How Ukraine Can Learn to Control its Waste Problem
30 December, 2018

Ukrainians are legally bound to recycle their waste. This was stipulated by a 2012 law. But back in 2012 nobody took the law seriously. In autumn 2017, Ukraine’s association agreement with the European Union came into force and in so abiding to European laws became mandatory. Therefore since January 2018 Ukrainians have had to recycle their waste. But coming up to the end of the year, it can be safely asserted that most of them neglect the law.

“Unfortunately we live in a country where laws are often neglected,” ecologist Oleksandr Sokolenko told Ukraine’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty department Radio Svoboda. “This law is impossible to implement too because there is no infrastructure for collecting, sorting, recycling and safe disposal of waste.”

A fire at a landfill near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on May 30, 2016. Photo: EPA

The prognoses don’t look too promising too. According to the Ukrainian Minister of Ecology Ostap Semerak, only 3% of municipal solid waste is currently being recycled in Ukraine. In comparison, the figure for 2016 was 30% in the European Union and 25.8% in the United States in 2015.

So what’s making it so difficult for Ukrainians to start recycling more and what can they learn from the West? American environmentalist and author of the book “Zero Waste Home” Bea Johnson believes that recycling rules are applicable all over the world.

“The waste is, of course, a different issue in different parts of the world,” she told Hromadske on May 12. “Where we live (Johnson lives in California, U.S. - ed.) it's a question of dealing with the amount that's being generated. In other parts, it will be a question of collecting the very few pieces that are being generated.”

American environmentalist and author of the book “Zero Waste Home” Bea Johnson speaks to Hromadske on May 12, 2018. Photo: Oleksandr Kokhan / HROMDSKE

She adds, however, that there is a universal system that can be used anywhere in the world and help everyone become more environmentally-friendly.

Five Universal Rules

That system is “The Five R’s Methodology,” which stand for refusing, reducing, reusing, recycling and rotting.

“The first one is to refuse things that we do not need. The second is to reduce the things that we do actually need. The third is to reuse what we consume. The fourth is to recycle but recycle only what we cannot reduce or reuse. And, finally, it's rotting, which is composing the rest,” she explains, adding that following all these rules in order will help reduce our trash to “one jar a year.”

A flock of seagulls flies over the landfill at Ano Liosia, west of Athens, Greece on January 18, 2007. Photo: EPA/PANTELIS SAITAS

“What's great about applying my five R's in order is that the first three allow you to prevent waste from happening in the first place, so you don't have to worry about the sorting or the landfill, if you refuse, reduce, and reuse first, you won't have to deal with recycling and rotting,” she adds.


Johnson doesn’t believe nationals of any country or members of any society are exempt from following this methodology and becoming more Earth-conscious. In fact, she says she’s used to people coming up with different excuses as to why they can’t follow her advice.

Waste containers have been overturned and set alight by protesters in Naples, Italy on December 8, 2010. Photo: EPA/CIRO FUSCO ANSA

“It's funny when I present my lifestyle outside the U.S., people say ‘it's easy for you, you live in the U.S.’ Americans say ‘it's easy for you, you live in California,’ Californians say ‘well, it's easy for you, you live in San Francisco,’ (I don't live in San Francisco, I live outside.) San Franciscans say ‘well it's easy for you, you're French.’ Everyone has a pretext for we can do it and they can't,” Johnson recollects.

Other excuses she found funny were from people who live on their own (“you can do it because you're a family of four, I live alone and it would be impossible") and from larger-sized people ("you can buy used clothing because you're slim").

“Don't let your misconceptions stop you from adopting this lifestyle,” Johnson says passionately. “What we've done at home has launched a global movement. There are thousands and thousands of people doing this around the world. And these people are showing that the five R's are applicable anywhere in the world.”

The Mindset for Change

When asked about what the state can do to reduce the amount of rubbish disposed, Johnson says that all the change is “in the hands of the consumer.”

“A lot of people sit back and they don't want to adopt a zero waste lifestyle because they feel like while the manufacturers have to change, and municipalities have to adopt zero waste before we do. I don't agree with that,” she elaborates.

A pedestrian walks by a pile of garbage under heavy rainfall in Piraeus, Greece on October 10, 2011. Photo: EPA/PANTELIS SAITAS

“Every time you buy something that is packaged for example, that's a way to say I love packaging and I dream of a world filled with packaging for my children. And, of course, manufacturers will create more packaging.”  

Instead, Johnson says, one can learn to buy “usable alternatives”: swap paper towels for rags, a box of tissues for handkerchiefs.

“There is a reusable alternative on the market for anything that is disposable, including condoms.”

An added bonus, according to the environmentalist, will be the money saved.

“We calculated that [this lifestyle] saved us 40% of our overall budget… Today we're happy with the number of things we have in our home, we are no longer adding to it. And if we buy something, it's only to replace what needs to be replaced and we buy second hand which obviously costs less.”

/By Maria Romanenko and Ostap Yarysh