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EcoRubric 17:26 29 Sep 2022

Second city in Ukraine joined zero waste concept: how a community in the Kharkiv region came to sustainable development

It started working just recently — during a full-scale war. We tell the story of how ZeroWaste weaned residents from burning leaves and raised an army of eco-activists in two years

What is the problem?

Unfortunately, Ukraine still lacks a general culture of sustainable development. People are still skeptical about installing composters near multi-apartment buildings; they burn leaves, do not sort garbage, and are generally not very eager to acquire new ecological habits.

Such a problem exists in almost every Ukrainian city — it does not matter how many people live there or where they live: in private houses or in apartment buildings.

This was also the case in Liubotyn, a small town in the Kharkiv region. Anna Prokopaeva from ZeroWaste Ukraine says:

"Earlier, people did not sign contracts for garbage removal with the utility company and burned away all the waste generated in households. There was a culture of littering — when neighbors left trash in front of each other's gate."

However, the situation in the city has changed now. Over the past two years, ecologists have done tremendous work with the citizens and have come a long way from skepticism to interest and desire to participate in public initiatives. Moreover, already in August of this year, amid a full-scale war, despite constant shelling in the region, the city launched a garbage sorting program. Ukrainians care about the environment even under extreme circumstances, but this was preceded by painstaking work. Rubryka learned about what is needed to raise an environmentally responsible civil society.

What is the solution?

An individual solution for each city

The ZeroWaste company started working in Lviv back in 2017. Lviv became the first city to join the proper garbage collection and disposal program. In 2021, another Ukrainian city — Liubotyn — joined the initiative. It would be logical to transfer the experience of Lviv to a new city, but everything turned out to be not as simple as it seems.

Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

Of course, at first, the ecologists held a meeting with the organizers of the organic waste management program in Lviv:

"We discussed how to organize a training program, but we had to decide how to implement garbage collection on our own because each city needs a different approach," says Anna.

However, Liubotin's experience is significantly different from that of Lviv. First, there is a big difference in population. Lviv is home to almost a million people; in Lyubotyn, according to 2020 data, slightly more than 20,000 residents live.

Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

In addition, there are multi-apartment buildings in Lviv, but Liubotyn is almost entirely a private sector. Programs and tasks differed: if in Lviv it was necessary to teach people to sort garbage and send it for recycling, then in Liubotyn, it was essential to teach people to compost and (currently a painful problem for everyone) to stop burning leaves. The lion's share of efforts in the implementation of the program in Liubotyn was directed to explanatory work:

"We are getting the culture of waste management back on track. We tell you why you mustn't burn because it's not obvious to people. Even to more or less progressive people, we explain all the advantages of the solutions we offer and the disadvantages of outdated methods of leaf disposal."

Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

Lectures and explanations were given during online and offline meetings, and afterward, people saw small reminders in the form of posters in the city.

Already after that, composters were installed near apartment buildings.

This happened in August this year, and now the containers with inorganic waste are taken out less often because there is much less garbage collected there.Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

Anna Prokayeva says that she personally went to inspect whether the apartment building residents were using the new composter. She noticed that two weeks after the installation of the container, people had already half filled the container. Now dry leaves and leftovers from fruits and vegetables are composted.

Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

For people to believe in something, they have to try it

At first, most people were skeptical about alternatives to household items.

According to Anna Prokayeva, most people first heard about reusable hygiene products from ZeroWaste, and some of them "had a culture shock." The organization allowed people to purchase such tools and held workshops on making reusable items — for example, reusable pads — at home.

"With each group, we discussed why women should tell their girlfriends, daughters, or other close women about such means. Earlier, this topic was taboo, but now everything is changing," shares Anna Prokayeva.In Liubotyn Central Public Library, a permanent exhibition, "Zero waste household items," was opened, which helps to avoid the appearance of single-use plastic items in everyday life and prevent environmental pollution and negative consequences for people's health. Here, people can get acquainted with reusable hygiene products, metal straws, and cups that replace plastic cups – about 20 items in total.Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

Will it definitely work?

How long does it take to wean off a rooted leaf burner?

Of course, a couple of lectures are not enough to create new waste management habits because this is an extremely difficult task:

"At first, there was absolute skepticism, distrust. Two years ago, there was a flurry of negative reactions to our proposals. But later, it was possible to explain to people that calling the police, for example, if someone sets garbage or leaves on fire, is not a "denunciation" but a privilege of civilization. Some people want to be more ecologically aware but are not very knowledgeable and talk nonsense," Anna shares.

Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

For two years, ecologists did not stop their work on clarification. Later, people came to ZeroWaste on their own because they wanted to help, volunteer, and even be representatives of an environmental organization. The environmentalist adds:

"We have gone from criticism, laughter, and sarcasm to the fact that now they are involved with us. According to the latest survey, we see that people are even proud that their city is the second in Ukraine to join the ZeroWaste program."

Three postulates of implementing the concept

We asked the organizers if there could be any general principles for implementing the ZeroWaste concept in Ukrainian cities. As it turned out, even though the solution for each city is individual and must consider the peculiarities of the infrastructure and people's behavior, they still exist.

  1. Anna is sure that it takes about two years to build trust. This is two years of continuous work with people, constant reminders, holding exhibitions, etc.
  2. People must see the initiator of implementing ecological approaches in the community and know what kind of person they are. Mandatory stay with people in constant contact during lectures, meetings, consultations, and public events.
  3. People must be allowed to try something new; allow them to "feel it"; otherwise, they will never trust. If you want to teach a person to use a thermal mug, they must try to use it, and only then will they understand how convenient it is.

Люботин ZeroWaste Ukraine

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