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Regular version of the site

The Garbage Problem

How Russians are dealing with it

© ISTOCK

Waste sorting is recognized as the most effective way to deal with the world’s waste problem. Yet nearly 70% of Russians neither sort their garbage nor intend to.  But this is no reason to underestimate the population: 86% of Russians have adopted at least one of the habits outlined below to reduce household waste. Marina Shabanova studied the forms, motives, and potential of these practices. The results of the study will be presented at the 20th April Academic Conference at HSE.

The Scale and Variability of Russian Waste Reduction Efforts

There is a wide range of ways to reduce garbage: boycotting plastic bags, saving resources, donating unnecessary things of good quality to other people, reducing excessive consumption, and so on.

According to a survey of the HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector (which surveyed 2,000 people in 2017), Russians most often:

 59% of respondents save electricity (by using energy-saving appliances and light bulbs or turning off lights in an unoccupied room);

 57% save water (by turning off the tap while brushing one’s teeth, and other situations when it is not in direct use);

 43% buy exactly as much food as they need in order avoid throwing excess food away.

The methods least practiced:

 4% of respondents purchase goods in recyclable/decomposable packaging, minimal packaging, or in no packaging at all;

 7.5% limit their use of disposable plastic bags or use reusable bags instead.

Russians’ involvement with garbage
reduction in numbers, according to the survey


Sorting and recycling of household waste
(using sorting bins and taking garbage to recycling stations)

13 29
Do
it now
 
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Reducing the use of disposable plastic bags;
using reusable bags instead

7,5 14
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Buying goods in recyclable/decomposable packaging,
minimal packaging, or in no packaging at all

4 8
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Donating unnecessary things in good condition to churches,
charity shops, social care organisations

17 23,5
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Giving unnecessary clothing, furniture,
and household appliances to friends, acquaintances, and neighbors

32 33
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Buy exactly as much food
as they need in order avoid throwing excess food away

43 48
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Refusing to buy unnecessary things,
and avoiding excessive consumption

18 19
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Saving electricity

59 62
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years


Saving water

57 64
Do
it now
Plan to do it
in the next 1-2 years

Source: HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector, 2017

‘In general, 86% of residents are engaged in at least one practice to reduce waste. However, there is high variability: 25% participate only in one practice, 30% - in two, 19% - in three, and only 12% - in four to seven,’ says Marina Shabanova.

The Recycler’s Laurels

Recycling, an effective way to reduce waste, is uncommon in the Russian Federation. 68% of Russians don’t do it and don’t intend to. 

However, the social conditions in Russia for this practice are good: separation of household waste has high stability rates (the ratio of the number of people planning to continue the practice in the next year or two to the number of those who have already adopted the practice) and substitution (the ratio of the number of people intending to adopt the practice to the number of people intending not to).

Below is a breakdown of the conditions Russian residents stated would be necessary for them to start recycling:

 69% of respondents cited the installment of recycling bins near their place of residence

 26% said they would need to be confident that the collected waste would be recycled

 19% cited timely and proper garbage collection

 17% said they would need a convenient time for delivery of garbage to recycling centers or containers

 16% said information on where to take the sorted garbage would need to be available

 13% said they would recycle if the majority of their neighbors did

 11% said they would recycle if fines or additional charges for refusing to sort garbage were introduced

Source: HSE Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector, 2017

As for the other ways of reducing waste, however, people who recycle fare poorly: they save less water and electricity than others; they moderately avoid purchasing unnecessary food and goods; 75% of them do not avoid disposable plastic, and 83% don’t buy goods in recyclable packaging.

‘Perhaps this can be explained by 'moral licensing' or 'contribution ethics',’ the researchers explain. ‘When people refrain from certain behaviors in order to mitigate a problem, they believe that, since they have already made a contribution, they can rest on their laurels.’

Motivating Factors

In most popular practices, economic factors determine people’s behavior by a large margin, while social and ecological factors influence them the least.

For example, 69% of those who save energy and water do it in order to reduce utility bills. Only 4% of respondents reported doing so with the environment in mind; moreover, among this 4% there is a large number of people are disappointed with their efforts and intend to quit them.

Among those who recycle, personal self-interest declines. People who recycle have a high ‘green moral index’ (Berglund C.): 47% of respondents explained their actions by the desire to be responsible for the environment; 37% by trying to do what they think everyone should do; 36% by the desire to contribute to the improvement of the environment ad the well-being of current and future generations; and 29% are convinced of the economic advantages of waste sorting for society.

A Personal Choice

Along with the motivation of being a part of the solution to the waste problem, a person’s demographic characteristics, their values, and their social attitudes are also important.

The following groups are more likely to adopt the practice of recycling:

 Women (primarily with a concern for food products and donation of goods);

 Members of NGOs, public organizations / movements / initiatives;

 Residents of big cities, as opposed to those of villages.

Those who are ready to unite with others, if their interests and goals coincide, are more likely to start sorting waste and donating things.

Those who prioritize social values (the well-being of all people and nature; feeling proud for Russia as their homeland, the country’s power and prosperity; assistance for needy people) refuse to use plastic bags more often than others.

Those who are focused on their own personal well-being (material wealth, their own and their family’s security, and enjoying life), would rather choose saving energy and water and more conscious food purchasing.

The author of the study concludes that this heterogeneity confirms that the garbage problem should be solved by a comprehensive policy that ‘expands the entry channels acceptable to different groups.’

IQ

Study author:
Marina Shabanova, Professor at the Faculty of Economic Sciences, Leading Research Fellow at the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and Non-Profit Sector
 
April 01