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25 Oct, 2010 04:47

Trash staring Muscovites in the face

Moscow knows it lags behind many other capitals when it comes to taking out the trash. But a lack of recycling infrastructure is forcing environmental protection up the priority list.

When Ilya Voskresensky bought a flat in a new apartment block right outside Moscow, he knew the hill next to the house was an old waste yard, covered with soil.

But when he began seeing fresh piles of rubbish appearing and disposal trucks coming and going at night that he became suspicious, and then furious.

“We're all shocked! Officially the waste yard is closed, but I can assure you it isn't! Our apartment buildings are just around 20 meters away. It's a direct violation of the law. If I gave a good throw, I could get rid of my trash right out the window!” Voskresensky says.

Under the law, dumps can not be closer than 500 meters from a residential area. But unfortunately, this and many other rules on waste disposal are often trashed.

Like in the town of Korolyov, not much further away from the capital, in an area used for garages. Since some of them were built illegally, they had to be dismantled. In their places, piles of waste have grown all around the area.

Deeper into the area the picture becomes even worse. There is an area disputed between the town and local forestry officials, and neither wants to take responsibility for the mess.

Environmental inspector Nadezhda Golosova says she is helpless – even fining the officials has not helped, since the biggest penalty is only around US$200.

Environmental consciousness is very low. People just don't care. For many it's much easier to come here and just dump their trash right here. And bureaucracy is making it even worse. There's simply no one to clean this up,” Golosova says.

But Vladimir Zakharov from Moscow’s Center of Ecological Policies believes there is still a way to fix things.

We have to get people interested. And the best way to do it is by giving them money. Each bottle has to have a good return price. Who is ever going to throw out an empty bottle if they could get at least one third of the money back for it?” Zakharov asks.

Perhaps a law increasing the return price for different packages may improve the situation, at least partially. But that may lead to a new riddle – building the necessary infrastructure either to recycle or resell used bottles.

Moscow alone produces at least 5.5 million tonnes of waste per year. And less than 15 per cent is recycled.

This a situation that is hard to believe in many Western countries, where from a young age people are taught to recycle.