Moscow is clean and has well-run public services, equal to many capitals in Western countries; yet Russia’s largest city also produces a lot of garbage.
Moscow is home to 12 million people, and its residents produce over 7 million tons of waste each year. Russian officials say that represents 20 percent of all waste produced in the world’s biggest country. Industrial waste raises that number even higher, officials note.
There is another problem: only a small percentage of all this trash is recycled.
Where does the waste go?
Much of that garbage goes to places like Alexandrov, a historic town about 120 kilometers from the capital. It has one of the many landfills set up around Moscow.
But Alexandrov’s residents are not happy about it. In recent years, they have seen garbage brought, without permission, from Moscow, and it is forming a mountain not far from the town.
Eighty-year-old Vladimir Saunin moved to the town a few years ago. “I come here, and my eyes water and my face gets puffy,” he said.
Saunin said he had hoped to enjoy his retirement by taking walks in the forest and inside a fortress that briefly served as home to Czar Ivan the Terrible.
“Instead, my wife can’t leave the house,” he said. “It’s a catastrophe. Everyone who lives here thinks the same.”
Now, any change in the wind brings a bad smell.
Some local residents spoke to VOA. They compared the smell to “radiation.”
Alexander Kuyum grew up in the town and remembered that it once looked very beautiful, like a painting, he said.
“The worst thing is, they’ve shipped all this garbage, and now want to ship even more,” he said.
Growing concerns over the landfill’s risks to public health led to large protests. Last December, about 5,000 people called for the landfill’s closure.
Similar protests have taken place in other towns across Russia. Moscow still has not developed an effective way to deal with its waste or to create recycling programs.
Many Russians are angry at Moscow for forcing poorer communities to accept its waste. Now, they are saying they have had enough.
“I don’t want to leave (the town),” said Julia Gribnova, a young mother who spoke to VOA. “I’m not saying Moscow should have to live in squalor. I’m just saying that I don’t want them to ship it here.”
However, local activists fighting the landfill say police consider them troublemakers only for wanting clean air.
The lesson of Sheston
The story of Alexander Shestun shows how officials in Moscow can control areas near it. Shestun is a former head of Sepukhov, an area south of Moscow. He joined with local residents to oppose the effort to expand another landfill near their homes.
At private meetings with top officials, he was told that the landfill decision had the support of Moscow’s new governor. But Shestun recorded their comments to him and put them online. He said he wanted to document a pressure campaign against him in an appeal to President Vladimir Putin.
But within weeks, armed agents stormed Shestun’s home. He was taken to prison on bribery charges, which his family and supporters say are clearly false.
Shestun is expected to go on trial in March.
Russia’s government is under growing pressure over waste.
Putin announced waste and recycling reforms this year. He admitted that there is strong dissatisfaction over the issue. But it is unclear how much will be done.
New government measures call for burning waste instead of recycling it. Environmentalists criticize the method because it causes pollution. In addition, Moscow and Saint Petersburg are not required to follow the new measures.
Moscow recently set out blue recycling containers at waste collection areas near apartment buildings around the city. Although a good sign, local people are not sure how they are to be used.
“I watch people recycling, but without sorting out anything,” said Natalya, a Moscow resident.
Sobirator is one of the few places were Moscovites can learn about recycling. It is a volunteer recycling center in one of Moscow’s industrial areas.
Tatyana Vasilyeva works at Sobirator. “The problem we face is that there’s no trust form the residents that one can really put the recyclables there, and they’ll go where they’re supposed to,” she said.
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
And I'm Ashley Thompson.
Mario Ritter Jr. adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
recycle – v. to reuse or make a product or substance available for reuse through natural processes
puffy – adj. heavy or full in size
fortress – n. a strong building or structure; a stronghold
catastrophe – n. a disaster, a very bad event
squalor – n. bad, dirty conditions
bribery – n. the act of giving money or something else in order to influence another person’s judgment
apartment – n. a room or rooms in a building where many people live