5 Dec 2022
The Rise of Eco Activism in Abkhazia
“Even small steps can cause a butterfly effect and change everything” Betul Marshan
The most pressing environmental problem in Abkhazia is the problem of waste, and almost all eco-activists are involved in this particular issue in one way or another. To solve this problem many countries have built waste-processing enterprises and factories. It is clear that it is very difficult to match other countries due to the economic development of Abkhazia, but this does not mean that leadership and society should be inactive.
Currently, in Abkhazia there are five sanctioned and countless spontaneous waste dumps. The final stations for waste in Abkhazia are landfills. And this is the only way to get rid of waste here, household waste is not recycled, it accumulates in landfills for years. This method has long been criticized, considered outdated and not eco-friendly.
All waste is dumped into one container. About 7% is stored on the ground, and about 93% is buried in the ground. The need to bury garbage is explained by the risk of arson and the spontaneous combustion of waste at the landfill.
While the modern world adopts more and more methods to separate waste, in Abkhazia few people practice this, and the number of landfills is only growing.
According to information from local media, since March 2019 there have been plans to build a new landfill in the Gulripsh/i district, on the basis of how the waste is sorted.
The issue of waste dumps was of particular concern to society during the years of the leader Raul Khadzhimba (2014-2020). “The state cannot build a waste processing plant on its own, the country does not have such funds,” he said in response to journalists’ questions.
The problem of waste sparked the movement of eco-initiatives in Abkhazia raising awareness through eco campaigns.
The 2021 campaign by the “Eco Apsny” organization that dealt with environmental pollution issues succeeded in recycling household waste instead burying it in landfills. The members of the organization sort the household waste and send it to a waste processing plant in Russia.
To bring the issue to the public’s attention, Eco Apsny activists urge people to earn money from the waste. Anyone can collect and donate recyclable materials and receive payment for their donation. For ten kilograms of waste paper – 30 Rubles (0.48$).
The ecological project “Atskyara” (Ацқьара), which means “Purity” in Abkhazian, appeared during the Coronovirus pandemic and is dedicated to the topic of separating, collecting, and recycling waste. “Atskyara” activists are trying to convey information to the public that will help them take a fresh look at the concept of “garbage” and possibly develop new habits.
The founders of “Atskyara” installed bins for separate waste collection in several city schools in Sukhum/i and held explanatory training sessions for students on how it all should work.
Another environmental organization that has made a name for itself is “Abkhaz Desk” which implements an ecological paper recycling project. “Abkhaz desk” installed bins for collecting paper in thirteen places in Sukhum/i and promotes environmental friendliness even in their means of transportation; they ride bicycles to collect paper.
From the collected waste paper, they create new recycled paper. By providing master classes, they teach how to process the waste into new paper. “It’s very simple and anyone can do it,” says one of the founders of “Abkhaz Desk,” Betul Marshan. Betul Marshan is an Abkhaz born in Turkey, and holds a master’s degree in energy resource management. With her work at “Abkhaz Desk,” she and her colleagues want people to understand the difference between “garbage” and “what can be recycled.”
The eco-activists from “Abkhaz Desk” also use art as a tool to promote environmental education. They held the first ecological exhibition in Abkhazia called “Eco Step into Art”. Twenty two Abkhaz artists presented their works made on recycled “Abkhaz Desk” paper where they also worked on the topic of preserving cultural heritage. All profit from the artists’ works went to the “Ashana” Children’s Charitable Foundation.
“Even small steps can cause a butterfly effect and change everything,” says Betul Marshan.
The “Republic of Ideas,” and the foundation for the Support of Education and Culture also joined the eco-activism by installing containers in different places for the purpose of collecting used batteries. Within the framework of the project, specialists also conducted a number of interactive lectures for children at schools.
The Youth Organization “Young Guard” has been organizing and holding subbotniks [A Saturday designated for community volunteer work] for several years. As part of the project, an application was created for smartphones, titled “Hunting For a Dump” to collect information about contaminated areas and their subsequent cleanup. Further, a volunteer group is being formed with the hope to eliminate a landfill of any volume.
Several attempts were made to solve this problem with the involvement of investors, but they were unsuccessful. In 2016, a potential investor from Russia came to Abkhazia with a proposal to engage in waste processing in the Gagra district. Then, on the sidelines of the VII Abkhazian-Russian Business Forum, an agreement was signed on starting construction of the first waste processing enterprise in Abkhazia. But this idea has not found its implementation.
In 2017, Russian businessman Alexander Georgitsyn opened a waste processing plant in the Gagra district. The company recycled 85-90% of all plastic that ended up in a landfill and produced paving slabs from recycled materials. But soon, for unknown reasons, production ceased.
While different eco-activists try to solve the urgent environmental problems on their own, they don’t feel any support from authorities.
“Everything is connected with each other. All we need to do is to train ourselves and the government should take major steps to solving these problems, says the founder of “Abkhaz Desk,” Betul Marshan.