While studying and working from home we can assess the amount of waste that we generate in just one day. This is a good reason to start recycling.

nadtochii ekaterina

Eco-activist Ekaterina Nadtochii is a master’s student at St Petersburg University in the programme ‘Ecology. Biodiversity and Nature Protection’ and a member of the student group ‘EcoSPbU’. She talked about why the lockdown is the time to study waste separation methods, and how to take the first steps towards an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Please tell us how to start sorting waste.

If you have never before been taught waste management principles, then first of all you should learn how to distinguish organic from inorganic waste, since the former is biodegradable. Organic waste is any food waste, fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, bones and so forth. Next, you should familiarise yourself with the list of materials that can be recycled. Typically, all waste is divided into several large categories: recyclable paper (paper and cardboard); glass; aluminium; iron; plastic; and Tetra Pak cartons. You can start small – take glass, tin, aluminium and recyclable paper. The latter does not include paper napkins, towels and tissues, receipts, paper stickers, and Tetra Pak cartons. So, you should be attentive and follow the recycling guide, which can be found in the online communities dedicated to waste sorting.

If you are willing to move to the ‘advanced’ category, then you should learn to read packaging labels and recycling symbols. Markings on packages look like numbers in triangles. They help us to identify how different types of packaging can be recycled. The recycling facility operators and waste separation campaigners use the same identification marking system. To simplify recycling, I recommend sorting recyclables by type into separate containers (boxes, paper bags, etc.). You will therefore not get confused, and you will save time when you go to the recyclable collection point or recycling facility.

The only thing that can confuse beginners is that there are always exceptions. For instance, PVC plastic and metallised film, which is often used for packaging ice cream, confectionery, and yoghurt, cannot be recycled properly. In these cases, I recommend seeking advice from experienced recyclers. And last but not least: all hazardous waste (batteries, thermometers, light bulbs, and others) must be taken to a hazardous waste collection facility. Under no circumstances should you put it into a general waste bin.

Scientists talk about major issues associated with waste management in Russia. Can separate waste collection help to deal with them?

Collection of discards that can be recycled or reused will reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators. For example, it has long been known that food tins and drink cans or glass can be recycled more than once. Why not extend the list of recyclable materials? Unfortunately, the landfills operating in Russia today are likely to remain unchanged until the end of their life-cycle. At present, there are about 14,000 large landfill sites in Russia. I am certain that the introduction of a separate waste collection system will enable the reduction of the number of landfills and the areas they occupy in the future.

At present, St Petersburg University has 19 collection points for recyclable materials – that is a third more than two years ago. The number of Ecopoints in the city is also growing. How can you find a recycling facility?

The list of recycling stations at the University is available on the official website in the Green Campus section. Students, employees and members of the academic staff can bring plastic labelled PET, recyclable paper, glass and aluminium cans.

In St Petersburg, there are recycling stations for paper, glass, plastic, metal, clothing, and hazardous waste which includes: batteries and light bulbs, household appliances, Tetra Pak cartons, tyres, small office equipment, computer equipment, printer cartridges, and others. Every district of the city hosts monthly events to collect recyclables. Information about the events can be found on the website of the Separate Waste Collection movement. Also, the city residents can safely dispose of many kinds of household hazardous waste locally through the Mobile Eco-Point programme.

Old clothing is accepted at the drop-off sites with the ‘Thank You’ or ‘Grinder’ recycling bins. Another convenient resource is the Greenpeace Recyclemap.ru. It shows where the city residents can hand over their recyclables.

Thanks to separate waste collection, the University spends less money on solid waste removal. Thus, in 2019, St Petersburg University saved 1,300,000 roubles. Are there monetary incentives for domestic waste sorting?

In some European countries, you can return beverage containers for a refund – about 15 euro cents for a plastic bottle and 25 euro cents for an aluminium can. We have not implemented such a system in Russia yet; however, you can make a little money selling your recyclable paper and cardboard, glass bottles or scrap metal to a recycling centre.

Indeed, at recycling events we do not offer monetary rewards for your recyclables. But firstly, you are doing a good deed – reducing landfill waste. And secondly, at these events we often offer various contests and master classes for adults and children. In winter, participants are treated to tea and sweets. You will definitely acquire knowledge and learn new things that will motivate you to improve waste sorting and recycling.

Are there any special waste management rules for the lockdown period?

If you cannot leave your home during the lockdown, you are advised to place your household waste in garbage bags outside your door, and ask your neighbours or volunteers to take it to the waste containers. You can call an eco-taxi to take away your recyclables. Yet, I would recommend to keep collecting materials at home and donate them at a recycling event when the lockdown is up. If you crush the containers, they will take up less space.

The Russian Federal Agency Rospotrebnadzor requires that single-use masks, wipes, gloves and so forth of a diseased individual are to be discarded immediately in a closed bin. This hazardous waste should be double-bagged and placed into the general rubbish bin, waiting for 72 hours before placing it out for collection.

In 2019, topics relevant to sustainable development of the University were frequently debated: during community work days and bio fairs held in the University Botanical Garden; at the free markets; film screenings; student competitions; and seminars. Are there environmental events that are held online?

The main environmental events have been officially postponed until autumn 2020, including the All-Russian Festival ‘VuzEcoFest-2020’. Nonetheless, we still plan to take part in this event. Additionally, students of different academic programmes are currently holding webinars on ecology and green living.

Announcements for online meetings can be found in the student group ‘EcoSPbU’. At webinars we will talk about films to watch and books to read on the topic of sustainability and responsible consumption. The coronavirus lockdown appears to offer a chance to learn more about recycling and separate waste collection, to develop environmental thinking and establish better recycling habits.