Elizaveta Merinova, Program Coordinator for Microplastics, Marine Litter, Waste and Conscious Consumption at Friends of the Baltic, shared with us her personal experience of eco-habits and sustainable lifestyle.
When did you first become interested in the eco-lifestyle?
ЕМ: In fact, there is no beautiful story about how I went to study to be an ecologist. I just studied in a chemistry-biological class and initially became interested in this topic. I specialised in academic ecology. It is a vast discipline about the relationships of organisms. But at the university, in my second year, I learned about a student association called LATIM (laboratory of creative initiatives of youth). It was organised by students and alumni of the Department of Environmental Safety of St. Petersburg State University. The laboratory promoted the ideas of a circular lifestyle and an eco-friendly lifestyle for different target groups, including environmental education for school children. At that moment I joined them because I was very interested in the topic. Then I realised that I wanted to engage in environmental education. Around this time I began to learn more about this, I began to tell others about it, and at the same time I began to introduce some practices into my life. So the first steps were in 2015, about six years ago.
What was your motivation?
ЕМ: Despite the fact that we studied academic ecology, we were still told about how humans affect the environment. Then we started our own research, where we went to different natural places and studied them. We searched for unauthorised dumps. This is when you walk through the forest, study vegetation from biogeography, while seeing an unauthorised dump. This, of course, made me think, first of all, about my own way of life, and secondly, about the attitude to the garbage of other people.
At the university, I did not yet know about the work of public organisations and social movements. At that time, I knew that there are large organisations as Greenpeace and WWF, and they do good deeds. I didn't think that ordinary people can also influence anything, except for their own little piece of responsibility. Now, of course, I understand that one person, even without being in the association can for example, write to the manufacturer of his favourite products and say that you are producing goods in non-recyclable packaging, ask him to replace it. This will do good not only for me as a single consumer, but for everyone else.
Initially, the main motivation was concern for the environment and ethical reasons. Caring for flora and fauna. But gradually that changed. Now, I am the type of ecologist who defends our own future. I understand that nature - it will survive everything. But how are we going to live in this world filled with microplastics and a changing climate? So yes, I am now fighting for people rather than for the purity of nature.
How did your daily life change when you started introducing new eco-habits?
ЕМ: Around the same time, at university, I started stocking up on reusable alternatives for a single-use plastic products, but at that point it wasn't directly that conscious. I just thought that using a glass bottle is much more convenient and economical. I don't need to buy water every day in the store opposite and spend twenty rubles. Instead we installed a cooler in the student canteen and it was easy to take water there. Plus, eco-bags and such appeared. In general it all started small, like everyone else. Well, the practice of energy saving, which I also learned more about at that time. This is not only about saving water, but also for example about window insulation. You don't have to install an additional heater, if you can just cover the window, and thus you will spend less energy.
Was there any difficulty in starting to implement these practices in your life?
ЕМ: Until we got a cooler in the university cafeteria, I brought a bottle of water with me. It ended at some point and it was necessary to invent something. Of course, the infrastructure was lacking. For example, at that time, there was no such project as "Your Water", when you walk around the city and you can collect water in your container at any point. The lack of such projects dulled the desire for an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Plus, then there were still very few points for recycling waste. In order to send waste materials for processing, one had to practically be like a hero. To drag the materials across the whole city somewhere, to save up containers for a long time, there were no services for the collection of recyclable materials, etc.
I would also like to note that I also consider reducing meat consumption to be an ecological practice, because it reduces the impact on the climate. I started this practice when I was still in the tenth grade. It started for ethical reasons. I just stopped eating meat, not all animal products. And then, when I entered the university and began to study, there were many "pumped-up" people who knew more about the ecological lifestyle. I looked at them, learned something new, practiced veganism for some time, that is, the rejection of all animal products. I think then I had a little youthful maximalism. I believed that by this refusal, I would change everything. But I was not very well prepared for this, because: you must have a balanced diet, you need to study a lot of information so that there are no health problems. At that moment, I was poorly prepared. And I started having health problems, I had to change my lifestyle and nutrition again. I started eating fish, dairy products, but gradually I just found the balance and cut back on animal products as much as possible for me.
Other difficulties were related to the public, at least the immediate family. I am from Lipetsk, but originally I am from a small village of Kazinka. Naturally, people there have no idea how it is possible to live without meat, because they have been doing this all their lives. Cattle are grazed, then slaughtered and eaten. And when I told my grandmother about my decision to give up meat, it was certainly a small scandal, she did not understand at all. They constantly tried to put finely chopped pieces of meat into my soup, but gradually they got used to it. Now they fully understand me. If I say no, it means no. You can probably also mention shaming. Shaming yourself and shaming by the community. That is, you start to follow some eco-friendly practices, and happens so, for example that you just can't help but buy a plastic bottle of water. You are now changing your beliefs and at the same time your friends or your company, they could say: "But how can this be? Are you for the environment?" People notice that you kind of started, but not completely and it is easier for them not to do the same, but to tell you that you are actually not as "clean" as you want to seem.
Were there any people or mentors who initially inspired you?
ЕМ: I think that initially, the guys from LATIM (laboratory of creative initiatives of youth), but now that we have together with these guys long overcome a certain level of implementation of environmental practices, now they are some kind of international people. For example, Delphina Levi Alvarez inspires me. She is the coordinator of the European office of Break Free From Plastic. I am inspired by the amount of work that the project is doing and how much they are changing European practices at the level of cities and states, and international legislation. All this definitely motivates and inspires me and makes me know that people can really achieve their goals and change the world. Now I am also inspired by the founder of the Friends of the Baltic organisation, Olga Nikolaevna Senova. They have been at the origins of the environmental movement in Russia for more than 20 years and are still greatly increased by this, they are aware of all modern trends and do a great job of promoting it. I am amazed at how it is possible not to burn out after such a long period of work, especially in the conditions of oppressive Russian legislation, it seems to me that this is also a great feat.
Do you think that the choice of one particular person in changing their daily practices matters in terms of impact on the environment? How did you feel in general, how effective was and is what you are doing?
ЕМ: Earlier, at the very beginning of the path, I thought that now I will do it and I can change everything! Then there was a long period of time when I thought that I was responsible only for myself and for my choice and that I could not change the whole world. Now I understand that I can, by my example, show people around me different practices, and they will also change. I have many examples of people who are absolutely not related to the environment, and in the end they say: "Lisa, you have such neatness, is separate collection easy?" And the fact that your immediate environment is changing due to the fact that you promote ideas that society should ask from business and the state, it seems to me that each person is able to influence the system as a whole.
If we have a glass of water and just a drop of pomegranate there, then clear water will still turn pinkish, so a drop in the sea matters.