MOSCOW – The Moscow region has begun to tackle the issue of waste management – one of its growing environmental problems – as it looks to lessons from the European Union’s expertise in an effort to eliminate huge waste dumps inherited from the Soviet era, a Moscow region official told New Europe.

“In Russia nobody paid serious attention to waste management or waste disposal and this why it’s a challenge for us and we have to find the best possible way to do it,” Andrey Vikharev, the acting head of the Istra District in the Moscow Region, told New Europe in an interview at Padikovo village. “Certainly we’re lagging behind Europe in this regard but for us, it’s kind of advantage because we can get the experience that Europe has accumulated already and get the technologies that have proved to be most efficient,” he said.

Vikharev noted that unlike Europe, Russia has vast areas of land, “Fortunately or unfortunately Russia is a very big country. This is why nobody cared about waste because we have such huge areas for landfills or garbage polygons,” Vikharev said, adding that now Russia plans to rehabilitate these areas.

According to a March 2018 report by environmental organisation WWF, one-fifth of waste in Russia is accumulated in the Moscow region. At the same time, two-thirds of waste in the dumps of the Moscow region is from Moscow.

Russians throw away about 60 million tons of waste each year, which equals one-eighth of the mass of all people on the Earth. In recent years, over 40 billion tonnes of waste produced by people and enterprises have accumulated on landfills in Russia. The garbage polygons built in the Soviet Union are overcrowded and the number of illegal dumps is many times greater than the number of legal landfills. 90% of all waste is sent to garbage dumps, and only about 10% is processed or burned, according to WWF.

Vikharev claimed that environmental issues are now at the forefront. “The societies matured enough to take care of this issue and deal with it. When we (Russians) come to Europe as visitors, we follow the rules that Europe has so this you have special bins for plastic, paper and so on,” he said. “Some people believe that Russian mentality is kind of chaotic, that we are less organised and will not be able to short out the waste, that for us it is too much. But when we go to Europe we’re doing it without a problem so why can’t we do it at home?” Vikharev asked.

“I’m pretty sure that in two-three years time it will be absolutely different and we will start selecting or shorting out the waste at home as well as people do in Europe. And we (need to) start from the young generation. We (must) start teaching our kids in kindergarten and schools how important it is. We can teach the kids, the young generation, how to live life in a green way so that for the young generation is not a problem, it’s part of their life,” he said.

He mentioned the FIFA World Cup that was held in Russia this past summer, the Japanese team after each game put on special gear and cleaned after their fans.

“We’re not just a developing country, we are the largest country in the world and for us it’s crucial to take care of the environment, to preserve it for future generations,” Vikharev said.

Following the closing ceremony of the All-Russian Volunteer Forum on December 5 with the participation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a presidential advisor told New Europe that civil society and the mobilisation of volunteers could help change Russia’s prospective on waste management.

Meanwhile, Vikharev said that there are positive changes in waste management. He noted that the Government of Moscow has approved a scheme of how to collect waste. “There are electronic coupons and make it possible to collect the taxes that previously was impossible to get and it’s very important to get these funds in order to move forward this business because for business it should be cost effective otherwise nobody would be interested to get involved,” he said. “So today we have a few private corporations that deal with waste management and commercial companies build and open the plants,” he said.

“Certainly waste does a lot of harm to the environment and talking about energy generation (from waste) this a step that we’re going to take in the future. We have to first lay a foundation of this business and when we see it’s profitable, its successful, we will seek new ways for using the waste, for generation of energy,” Vikharev said.

He referred to the Zaraisk Waste Recycling Plant in the Moscow Region, which is built by a private investor. During a visit to the plant, in a wind-swept, isolated part of Russia’s Moscow Region on December 4, officials showed how waste is collected and shorted.

A day earlier at Padikovo village, Vikharev vowed to tackle the waste management problem, saying: “We are going to sort the waste. We will make compost from organic waste and again this is a new movement in Russia because a few months ago this topic was completely unattached.”