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No time to waste? Moscow begins recycling its rubbish

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No time to waste? Moscow begins recycling its rubbish
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Moscow has begun rolling out its first city-wide recycling scheme as it battles to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.

Authorities hope it will lead to around 50% of the capital's waste being recycled. Currently, about 88% goes to landfill, according to official figures.

Moscow was far behind in terms of recycling, with only small groups and private businesses separating their waste.

While the new scheme will be welcomed, some ecologists worry that without proper communication Moscow residents might struggle.

“Without education and information that should be distributed to everyone, no one will understand what recycling is and the same situation will occur that occurs in most unprepared cities in the world,” Asya Mitskevich, an eco-artist and eco-activist, told Euronews.

Growing concerns for the environment

Environmental awareness has been growing in Russia since the country's 2017 "garbage crisis" when big protests were organised against illegal waste dumping in 30 Russian regions.

In 2018, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, approved the national project for ecology, which sets a recycling target of 36% of municipal solid waste (MSW) by 2024.

Last September, Russia ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, which requires to establish a recycling system for raw materials.

In addition to Moscow, garbage management schemes have been approved throughout the country, although official sources say that only 74 regions have the necessary conditions.

Russia annually produces about 60 million tonnes of waste, according to Greenpeace. Only 7 to 8 per cent is recycled.

Russian experts have criticised the measures in the government's ecology project, including a recent decree from the Kremlin that classifies waste incineration as recycling. The Russian government plans to build 30 incinerators.

“Incinerators throw up to 250 hazardous and toxic substances into the air, such as dioxins, mercury, cadmium,” Greenpeace said, in a petition against the law. “Many of these substances are toxic, non-degradable, and can accumulate in living organisms. These properties make them most dangerous to the environment."

Recycling in other European cities

Russia is not an EU member state, but within the bloc, rules have been in place for over 10 years to set recycling standards. The EU's Waste Framework Directive (2008) and Landfill Directive (1999) set binding targets for recycling municipal waste.

According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), recycling rates for municipal waste has risen by 16% in Europe between 2004 and 2017.

The EEA notes that "municipal waste recycling rates differ widely between European countries, ranging from 68 % in Germany to 0.3 % in Serbia in 2017".

Improvements have been partly driven by EU targets introduced in 1994 and 2008 and later by the circular economy packages (2015).

EU waste law forms the legally binding basis for waste legislation of the EU member states.

A 2015 study from the European Commission on recycling systems in European capitals found that out of the 28 capital cities of EU member states:

  • 25 cities operate a door-to-door separate collection system
  • Nine cities collect each fraction in a separate bin while 16 cities include co-mingled bins in their door-to-door collection infrastructure
  • 27 cities include "bring" sites for at least one material, while 23 cities have at least one civic amenity site in place.

Compared to other European capitals, Moscow is behind on the recycling wave, but it could turn things around in a few years.

Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital, introduced the separate collection of paper, glass and packaging in 2002, but has been very successful at aiming towards zero waste: by 2025, close to 75% of its rubbish will be recycled.

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