The Dilemma of Russia’s “Trash Reform”

  Before 2019, millions of tons of recyclable garbage were transported to landfills in Russia every year, of which nearly 90% of the recycled raw materials were lost, and the garbage dumps were filled and dug another. Despite the supervision of relevant environmental protection departments, the number of illegal garbage dumps is still increasing, and at the same time, the construction progress of formal garbage treatment plants is very slow.
  In order to change this situation, Russia began to implement “garbage reform” from January 1, 2019. The goal of the “waste reform” is to close illegal garbage dumps and realize garbage classification, treatment, recycling and reuse. So, three years on, how has this reform progressed?
| The dilemma of implementing “garbage reform” |

  In fact, since the implementation of the “garbage reform”, the garbage disposal model has not undergone a fundamental change. According to the relevant data of the Russian Audit Office, about 90% of solid domestic waste is transported to the landfill, but only 7% is processed.
  In order to solve the problem of garbage disposal, Russia has set up a garbage disposal enterprise – “Russian Ecological Operator”. According to Alexei Markushin, vice president of the company, although nearly half of the federal subjects are implementing various forms of waste sorting and recycling, it is still difficult to assess the total amount of waste recycling in the country, with only a few Waste sorting and recycling are implemented in regions, such as Moscow. Markushen said that the key to garbage recycling is not utilization, but recycling, and a complete garbage transportation chain should be established, which requires more investment.
  The actual situation of the current “garbage reform” directly affects the completion period of the reform goal. The goal of reaching a 60% domestic waste disposal rate by 2024 now looks like it won’t be achieved until at least 2030.
  Monitoring data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of the Russian Federation show that regions such as Samara, Leningrad, Krasnoyarsk and Altai regions have not met expected targets in terms of waste sorting infrastructure. There are also 43 federal entities whose total waste sorting and utilization rates do not match the reported data. Relevant departments believe that the reason for this situation is that the local government has not paid enough attention to the infrastructure construction of garbage sorting and recycling, and the established tasks have not been completed on time and efficiently.
  In addition, another factor hindering the “garbage reform” is the financial operation model of regional operators. There is no effective accountability mechanism within the operating enterprise, and there is a lack of motivation for garbage sorting and recycling. The problems encountered in garbage disposal are not only insufficient classification, but also inadequate work at the garbage station: not every garbage disposal worker can carefully clean the garbage raw materials, which brings trouble to the next work link. As long as the above problems still exist, it will be difficult to successfully implement waste reform.
| Garbage sorting and recycling in the Soviet era |

  Despite the above problems, the level of solid domestic waste treatment in Russia has been improved. Relevant data show that the current average annual garbage disposal volume in Russia is 59.7 million tons. As of the end of April 2022, the garbage disposal rate was 40.6%, which was 10% higher than that in 2020.
  Although the road of garbage sorting and recycling in Russia has just begun, in fact, Russia has implemented garbage sorting as early as the Soviet Union. At that time, the society recycles scrap metal, waste paper and old glassware – this is actually garbage sorting and recycling, and a strong system has been formed at that time to mobilize and organize the public for garbage recycling, and it is divided into five categories. Recycled resources: glass, paper, textiles, rubber and plastics.

A waste treatment plant in Moscow

  Glass containers are handed in by almost everyone, and can be recycled everywhere. There are special recycling points in shopping malls and on the street. In addition, milk bottles, beer bottles and other standard glass bottles can be exchanged for small change to supplement the household, and the money exchanged for two or three milk bottles can buy another bottle of milk. The waste paper is mainly handed in by students, and they can get certificates of merit and summer camp certificates for the Young Pioneers. Parents of students can also get scarce books that cannot be bought in bookstores. The recycling of scrap metal mainly depends on students. This activity is also competitive among young people. Everyone is collecting more than which young pioneer team.

  In recent years, the Russian people’s attitude towards garbage sorting and recycling has been very negative. Even environmental protection supporters are usually reluctant to carry out garbage sorting, and ordinary people’s environmental awareness is even weaker.
| Learn from international experience |

  The experience of other countries also shows that waste sorting and recycling is completely achievable. Sweden has one of the highest rates of recycling, with a recycling rate of 99%. Every Swedish resident has several rubbish bins for sorting different kinds of garbage. People collect waste paper, plastic, glass, metal, and batteries and send them to the nearest recycling point. The government is responsible for collecting and disposing of the waste at the recycling point. Rubbish.
  In Germany, the vast majority of Germans support it, despite the complicated regulations on waste sorting. Waste paper and plastics must be thrown into sorted bins near the house, glass must be put into the public glass recycling bins on the street, batteries must be handed over to the battery recycling point of the store, and medical waste must be handed over to the pharmacy. Even clothes are not recommended to be thrown away at will, but to be donated to those in need. Waste furniture must be transported to the garbage dump by itself, instead of throwing waste furniture such as chairs or sofas directly next to the garbage bin like in Russia.

During the Soviet era, people queuing to hand in glass bottles and other waste products

Sorting bins on the streets of Moscow

  The regulations regarding household waste vary from state to state in the United States. In California, restaurants will only provide straws when a customer asks for it. In New York, single-use plastic packaging is completely banned. New York State law also mandates that medium and large stores have a plastic recycling program. Therefore, these companies later began to use paper packaging.
  However, in recent years, the Russian people’s attitude towards garbage sorting and recycling has been very negative. Even environmental protection supporters are usually reluctant to carry out garbage sorting, and ordinary people’s environmental awareness is even weaker. Russian social psychologists Svetlana Gorchenko and Sergei Popov analyzed that it is difficult for Russians to remember which type of garbage can each type of garbage should be thrown into. In order to improve this situation, they suggest using volunteers to guide the public. “Environmentalists should be fully mobilized to enhance their prestige among the public, encourage them to find better solutions, and lead everyone to protect the environment around us.”