We talked with Maria, a volunteer of the Separate collection movement, who devoted 7 years to Greenpeace and at the age of 18 organized waste paper collection in her office.
When did you first become interested in an eco-friendly lifestyle?
Maria: I have been interested in things related to nature and science since childhood, basically. I was engaged in various circles and laboratories related to science and biology all my childhood and youth. I even planned to become a biologist and seek admission to a biological faculty. But I later realized that I may not be a fit person for fundamental science. After all it wasn´t entirely my thing I guess, I missed more tangible impact and seeing the direct influence of my actions in nature. That's why I didn't become a biologist. But some interest remained at the background all the time.
When I was 18 years old, I sat at work and thought: now I'm 18 years old, on this day people usually accept gifts. And suddenly, I thought, why not give someone a gift too, instead of doing something nice just for yourself on your birthday. Thought it would be cool to donate to a conservation organization. It probably doesn't matter what kind of organization it was, but I made a contribution and started receiving newsletters, so I began to follow the information. After some time, I found out that there is a branch of Greenpeace in St. Petersburg, that there are volunteers there, that they are active, and I got involved pretty quickly after all.
What were your first steps?
Maria: We, eco-activists, always tell people who come to us and say: “Oh God, we don’t understand where to start, it’s all so complicated, all these your plastic labels are all so terrible, complicated and incomprehensible.” And we always say, start with something as simple as possible, start collecting batteries. I would have given this advice to myself then, 18 years ago. Because I decided to start by collecting waste paper in my office. And back then there was no separate collection system or any opportunities in general for eco-friendly life, it had to be constructed bit by bit, literally sifting tons of sand to find 3 grains of gold. Back then you could collect waste paper if you want, but you had to collect a ton to take it out. Everything was so hardcore - just collect a ton and then they will take it out of your office. My first action was to collect a ton of waste paper in my office.
How has your life changed since then?
Maria: I probably haven´t had completely that, kind of a standard path, that people go through. At first I volunteered at the St. Petersburg branch of Greenpeace, then I was called to work there. I worked there for almost 7 years, in the end. I quickly began to bring some practices into my life, because I stewed in this information, I worked in it, and therefore, I used all the practices that were available at that time.
Would you like to involve as many people as possible in this process? Maybe give advice?
Maria: At the early stages, about 15 years ago, I still had a need and an internal drive for some kind of missionary work. Now, after many years, I have come to the conclusion that, firstly, I have occupied my ecological niche and I am more attracted to administrative work than educational work. Back then I had such a need and desire, but it was a different time: in fact, there were no social networks, except maybe classmates and LiveJournal, VKontakte only appeared. I had a LiveJournal and I was quite active to talk about my practices. Greenpeace had a very cool project called "Green House", if I'm not mistaken. Within the framework of this project, a lot of my colleagues were engaged in promoting information about eco-friendly life: energy-saving lamps, energy saving in general, the need to insulate your home, etc. One of my colleagues even came to my house, and we photographed all the practices that I use at home: there were reed wallpapers, energy-saving lamps and something else. I remember how it was very funny taking pictures of the contents of my bag. 15 years ago, I carried reusable sushi sticks, reusable bags and a string bag in my bag.
What practices are you currently using?
Maria: I think in categories from general to specific. I have some idea in my head that I need to live my life in such a way as to harm the planet as little as possible. Based on this idea, I plan every action in my life. At every stage of my life, when I have to make some choice: the choice of shopping in the store or the choice of transport, or something else, I come from a common understanding that my choice affects the planet and the depletion of natural resources. Therefore, it is difficult for me to talk about some specific things, simply because there are so many of them. They are very difficult to point out singularly. Naming randomly for example 10 of them would cause me anxiety, because there are actually 1500 of them, and 10/1500 would draw such an incomplete picture of my practices.
What do you think is missing in the urban infrastructure to make these practices easier to implement?
Maria: I really wish there were more stores without packaging and they were within walking distance. At the moment, there probably are no more than 10 stores in the whole city. And I'm just lucky to have one of them just ten minutes away on foot. If it was further away, I probably wouldn't be able to use it so often. And secondly, I wish there were a movement “from above”, that is, that some large businesses and large supermarkets would provide more opportunities to purchase products without packaging and stimulate the use of reusable containers.