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5 Oct, 2010 02:25

Moscow’s waste problem emerging in absence of recycling

Moscow is the most populous city in continental Europe, and as such faces challenges of the similar scale - even if they are hidden from our eyes.

With the city producing over five and a half million tons of waste annually, and only a small portion of it being recycled, the Russian capital is right on the edge of ecological collapse.

When Aleksandr Luchagin and his family moved to their apartment 10 years ago, the view from the 13th floor was impressive – the whole city stretched out before them.

But soon a hump that quickly turned into a hill has blocked the view of a whole district. It became so big they thought it was a new ski resort.

But instead, it turned out to be a mountain of waste.

“I was shocked!” Lichagin recalled. “I have children, some day they'll have kids as well. How will they be able to live here if these mountains continue growing? If nothing is done, soon the whole city will be surrounded by them!”

Moscow annually produces at least five and a half million tons of waste that has to be collected and either destroyed, recycled or disposed of – not an easy job for a city with a population of around 10.5 million people.

The way such dumps are built is complicated. First a giant pit is dug in the ground. The waste is distributed in isolated layers, eventually creating a hill on the surface. Toxic water is drained away from below, and gases are taken away by specially designed pipes.

Authorities insist the technology is eco-friendly, but it leaves a stinky present for future generations. It could be avoided through the use of recycling.

The state company responsible for that owns two huge pits, waste burning factories and sorting stations. But still it’s only able to recycle fifteen percent of the waste it collects.

“Most of the trash which could be recycled is ruined during its transportation to sorting stations,” explained Vladimir Murashov from the City Waste Service. “Garbage trucks press waste to collect more. So everything is really mixed together, that's why we recycle so little in the end.”

To prevent waste being mixed up and made unrecyclable, last year the city distributed separate bins enabling Muscovites to sort their garbage as they threw it away.

But the economic crisis hit and there wasn't enough money to send separate trucks dedicated to picking up just glass, plastic or paper, which were all mixed up anyway.

So the experiment was trashed.

“This is money which is being thrown away,” claimed ecologist Sergey Yakovlev. “Most of the waste which could be reused is lost. The whole system needs to be changed or the ecological consequences could be devastating!”

So until the Russian capital gets its recycling act together, millions of tons of waste will continue to be hidden from sight today, for future generations to deal with tomorrow.