Feature Story

Caring for Nature: Adopting a plastics free lifestyle in Kapan, Armenia

June 5, 2016

Compressed cube of plastic bottles
Plastics make up about 40 percent of the volume of general waste and create immense environmental, health and economic problems. A GEF project in Armenia seeks to raise awareness and reduce reliance on plastic materials.

The management of plastic waste is an unsolved problem in Armenia as there is no state regulation for the sorting and recycling of waste. This problem is compounded by the fragmented administrative division system of Armenia, despite the small size of the country. There are over 900 communities, more than 90 percent of which have a population of less than 5,000 people. The budget revenue generated locally is often too small to support municipal waste management services. As a consequence, municipal waste management is not provided in the majority of Armenian communities. Only ten towns in Armenia have established infrastructure for waste separation. There are no facilities for recycling plastic waste into secondary raw materials and the waste frequently ends up in substandard dumpsites. This project supported by SGP and implemented by the Urban Foundation for Sustainable Development (UFSD) aimed to reduce plastic waste in Kapan by improving municipal waste management and enhancement of public awareness and education. This project aimed at addressing the waste problem in a more effective way through better organization and institutional assistance.

Plastics make up about 40 percent of the volume of general waste and create immense environmental, health and economic problems. Plastic is not separated, recycled or processed as the recycling process is often not lucrative. Additionally, the plastic waste that is dumped in landfills will start to smolder and emit POPs into the environment. The project worked to improve waste management practices by increasing public awareness through education, decreasing the amount of pollution in nature, and enhancing Kapan municipality’s technical capacity to collect, sort, and sell separated PET waste.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between Kapan municipality and local recycling companies regarding the disposal of plastic waste. To reduce reliance on plastics a production team was established to make reusable shopping bags to replace plastic bags. Training sessions, seminars, round-table discussions, distribution of reusable shopping bags among local shops and supermarkets, regular coverage of the project, and public service advertisements on local television stations, special school events, leaflets and posters raised awareness among stakeholders and beneficiaries in the community. Additionally, the Kapan municipality waste management service providers trained teachers who dedicated time during their regular classes to encourage school children to adopt a plastic free lifestyle.

The project established sorting of plastic bottles instead of throwing them in with general waste or disposing of them in nature. Ninety bins for plastic waste and forty-two bins for general waste were installed in Kapan, twelve spaces for placing waste bins were renovated, and a storage facility for collecting and pressing plastic bottles was renovated and equipped. The reusable shopping bags production team, comprised of 30 low income women who had sewing machines and the necessary skill to create reusable bags, proceeded with great enthusiasm and produced quality work. The reusable shopping bags were distributed among local shops and supermarkets, to raise awareness and enhance plastic free behavior patterns. While such efforts alone would not solve the problem of excessive harm made by plastic bags to the environment, the project helped promote the culture of reusable shopping bags in the community and greater awareness. The model is not complicated and replication should be feasible in most situations. Further success can be achieved with proper legislation in place and when the cycle of sorting, collecting, and recycling is complete.

The project has been scaled up. UFSD has started a new initiative funded by the European Union (Clean Alliance: Accessible Services for Goris and Sarnakunk Community Clusters). Within the framework of this project the Goris and Sarnakunk communities will establish storage for plastic waste, and obtain machines to press and bale plastic bottles for selling to recyclers. Eight Armenian communities (Gorhayk, Tseghuk, Sarnakunk, Spandarian, Karahunj, Verishen, Akner and Goris) will also install special bins for plastic collection. UFSD is also involved in an upcoming project – “Turning Environmental Challenges into Opportunities: Introducing Construction Materials from Plastic Waste” with the objective of creating opportunities in Syunik and Vayots Dzor regions by introducing an innovative and affordable technology for production of construction materials from plastic waste.

This story was originally published in "Community-Based Chemicals and Waste Management" in 2016.