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Anna Smirnova

Coordinator of the support service for the local separate accumulation of waste in the association "Separate Collection". Eco-trainer on the introduction of resource-supplying organizations on their own yard for residents and management companies.

When did you first become interested in eco-awareness?

Anna: While studying at the Electrotechnical University (St. Petersburg) I spent a year in Finland as an exchange student. When I lived in Finland, it was the 2007-2008 academic year, I lived with a Finnish roommate who taught me how to separate waste according to the Finnish system. Returning to Russia, I could no longer give up this habit. I did not understand why this is not in Russia. Then, together with friends, we started environmental action - we went to the forest, cleaned up, got acquainted with other activists. And in 2011, the Separate Collection movement started. Actually, I joined them at the beginning of 2012. Then I had a child and I did not volunteer, but when my child grew up, I actively participated, volunteered at actions. The turning point for me was precisely the experience of living abroad, if I had lived in a hostel with Russian roommates, then perhaps this would not have happened. I also want to note that in Finland, this whole system was not too obvious for visitors studying and working there. Many of my friends stayed there, started families, having all the opportunities for recycling, they continue to generate waste and do not think about what happens to it next. This is just a look back now, that in Finland there is no communication to such categories of citizens who are on a study or work visa.

What challenges did you face when transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle?

Anna: I had absolutely no difficulties with my family, everyone supported me. Not everyone in the family still collects the waste, but at least there was no laughing (laughs). Naturally, the biggest difficulty was the lack of infrastructure and information. That is, it was not, as we are now saying: if you want to separate waste, here are three sites for you, here is a link to resources where everything is on the shelves and you can see how to get involved in it.

Are there any eco-practices that you would like to implement under favorable circumstances?

Anna: I also didn’t really get into the story with store packaging. During the pandemic period, I found several solutions that are convenient for me in terms of logistics - home, work and some other places where I buy, but this does not cover everything, for example, meat products. I know that there are stores that sell without packaging, I know they have deliveries without packaging, but I have not yet mastered this mechanism. And now I don’t know what’s stopping me, maybe just the resources that I need to try something new, sit down, find information, think it over. There are things that I managed to reconsider, for example, a few years ago I categorically refused to buy a plastic bag if I forgot my shopping bag and I had nowhere to put my purchases. Now I'm more relaxed about it.

There are things that I am not yet ready to implement at all, for example, many eco-mothers use reusable diapers in the first year. It is too difficult for me, it is necessary to constantly plan how to wash them and bring them home. Perhaps in the future something will change and I will change my attitude.

What motivates you to do this?

Anna: I think that when a person does not think about how much waste they generate, they need to be shown the operating landfill nearby and explain that several tons of waste are personal (in 30 years a person generates at least 12 tons of waste). This is quite effective. The most important motivation for me is to leave as little waste as possible when I am gone. I like cleanliness, simplicity and minimalism, and when you begin to consciously refuse spontaneous purchases, unnecessary packaging, the space around you seems to free up, there is more light, more air, and so on. And it's like a drug, as soon as you start to enjoy it, you realize that you want even more light, even more space, even less packaging and fewer things.

How did the сommunity Separate Collection come about?

Anna: There were several different people who gathered to separate recyclables, but procurement companies prefer to work with large batches, so this motivated them to unite. The action was born out of the need to collect a batch of recyclable materials in order to transfer them for recycling. How it turned out that a community grew out of sharing is not clear to me, and perhaps no one understands (laughs). In general, there were many factors at the same time and what is happening in our country, including all these advances towards garbage reform. In 2016, in my opinion, talks about the garbage reform began, changes in the regulatory framework began to appear, the situation with the Novoselki landfill was consecrated... And specifically in St. Petersburg, all this influenced the awakening of civic activity. People began to learn more, ask more questions and slowly approach the question: “What can I do?”

How has the garbage reform affected the community?

Anna: We have been living with the garbage reform for a year now. From January 2022, as planned, it came about. All our energy over the past two and a half years has been directed towards developing separate collection to such an extent that after the start of the reform, separate accumulation near the house did not disappear, as happened in other regions. The reform is now aimed at the last two principles, about sorting waste and incineration, and, accordingly, no positive initiatives are possible, since the entire regulatory framework is written under the last principle.

Why do you think people join the community?

Anna: I think it starts like it did for me. Someone saw a separate collection in a neighboring yard and thought: “Why don’t I have this” and began to look for information. And our task is for a person to find it easily and without hindrance. Our first integrated development project was in 2019. With the support of the Presidential Grants Fund, we implemented a large project to promote the implementation of RNO: we developed methodological recommendations, held hundreds of consultations, and shared positive experience on social networks. We still have a Support Service, every resident of St. Petersburg can call or write and get an answer to any question about the practice of separate collection and algorithms for introducing house-to-house savings.

What else does the community do besides separate collection?

Anna: We hold many events where we promote the practices of not only separate collection, but also waste prevention, reuse, sharing, etc. We help to introduce separate collection at large and small events. We develop a lot of posters, methodological materials for environmental education, represent the interests of the public in government at various levels. In addition, we have services for the greening of businesses and business processes.

How do you see the future development of your project?

Anna: If we talk about the project for the development of house savings, then I see great potential in working with employees of management companies. In an apartment building, you can not only separate waste, but also prevent their appearance, you can share books, tools and equipment, exchange books and toys, change waste paper for seedlings, centrally collect rare waste fractions, and much more. If those to whom we entrust the management of the house are aware of all the possibilities, then our container sites will be cleaner and less and less garbage will go to the landfill.


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