the other end of town is something that only very few people are currently prepared to do.

But I do believe there is reason for hope. Before people looked at me as the local 'crazy' because they didn't understand why I was doing what I was doing and what use it was if everyone else would continue business as usual by throwing everything away into one bin. What can one person change? And that's when I understood that I need to write about it, create regular social media post about the problems and solutions. So I created my eco blog and write something on it everyday about the topic of ecology, and waste comes up a lot, of course. I began getting invitations to TV channels and give interviews to radio stations. I conduct eco lessons in kindergartens, schools and colleges. My project that makes paper for water color painting out of receipts was especially popular and so I start organizing art classes and have even exhibited my works. Like I said, there are a lot of positive moments and I like that this topic is becoming more talked about, the 'trash' problem is becoming more and more relevant, while eco habits are, dare I say, even trendy these days. These 'fashionable' tendencies really make me happy."

"My tips to anyone wondering how to start their journey towards zero waste living is to not be afraid to start and to make your own eco steps at your own pace. You just need to start! No one needs to become a zero waste guru overnight. It took me years to get to where I am now. But I do think that getting a reusable water bottle and investing in a few reusable shopping bags is something everyone can do. It's really very simple. And with time, you'll start to adopt more and more eco habits, all you need is desire!.

Related SDG goal: sustainable consumption and production

©2019 by CARYZMA Media GmbH