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Nagorskaya Tatyana, leader of the RazdelniySbor movement in St. Petersburg

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

The head of the RazdelniySbor eco-movement, Tatyana Nagorskaya, has been promoting grassroots ecology to the masses since 2011, when waste sorting and the avoidance of plastic were not yet mainstream. We discussed with Tatiana how her interest in ecology began and how it turned into an environmental movement.

CC: Please, tell us about how you came to an ecological lifestyle.

TN: I am from Tomsk. I have a scientific family, so my parents and grandparents were professors. Back in Soviet times, they separated food waste in the city and took it to the dacha (cottage) to compost. However, we never had a car. And all these actions were not burdensome for us. For me, a meaningful attitude to things like waste, it is characteristic, probably, since childhood. Here I had no problems, and it turned out such a classic story.

Besides, I wanted to be a physicist. At some point, it became clear that I could be a physicist only if I was already Lord Kelvin, because you have to have money to be a physicist ... And I worked part-time, then, in the end, I began to work in a programming office, I did a lot of tasks, my back hurt, in the end, I decided that I would quit and look for a job that I liked. And at that moment, I thought that perhaps I would take up recycling and want to design my own recycling center, which would be beautiful, not marginal. I began to calculate this model, went to the job center. There I took all kinds of courses that they offered me, accounting, starting a business, and so on, in general, I took everything I could from there and calculated this item in different combinations. In the end, I realized that recyclables are worthless. This business has a negative profit margin.

We have been corresponding with Greenpeace since the beginning of the 90s, when they first entered Russia, and I got the understanding that there is a systemic problem in recycling - in state regulation, in the legislative plane. It became clear that until we change this story, business will not be able to do anything. In 2011, the guys from the Separate Collection began to hold their first actions. I have always been skeptical of grassroots initiatives. For me, communicating with people is an effort, but my activity has a purpose, so I overcome communication barriers.

I met the guys, and since I was at the labor exchange and I had flexibility with time, I began to visit authorities and other places on their behalf. Over time, it turned out that I was a public representative of the movement. In the process, I realized that it is difficult for business to promote new ideas through the authorities, because everyone sees in it only a commercial interest. But I saw great power in social movements, because they can represent the interests of society, but at the same time they are not “tarnished” by the thirst for commercial success. The potential of a large volunteer organization that correctly builds its goals is much greater than the capabilities of a separate recycling center.

As a result, we created an NPO, and since I had the skills of systemic activity, I was chosen as a leader.

CC: Tell us more about the existence of Separate collection before you.

TN: The date of the first action on November 5, 2011 is considered the birthday of the movement, in 2021 we turned 10 years old. For some time we existed without a legal entity, and in June 2015 we registered an NPO. Despite the fact that many organizations do not have legal entities, our large-scale activities required registration, otherwise we would not have been taken seriously at the federal level. We are active and transparent, we see our mission in developing the non-profit sector, showing how to achieve success in this area.

СС: How do you think, to what extent St. Petersburg is a good context for promoting environmental ideas?

TN: Petersburg is a very good context. The low activity on the part of the state authorities is compensated by the wide response of the population to grassroots initiatives. It was in St. Petersburg that a lot of movements appeared - “Beautiful Petersburg”, “Garbage. No. More”, “Separate Collection”, “Foodsharing”. We cooperate with all these organizations in one way or another, creating a St. Petersburg eco-community.

Startups are born in the city, sometimes you think: “How will they survive?”. And then you look, they began to cooperate with someone, they got the support of the population. In St. Petersburg, it’s not shameful to say “I came up with such a thing”; they won’t point a finger at you and say “fool”, the community is large and not evil. Although sometimes environmental activists are too critical, and one of my tasks is to return discussions to a constructive track, to overcome the status of “chosen ones”.

Chosenness hurts a lot, because it interferes with scaling. If everyone does like me, I will no longer be unique. But if my goal is for others to also practice a sustainable lifestyle, the desire to be chosen becomes an obstacle.

СС: What is the mission and core values of Segregated Collection?

TN: We promote the sustainable circular economy paradigm and change the consumption paradigm. The main principle is that the resource cycle must be closed and for this it is necessary to rebuild all processes.

It must be understood that waste is generated at all stages of production and consumption. Recycling as such is not a panacea, and you need to build processes in such a way that you have a cycle and that it is slow. That is, so that between the acts of processing your material product can be used for as long as possible, and its further fate was predetermined at the design stage.

In order to do this, you need to rebuild the entire resource scheme, the history of the movement of goods. For some reason, we in Russia eat bananas, although we should eat turnips. By the way, recently the whole of Europe took up arms against avocados, although for some reason not bananas. When I talk about this at public events, it is shocking, people do not know how to live on, but we tell how, because there are already many opportunities to rebuild the consumption model.

Separate Gathering also has such an important principle: any volunteer is the face of the movement. If volunteers are not given time and do not make educational programs, gatherings and events, then they will not fully understand the essence of the movement. "Parishioners" (that's how we call the townspeople who come to our actions) may be wrong about something, but we cannot condemn them. A volunteer should be a person with a big heart, openly share knowledge and be happy to answer questions from newcomers. Although it is difficult, it is necessary.

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