May 1995 Issue #33 ECOLOGIA NEWSLETTER Archive

May 1995 Issue #33

Changing Attitudes of the Russian Public Toward Environmental Issues
Vadim Vinichenko

Sociological studies of attitudes of the Russian public currently show some interesting shifts over the past two years.

In December 1993 during a Parliamentary campaign, a poll of Moscow region residents asked them to name issues they were concerned about. The environment was not a significantly important issue to most people polled. But as of September 1994, the picture given by a repeat poll was quite different. More residents polled mentioned the increasing power of organized crime as a concern (75%) than any other. This was followed by the economy (between 60% and 70%), and then by environmental concerns (49%).

Over the past year, the state of the Russian environment neither degraded nor improved dramatically. For a while the economy was stabilizing, though at a rather low level of production, and people could look at their environment to see that it has not changed for the better. However, today the economic state of many people is worse than half a year ago.

The current wave of attention to environmental problems is of a more pragmatic sort than the previous one. In the recent past, public complaints about environmental conditions were part of the general reaction to the disclosure of communist rulers' crimes, abuses and faults in every field. Now, people are more likely just to be fearful for their own health because of obviously polluted air and water. With this more pragmatic approach to environmental problems, there may be enough public interest to support some specific practical solutions.

Naujeiji Verkai Fabrika Popierus, Vilnius Lithuania: A Venerable Survivor

Naujeiji Verkai is the oldest paper factory in Eastern Europe. It was founded in 1834. It is located on Popierus Street (Paper Street) in a wooded area within the city limits of Vilnius. Although their capacity is 20,000 tons a year, they currently produce only 5,000 tons a year: corrugated packing paper, toilet paper, and industrial wrapping paper. The major limiting factor is their difficulty in getting the raw materials - post-consumer paper, paper from publishing houses, and wood pulp. Their owner/managers cite the lack of waste paper, and poor organization of collecting it, as their single most serious problem. In 1994, used paper accounted for 28% of their input; they collected 45,000 tons. A second limiting factor is the lack of modern machinery to produce higher quality paper goods. Naujeiji Verkai lacks de-inking capabilities and mechanical cleaning.

As the world demand for wood and wood products rises, so does the price. Export of these products is emerging as a short-term way for countries without a developed manufacturing sector to earn hard currency. Logging both from state forest lands and newly privatized lands is increasing, as is the sale of waste paper. As of January 1, 1995, the Lithuanian government lifted an existing export tax on exported waste paper. This encourages export of this resource to other countries, and undermines the Lithuanian paper-making factories by raising the price and lessening the supply to them of waste paper.

The paper-making factories clearly would benefit from access to waste paper. Lithuania's newly emerging market economy is providing one solution ECOLOGIA staff in Vilnius saw trucks from stores bringing their corrugated cardboard from shipping boxes into both factories; the factories pay the stores for the valuable waste paper.

How typical is the situation of the Lithuanian paper factories? Comparison with Estonia seems to indicate that developments are remarkably similar. Sekto Recycling, Tallinn Estonia:
'It Is Still Happening Here'
Two and a half years ago, ECOLOGIA visited Sekto, an active recycling and remanufacturing plant in Tallinn, Estonia, and detailed its activities in an article titled "Recycling and Remanufacturing in Estonia - 'It Can Happen Here'" (E.N. #21). Recently ECOLOGIA returned to Sekto to see how it has responded in this period of transition.

Founded in 1989, Sekto has always been a private company, altering its production and sales strategy as supplies, transportation and markets have shifted. Today, Sekto has changed significantly. The Sekto staff has been trimmed, from 140 workers and managers two years ago to 60 today. Labor efficiency has increased. Textile production has decreased; now their major products are insulation, oil-absorbing material, blankets for first aid/emergency use, and biodegradable mulch. They are about to initiate a line of furniture upholstery. Most of these products are made from a combination of pre-consumer and post-consumer paper, cardboard, and fabric.

Most of Sekto's products are now exported to Finland. Some of their materials have earned the right to display the Finnish seal of approval of meeting ecological requirements - made from 100% post-consumer recycled materials. For some product lines, the recycled materials are collected in Finland, shipped to Sekto for re-manufacturing, then exported back to Finland for sale of the finished product.

Two years ago, Sekto processed 40 tons of paper per day. Now they are down to between 30 and 35 tons per day. Sixty percent of their raw material paper supply comes from factories. This "pre-consumer waste" is created as part of the manufacturing process. It consists of scraps which are left over after the paper has been cut to a certain shape. The other forty percent of Sekto's raw material paper supply is "post-consumer", collected after it has been used by families or in offices.

The municipal government of Oismae, one Tallinn neighborhood, has worked in cooperation with Sekto to provide paper collection containers in residential areas. The local newspaper has publicized the paper collection effort. In the Lasnamae neighborhood, a private Swedish company has just started providing a collection bin. Printed notices have been distributed to residents, and posted in the entrances.

When asked about sales of their products inside Estonia, particularly the likelihood of producing recycled paper for sale locally, Jaak Joamets, Sekto's Chief Engineer, said that Estonian Baltic Paper Recycling, society does not presently have a demand for products made from recycled materials. With increasing economic opportunities, at least for a significant minority of Estonians, now they want to have products made from really good quality material, which they equate with new (virgin) contents. This is in contrast to the days of Soviet rule, where "soviet" goods were often made of poor quality materials.

Common Features of Recycling Programs in the Baltics and in the United States

  1. Lithuania and Estonia both have weaker economies than do their Western neighbors. As part of this pattern, the Baltic nations have become exporters of their own raw and recycled materials. As the Baltic economies develop, we can expect to see greater utilization of their own resources, including recyclables, in their own production processes. This might help them to break free of the cycle of exporting (cheap) raw materials and importing (expensive) manufactured goods from the West. To a lesser extent, the United States participates in this same pattern in its dealings with Asian nations, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Americans sell shiploads of used fabrics, scrap metal, and recycled paper to these nations.
  2. International trade in recyclables as commodities themselves is increasing. In the long run, this could encourage people in all nations to conserve and effectively utilize these valuable resources. An encouraging note is that prices of some recyclables have been increasing over the past year. (such as aluminum and many paper products). This has spurred recycling programs.
  3. Throughout the world, the environmental and economic costs of resource extraction are becoming increasingly high, and increasingly apparent. The need to increase public participation in recycling, and in purchasing recycled products, is growing.
  4. NGO activities can become a crucial link in organizing recycling efforts to involve the general public. For example, in 1994 the Latvian Society of Nature Conservation in Salacgriva organized a used battery recycling program. They built and placed special boxes for collecting the used batteries, printed and distributed Fact Sheets about the dangers of discarding used batteries directly into landfills, and placed newspaper ads explaining the collection procedure. Over 60 people, including school and university students, worked on this project.
  5. Municipalities and local factories are logical partners with NGOs in recycling efforts. The used battery recycling program in Salacgriva is a case in point. Once the NGO started this project with money from ECOLOGIA's Mini-Grant Program, the Salacgriva municipality supported the project by collecting and transporting the used batteries, and by providing some additional financing.
In all nations, people can respond with enthusiasm to the opportunity to reduce community waste disposal costs, to preserve their own immediate environment, to help local factories to prosper, and to save up valuable raw materials for their country's benefit.

A Final Note:
If you read ECOLOGIA Newsletter in Lithuanian or Russian, or if you are an English-language subscriber in Europe, Russia or Asia, your copy of this issue is printed on Swedish recycled paper which our Vilnius office is now able to order.

The availability of office quality recycled paper in Vilnius is an encouraging first step. We look forward to the time when we can print ECOLOGIA Newsletter on locally produced recycled paper.

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