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Russia and the Environment I: Russia’s recycling programs gradually gain ground

Eco-consciousness is far from ecological tyranny of the West, but Russians are learning how to take better care of their environment

People who live outside Russia, or who have never visited Russia, may be surprised by some of the differences in community life here. In this piece. the first in a series, we examine the issue of environmentalism and ecological protection as it presently stands in the Russian Federation. We will examine the social and political pressures in the country dealing with this topic, and explore how the country is charting its own course in these matters.

A close friend of mine shared this information with me on 25 March, 2018, about an event that took place in Moscow. I have offered a translation of her account:

Yesterday I attended an interesting event, which was held in Konkovo ​​(Profsoyuznaya 126-3, Ekomarket). It was organized by volunteers who are advocating for separate collection of garbage as well as recycling and economical use of natural resources.

At the event the following happened:
1. A collection of “good” plastic bottle caps for recycling.
2. Information and statistics, presented as a quiz game for children and adults on the topic of recycling, giving information I had never known before: such as:

  • that fleece things are made of plastic
  • and 670 aluminum cans == 1 bicycle
  • 3 packages of tetrapack == 2 ball-point pens
  • 60 kg of waste paper = 1500 school notebooks
  • 400 glass bottles == 1 set of glass wool for house insulation

3. The Awarding of ecologically based prizes to the winners – for example, a reusable plastic bottle to water, a small, strong collapsible bag, so as not to buy plastic bags in stores, And light bags for the purchase of vegetables and fruits, also so as not to use plastic bags.

4. Educational films, master classes
5. Informational handouts
6. Collection and exchange of second-hand items, all at no cost for anyone who wants them – clothes, shoes, and even jewelry (I brought three pairs of shoes that I have not worn for a long time, but which were in good condition, almost new, and someone took them … it’s good that someone will make use of them)
7. Exchange of books, cassettes, disks and so on.
8. Pleasant communication

Already today in the store I loaded apples in a bag that I got from the event. The cashier was very surprised. “This is an environmental package, so as not to take yours,” I said. He nodded approvingly.

To an American, this would sound like something so normal that it is hardly even news. But in Russia, this is.

During the Communist times there was not exactly an environmental movement in the Soviet Union, but there was a sense of community organization and action to keep one’s community clean. A traditional event was to get children, often the Young Pioneers or Komsomol to go and do community cleanups. This is a tradition that has survived in some form to this day.

But the issue of protection of the environment is a different matter entirely. There has been virtually no such movement in the Soviet times, nor has there been much in the new Russian Federation. In fact, groups such as the Altai Project, committed to preserving one of Russia’s great unspoiled mountain areas, have often encountered severe resistance from the Russian government, and blame has been placed publicly at President Vladimir Putin’s feet. Not only do Westerns place the blame here, but so do many Russians that are becoming increasingly aware of the ecological troubles of their own nation.

However there is a deeper story behind this, and it is one that we intend to explore in this series.

There is a movement beginning in Russia towards ecological preservation. It has roots that extend back before Communism, but it is a fragile movement as the nation continues its course of recovery and increasing self-determination. We believe Russia is finding her own course in terms of dealing with this challenge, and we will examine her treatment on her terms.

What the West thinks and says does not apply here except insofar as it supports the Russian way of thinking on this matter. We will explore this.

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