My interest for waste started 13 years ago in Cambodia. I was volunteering there in the AIDS prevention sector and got asked to help one day with the kids working on the dumpsite near Phnom Penh. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw all those young kids working 10 hours a day bare hands or with a hook to find recyclables in this immense dumpsite. None of them was going to school and they were earning a few euro cents per day for their findings. Lots of them were injured by the sharp items in the dumpsite or by the metal hook they were using. Needless to say that it was a perfect environment for infections to develop. But what amazed me the most was the big smile on their face despite the tough life they were having. But why had those kids to live in our trashes all day?
It was quite a turning point in my life and career, I then decided to quit my [comfortable but meaningless] Corporate job to take a degree in Environment and Resources Management and went afterwards to Kenya to work for a local NGO wanting to develop waste recycling in their village. One of the very first thing I did there was to create some awareness in the village by organizing a large clean-up action in the main street of the village which was actually lots of trashes agglomerated with soil. Then we dumped for a few hours all the trash we had collected on the main square of the village and talked to villagers with flyers and banners. The village had never experienced such action, so we did get some attention! 🙂
When I came to Montenegro, my first thought was: oh, what a stunningly beautiful country! But then shortly followed by: What a shame that the nature is so trashed…! I am still confused how a country can proudly declares itself the first ecological state while not taken basic measures to avoid its nature being trashed. So in the first months I had arrived, I started a small initiative to tackle this problem, when one day I came across the Foundation of Zero Waste Europe who didn’t have a member in Montenegro. After meeting their team in Brussels, we soon decided to create ZWMNE. Thanks to the support and experience of all its members, we have learned a lot in a short time and we have access to lots of resources to fight waste problems that most countries are facing or have faced in the past.
Changing mentalities is of course key to solving the problem. Citizen needs to understand that they must take responsibilities for their waste if they want to leave a liveable planet to our children. Did you know(*) that humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s, and most of it now resides in landfills or the natural environment? There is a fast-growing movement in the world to start living with producing minimum waste. Our role is to explain everyone why they need to do it, and how they can do it. But of course, citizen are not the only ones responsible for the trash we produce and what happens to them. Companies creating products in the linear economy (non-recyclable, compostable or reusable products or packaging) are very much responsible for the waste issue we world is facing today, and that is why Zero Waste Europe works closely with the EU commission to get the laws changed. Zero Waste also supports companies to redesign their products and packaging to make them part of the circular economy. And finally the Montenegrin government has a major role to play by implementing the right policies and enforcing them. If Rwanda has been able to ban all plastic bags from its country for years, why couldn’t a small country like Montenegro also do it?
We also want to work on projects which can have a direct impact on the level of waste being collected, recycled or reused, we have started a collaboration with Deponjia to advise them on improving the efficiency of their waste sorting facility, we also want to support one municipality to become the first Zero Waste Municipality in Montenegro which would be a major achievement. At the moment we are a small team of volunteers working on all those issues with a budget of zero, so we are looking for new volunteers with various skills, and financial support to help us achieved our goals, as there is so much to do!
(*) journal Science Advances. Study led by a team of scientists from the University of Georgia, the University of California, Sea Education Association and University of Santa Barbara. This study is the first global analysis of the production, fate and use of all plastics ever made.