Czechs leaders in plastics recycling but ineffective on bio-waste

Прага (Фото: Штепанка Будкова)

“Any reason for sorting waste is a good one” is a slogan underlining a current TV campaign promoting recycling in the Czech Republic, and most Czechs would agree recycling is a necessity. By and large, Czechs are conscientious recyclers, with around 70 percent regularly recycling plastics, paper, glass and other materials. In fact, statistics recently released by Eurostat revealed that Czechs are leaders when it comes to plastics: in 2006 they recycled 44 percent of PET beverage bottles and other packaging – which is 3 percent more than traditional leader Germany. But it’s not all good news. Most are aware that the country still needs to do much more – and point out while successful in some areas, in others they are clearly lagging.

Czechs recycle regularly using a system of designated bins located in municipalities across the country: color-coded for the recycling of plastics, paper, and glass. 98 percent, says EKO-KOM, a firm responsible for coordinating recycling in the Czech Republic in cooperation with municipalities, know that recycling is the right thing. Drop-off points are easily accessible, and it’s not uncommon on any given day at almost any hour, to hear smashing glass being thrown into bins or to hear the crunching of plastic bottles.

More and more recycling has become second nature, says Šárka Nováková, EKO-KOM’s spokeswoman:

“Inhabitants take it as a normal part of their life: we can see it in the still-increasing numbers of collected waste, which are really high. The way we see it, recycling in the Czech Republic is on the right path: in 2004 in plastics we were the second in Europe and now we are first. That says something about collecting and recycling here.”

According to Šárka Nováková, the current bin system caught on fairly quickly back in the 1990s - for historical reasons. Under Communism, as little material as possible was wasted, even more if it could be saved for a small profit.

“The history of collecting waste in the Czech Republic goes back quite far: it started 50 or 60 years ago. Back then paper and metal was collected at bio-centres. And glass was collected in containers. People were used to it, so it was easy for them to get used to local container networks. After 1991, municipalities became responsible for collecting reusable waste and since that year we have seen collection of paper and glass with the addition of plastic, which was quite new. EKO-KOM linked to the system and since 1991, in cooperation with municipalities began to enlarge container collection to the point where there are now around 170,000 containers throughout the country.”

Ivo Kropacek,  photo:
There’s no question the networks work smoothly and now the country is light-years away from even just a decade ago. Recycling points are now found in towns and cities, as well as at public bureaus and offices. TV and print ads and campaigns have also had a positive effect, making it easier to meet - and indeed surpass - EU requirements. But if the Czechs are conscientious in one area it doesn’t mean it is enough. Until now, the country did precious little in the recycling of other materials, namely bio-waste. Ivo Kropáček, of the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth, says that Czechs still lag far behind other EU countries when it comes to that. I spoke to him on a line to his office in Olomouc, Moravia, this week:

“The main part of municipal solid waste is bio waste, from the kitchen and garden. We don’t separate – and we don’t have the possibility to separate these, which is the main part of the problem.”

Until now, he says, most Czechs haven’t had much choice when it came to bio-waste, as such bins have been a fairly rare sight. There are some municipalities which do offer special bio-waste containers, but says Ivo Kropáček, those are few and far between.

“This service is offered in about 20 municipalities from around 6,000. So it’s really a very marginal number, so we support the separation of bio waste in every municipality. Until this happens we will be unable to increase our ratio. That said, the environment ministry is of course aware of the problem and is preparing legislation which could see that change.”

Indeed, the Environment Minister Martin Bursík, the leader of the Green Party – who are currently in a coalition government for the first time – announced an amendment on the Waste Act earlier this year expected to push recycling in the Czech Republic into fifth gear. I had a chance to discuss the issue with the minister himself just recently:

Martin Bursík
“We are rather well-off when it comes to recycling packages and that system works okay, but if you look at the percentage of recycling of municipal waste it’s only 20 percent. So there’s still a lot to do, especially when you look at European champions the Austrians, Germans, the Swiss who are at around 40 – 45 percent. As a result we put forward a new Waste Act which would ask municipalities in the future to sort five kinds of waste as of 2012.

“Not just plastic, glass, and paper, but also Tetra Pak containers and biodegradable waste. Biodegradable waste is the most important one, because that is not being at all recycled now. We believe in the future that this source of energy could be used for the synthetic production for second-generation bio-fuels for transportation. So these are all steps which are ahead of us. ”

Other steps will be the continued promotion of recycling and broadened availability of services, for example, in the country’s schools. Last week the Environment Ministry unveiled a so-far successful last-minute project making use of EU funds to provide schools – all the from way from the elementary to the university level – with recycling bins in a number of different designs, to be used according to local conditions. Getting recycling prominently into the school system brings matters full-circle and is a project in which EKO-KOM has also played a strong role. Šárka Nováková again:

“It’s very good because children are very enthusiastic and it’s easy to teach them how to sort waste. So, yes, it’s very positive and a good thing and we are very happy that the Ministry for the Environment has this project for children.”

As always, the stress is on future generations, for whom recycling will be even more basic, but who will also reap greater benefits. Environment Minister Martin Bursík once more:

“Concretely this project consists of more than 30,000 containers for schools which are designed to separate paper, glass, plastic, Tetra Pak and biodegradable waste, which is then used for the purposes of schools. We believe that it is necessary to address these environmental issues for the youngest generation. The project will in fact bring a triple dividend. First, schools will be able to recycle materials. Second, students will learn about just what can be recycled and to what purpose. And third, it’s a bit of an advertisement for the European Union and the Infrastructure programme which made this project possible.”

As it stands, the Czech Republic must still make major advances to increase its overall ration of household recycling, but the implantation of the new amendment will go a long way in putting the country on the right track.