Enthusiasts, local “weirdos” and gipsies help to decrease the trash catastrophe in the region.

A pink shoe, piece of rakes, rest of a toy car, coffee can, a toy pot with a broken bottom, and a lid from a plastic barrel (where cabbage is fermented). Besides different plastic bottles, these are things which were caught in a picturesque Carpathians place by Serhii Hudak, a photographer. He caught them to take a photo.

Some pairs of gloves, angler boots, a white background – these are the photographer’s gentleman’s set he has in his luggage boot except for the equipment, of course. There are also plastic bags where the “exhibits” and everything he managed to collect at the location to take to a trash deposit are kept.

“Carpathian Rivers”. This is how I called the project. It is about what else there are in the rivers of our region besides water, plants and animals. Unfortunately, it is true. Uzh, Latorytsia, Borzhava rivers… But I started not from the rivers but from this place. The Vilshany reservoir of the Tereblia-Ryka Hydropower Plant, a brilliant location, it is easy to imagine how catamarans and even yachts are sailing here among the mountains, and people are enjoying the view. I have photos of the view. I also have a photo taken just one meter aside where you can see this nightmare,” Serhii Hudak, a Zakarpattian journalist and author of Opinion, says.

Serhii says, “Why do I do a close-up of trash? To make people see it. To make people understand that trash is not an abstract pile which appeared from nowhere. Because someone had brought here these polyurethane foam packages and chainsaw trimmers. I made up this project the moment when I saw a toilet bowl, potty-chair, and water tub among other trash. And it doesn’t fit the idea of tourists who’ve come to Zakarpattia and left trash here. These must have been thrown away by locals. Evidently, just because they don’t love their land. Perhaps, because they don’t know what to do. So, I offer you to see it and think together about what we should do.

The project is on. Now, it focuses on the main river of the region: Tysa. It is a good example of the Spoilt Landscape section. A beautiful place, crippled by trash piles. The mountainous district of Zakarpattia has the most of them. This contrast between beauty and garbage impresses.

People just don’t have a place to throw away their trash. This is accounted for by peculiarities of the region and the lack of strategy and financing of infrastructure projects, and the nonfeasance of responsible bodies. Thus, rivers become a big trash deposit. As people say, “the flow will take it away”… And the flow really takes trash away from mountains, partially abroad. For example, Tysa brings trash to a neighbouring Hungary which costs Ukraine its good image and brings fines. Coasts are also full of trash.

We are in the suburbs of a beautiful Kolochava, a village of ten museums, situated among the mountains of a picturesque Mizhhirshchyna district. People bring their trash to the coast of Tysa’s tributaries, it is often just opposite their houses – when the pile gets big, they just burn it. By the way, another coast of the Tysa River belongs to the National Park.

Today, trash management works only in a part of Zakarpattia. If Uzhhorod, and Mukachevo – the second big town of the region – have special enterprises which manage the problem more or less, other districts as Mizhhirshchyna, Rakhiv, Khust districts are risking to sink in their own trash. In 2014, the authorities started to build a waste recycling plant in the district of Berehove. The EU partially financed it, but the construction stopped. At the end of the year, it was continued but not for long. Since 2015, nothing has changed. The whole region urges to have a waste recycling or at least waste sorting enterprises. However, communities are reluctant to place such a plant on their territory. Neither community want to have a polygon of solid domestic waste. At the beginning of the 2010s, all public hearings on the polygon situated in the region were defeated. The polygon was supposed to serve almost the whole south of the region. In Uzhhorod – the capital of the region – the final storage situation is critical.

A polygon in the village of Barvinok, just near Uzhhorod, was opened in 1998. After two decades of functioning, now it has run out of its potential. People are struggling to save it as there’s no alternative. Every year, about 42 tonnes of waste are put here. More and more with every year. A trash mountain is now above the cemetery. It is almost 20 meters high. It is often on fire, then it smoulders for a long time.

“You are taking photos, so tell them, we have to go after the district, region authorities to make them find an area for the polygon!” a truck driver says. He works for a Uzhhorod waste management firm. He refused to introduce himself but shared his idea on the trash catastrophe. He and his colleagues make dozens of cycles to the deposit every day. The trucks are met by local workers (unofficial, of course): there are people who work and very often live near the polygon, who sort trash and bring it for recycling.

The polygon, speaking the officials’ language, will have exceeded its life cycle by 2020. If there is no new place, they will have to keep on throwing trash here by covering it with a 5-meter ground layer, which happens not for the first time. It will let them use the polygon one more year. Now, they are putting ground from the sides of a gigantic deposit not to let trash fall down. But for local sorters, the deposit would have been a way bigger: people collect up to one-third of waste. They give the collected items for recycling just near the entrance to the polygon. A kilogram of plastic bottles costs 0.05 USD, a kilo of beer cans is 0.3 USD.

Sorters, who are more frequently the Romani, work with their whole families. They are equipped with big bags and metallic hooks.

They have a certain “specialisation”: as a rule, they look for and put one kind of waste into a bag at one time. There are not many kinds of trash: glass (white and coloured should be put separately), metal, aluminium cans, carton, and plastic bottles, the rest is left on the polygon which is getting higher every day, no matter if you even grab it with an excavator…

…13 neat barrels: the glass of different colours, plastic bottles, lids, cans, metallic lids, plastic bags, overwrap, tetra pack, plastic flacons, different kinds of paper… Also, window glass, beer bottles, other plastic and carton. 17 categories in total. A small room is equipped with neatly marked containers.

This is a civic recycling station Vtorynka. It was founded by Volodymyr Tsyhyka in the village of Nevytske, which is 12 km away from Uzhhorod. It was supported by the Village Council. The idea is simple: people bring sorted waste, it is taken by an agent. The money earned is used for the community, for example, for flowerbeds. The first thing from Serhii’s collection taken from the Vilshany reservoir, which had been kept in his boot before that, to be put in a proper container was a lid from the fermented cabbage barrel. “Oh, a big piece of plastic! Each item brought here won’t be thrown to the deposit. It is not trash, it is goods. It is a resource!” Volodymyr Tsyhyka says.

He says, “These are premises belonging to the Village Council. There were many different things, for example, old windows from a kindergarten. We disassembled them and took away, equipped the premises. My family, friends and I decorated the room and containers so people could easily understand what kind of waste they should put in a container. I am now negotiating with local shops and cafes about them bringing their waste to us. People have heard about us and bring their waste from Uzhhorod here.

During the first months of work, we have collected about 1.5 tonnes of waste. However, the locals are not very enthusiastic. “They may just not see the problems with trash? A truck collected and took it away, no problem. When I go to the station by bike, I take some bottles in a bag on purpose so they will cling and invite attention. It is hard. For example, why does a bottle which had been just drunk beer from, become trash the moment people put it on the ground? They can bring it here. As many other items. It is not problematic, not difficult, it is not embarrassing. You know, they have this saying in Zakarpattia, “What won’t rot – will be burnt”. There used to be no problem when there was no plastic: organics were put in the garden, paper into a stove, glass, as well as scrap metal, was reused or given for recycling. But all this package is terrible. And I teach people to sort. It is not difficult to put some items in a box, bring it here, and then drop into containers. And it is not trash, it is goods which we sell in terms of the social project! The project is aimed at protecting the environment, in the first place. Protecting from us,” Volodymyr says.

“The conception is the following: a person doesn’t just leave us a bag or box, they put waste into containers by themselves. We arranged a self-service on purpose. Because we want to bring up a new culture of handling waste, a responsible attitude to waste when it doesn’t turn into unneeded stuff but becomes a precious resource – recyclable materials. For materials to be valuable, they have to be clean and dry. It is not a trash can, not a waste deposit! It is a recycling station the community owns,” Volodymyr Tsyhyka says it and shows how easy everything is designed here. We brought a box and some bags with sorted waste: we also give it for recycling.

“Honestly, we are a bit tired to push people sort. We are talking much about it. But locals just ignore it and say there is no problem. Or that Tsyhyka has made up the problem, kind of a weirdo, just may have nothing to do. But these exact people repost articles about sea animals with 200 kg of plastic in their stomach or a bird which got trapped in a balloon – they complain. And where has the bird got trapped? At the deposit. It is obvious for me that trash has to be sorted! And here we go, we have created the recycling station: just use it and there will be less trash, the village will benefit! I am very grateful to everybody who has joined the initiative, who sort their waste and visit our station! Your example gradually encourages others to change their attitude to the trash problem and join the project!” despite everything, Volodymyr believes people will hear the message and there will be more stations.

“Why am I doing it? I don’t have a precise answer. I just know that I should do it. When we went to Crimea, before it was annexed, my vacation began from collecting trash on the coast. Otherwise, I couldn’t relax, it spoilt all the pleasure. I don’t agree to live among trash!”

“This is a spider called Polly, it can sort waste, it has many legs for that. The sorting spider is, perhaps, the second important worker here after a Plasticchaw. We see that Plasticchaw can produce accessories, utensil, stationery items… Perhaps, it will also make animals for the school’s yard. We have many ideas!” Sofiia Khodan, a student of the Velyki Lasy School, says. She is 14 years old and discerns plastic with different marks. Now she needs a more solid one, which is marked with “2”. The village school opened “The Residency of Plasticchaw”: a lab of plastic recycling. They make useful things here. The idea of the device which let us not throw away but recycle belongs to a Holland designer Dave Hakkens. He uploaded a machine’s design on the Internet, The world now has up to a hundred of labs which are working basing on his idea. The implementation of the project in Zakarpattia was supported by a beverage company. It is the first mini-shop of the region, there are such ones also in Lviv, Kyiv and Odesa.

Yevhen Khlebnikov, an inventor, is assembling the equipment and explaining the process in a school bomb shelter, which is now the office of Plasticchaw. He changed the original design and also uploaded it on the Internet. He produces not only flower pots or puzzles but even musical instruments in the Odesa Precious Plastic Ukraine lab.

“We have a full cycle here: a shredder machine and three machines for shaping items. A thermopress for producing 50*50 cm sheets; an extrusion machine which melts and blends plastic, and produces hot flakes which we use to shape an item on a pattern; an injection machine which injects plastic into the mold. We can make a whip-top or soap dish from a plastic flake,” Yevhen says while producing an item.

Olena Marushevska, a representative of the All-Ukrainian Environmental League, says that the goal of the Plasticchaw project is to involve people to sort waste and share information about proper waste activities. She says, “I call all communities to sort trash, and bring such plastic here to get items which can be well used. In the future, this equipment will enable us to produce outside furniture, like banks, for example. The campaign mascot is a pretty character Plasticchaw (Plastyzhui). Children made up stories of how he came to our planet to save us from plastic. Basically, we all can join saving our planet by caring.”

Baranynska Amalgamated Hromada (community) (the biggest Zakarpattia waste deposit is situated on its territory) will set the containers for selective trash collection. The project also includes it. The children who met Plasticchaw are most likely to speak with their parents about everything they learned: waste, sorting, using recycled materials…

Plasticchaw, which seems so hilarious, teaches a conscious household waste behaviour. These children know about eco-bags, kinds of waste and marking, and the necessity of sorting. It is about responsibility. Only it and a realized necessity to manage waste will not let touristic Zakarpattia get drowned in the trash.

More than hundreds of square kilometres are taken up by polygons for solid domestic waste in Ukraine. The area of the waste deposit in Barvinok is 2.5 hectares, under the 18-meter pile, there are other 7 meters of trash in the pit.

According to the Ministry of Ecology, Ministry of Regional Development and ecologists, the territory of all waste deposits of Ukraine is estimated at 10 thousand hectares, with the volume of trash accounting for about 1.2 cubic kilometres which equal to 500 Cheops Pyramids.

An average Ukrainian produces about 300 kilograms of trash every year. Perhaps, it won’t significantly decrease your annual trash volume, but next time at the supermarket, please give up another plastic bag. The most plastic ever produced by humans hasn’t disappeared yet. Some of it will lie in forests and on river coasts, some will float in rivers, some will lie in waste deposits forever.

So far, only enthusiasts are struggling not to let Zakarpattia get drowned in the trash. The authorities just declare their intentions while a young Romani Boris is working with his bag and hook on the Barvinok polygon.

The work isn’t easy, but it is quite possible to sort up to one cubic meter of waste a day. It means the waste mountain near Uzhhorod won’t rise so quickly.

Serhii Hudak will go on keeping gloves, boots and several bags in his car in case of taking a photo. By the way, in the middle of June, after big water caused by rains, Hungarian activists were collecting trash “exported” from Ukraine to the village of Tisofiured by the Tysa River. 3 tonnes, they say – these are only a part they managed to collect…

Text by Alla Haiatova

Photo credits go to Serhii Hudak

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