As European society has become wealthier, the amount of waste it produces has risen accordingly. Much of this rubbish is harmful to the environment and with over 2 billion tonnes of it being created in Europe every year, the task of treating and disposing of it safely is no small feat. To combat the problem of excess waste, European Union directives require member states to introduce legislation on waste collection, recycling and disposal, and a number of EU states are already recycling around 50% of packaged waste. Although the Czech Republic still lags behind, there are now signs that it is gradually catching up with its European neighbours.
For many Czechs nowadays, sorting household waste is becoming commonplace. On average last year, every Czech person recycled 36 kilograms of rubbish, more than 10 percent higher than the previous year. This is partly thanks to a number of measures adopted by the Czech government in compliance with the 1994 EU Directive on Packaging and Packaged Waste. In 1997 the joint-stock company Eko-kom was founded, and has since introduced a number of schemes to encourage Czech people and companies to recycle. These projects have included a communication campaign for children, promoting environmental education in primary schools, and financial incentives for firms to sort and recycle waste. Katerina Sarounova is a spokesperson for the Eko-kom organisation:
"We had a large campaign for sorting and recycling on TV, and an information campaign for people in the Czech Republic. Every year we spend 30 million crowns on such campaigns. We have commercials on TV and in other media and we also spend money on municipalities for information campaigns for their citizens."
Even Czech celebrities are being brought into the recycling drive. Lukas Pollert, the white water kayaker who won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and former Los Angeles Kings goaltender Milan Hnilicka are taking part in the campaign to encourage Czechs to think about the environment. But Eko-kom does not only target domestic recycling and, as raw materials become more expensive, companies are keener to invest in coloured recycling bins, sorting lines and advertising campaigns promoting the reuse of materials. For every bottle made out of PET, a type of recyclable plastic, which is recycled by Eko-kom, member firms pay the organisation half a haler. This money is then given to local municipalities to buy additional recycling bins and to fund the countrywide campaign. Although half a haler may seem a meagre amount, when you consider that Eko-kom now has over 21,000 clients and operates in regions encompassing close to 10 million people, the efforts of the organisation have indeed been significant and much progress has been made. However, if the Czech Republic is to catch up with its German neighbours, who last year on average recycled 60kg of waste per person, Katerina Sarounova believes that more efforts are needed to change the Czech mindset:
"We have a problem in the Czech Republic that people are lazy when it comes to sorting waste. So this was the reason our big campaign, to say to people that it is really important to sort waste and that it is environmental behaviour. And really we still have the problem that people are lazy. It is true that year by year there are more people who do sort waste but it is still less than elsewhere. We do need more people."