Theoretically, Georgia adopted a law banning plastic bags in 2019. Practically, heap of plastic bags are still present everywhere. A small initiative aims to reduce plastic pollution and their slogan couldn’t be more clear: “We don’t want plastic bags, we want parks.” E&M‘s author Laura Worsch got to know the initiative’s founders and gives some insights into waste management in Georgia.

When talking about Georgia, one often discusses the small country’s rapidly increasing popularity for international tourists in the past years. The reasons for this are diverse – breath-taking landscapes, good food, the Georgian people’s overwhelming hospitality anywhere you go. The country wants to be visited, and it wants to get closer to the EU: in 2016, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) came into force, which includes easier access to the EU market as well as visa liberalisation for Georgian citizens.

In return, the government has to comply with a whole catalogue of EU regulations that are meant to help transform and democratise the post-Soviet country. Some of these regulations concern waste management: theoretically, as part of EU environmental regulations, Georgia adopted a law banning plastic bags in 2019. According to the law, plastic bags should be banned from supermarkets. Practically, when walking through a street market or supermarket in Georgia today, one would still come back with a heap of plastic bags. Furthermore, one would receive confused looks by the vendors or cashiers if one refused to take them. “There is no law enforcement”, says Tatiana Remneva, one of the founders of Parki ar minda in Tbilisi. “On paper, they acknowledge the main principle of waste management, without actually reducing or recycling more waste.”

In Georgia, each person uses 525 plastic bags on average per year
Tatiana Remneva (left) and her friend Mariam Pesvianidze | Photo by Nina Sizova

Tatiana Remneva and her colleague Mariam Pesvianidze have founded the initiative in the beginning of 2019, aiming at reducing plastic pollution in Georgia. Their slogan “Parki ar minda – parki minda” means: “We don’t want plastic bags, we want parks.” Ironically, park and plastic bag are the same word in Georgian. Even though the program is just over a year old, they have already gained popularity throughout Tbilisi and beyond. “One goal is to reduce plastic bags”, says Tatiana Remneva. “But the deeper concept is to reduce plastic pollution in general, as well as to sensitise people to become more conscious of their own consumption.” In Georgia, each person uses 525 plastic bags on average per year. Comparably, in Germany, 20 plastic bags per capita per year are used.

The two women have many ideas on how waste management could easily be made more effective in Georgia. While they agree that the overall waste situation has improved in the country over the past years, what is still needed are thorough awareness campaigns from the government’s side that inform Georgian citizens on their recycling options. This is where Parki ar minda come in, planning clean-up events, debates, and informing citizens in and outside of Tbilisi on their waste management possibilities. For example, while there is still no regular garbage collection in many villages, it is possible to order a truck for free from the municipality if one finds big piles of trash in one’s environment. “It works quite well, but not many people know about this option”, explains Mariam Pesvianidze.

Another example is the possibility of composting organic waste – something that is normal in the villages, but not done in bigger cities. More than half of the waste in most households is organic and could easily be recycled through a composting system. “But in Tbilisi, this perfectly good waste that could be used as fertilizer is instead going to the landfill with all the other waste, creating methane.”

“We often hear that there is no use in separating waste, because it would all end up on the same dumpsite anyhow”

The issue of landfills has repeatedly led to protests in Georgia. Many landfills have been operating since Soviet times and desperately need to be replaced. In 2012, the government wanted to open a new site in the country’s third largest city Kutaisi, since the old one has been operating since the 1960s. The new site’s close distance to housings, however, caused massive protests by the citizens so that the municipality had to drop the location again. There are no regulations concerning the distance of landfills to villages”, explains Tatiana Remneva. However, Georgian authorities are in the process of modernising the landfill system throughout the country: the state-owned Solid Waste Management Company of Georgia has been operating all 53 municipal landfills since 2013, which are to be closed and replaced by eight to ten regional landfills by 2023 that comply with international standards. The new landfill in Kutaisi will be the first one to open, according to schedule still in 2020.

In Tbilisi, the organisations Clean World Georgia and CENN (Clean Environment NGO network) – supported by funds from USAID – have opened the first recycling plant in Georgia, and have installed 27 collection points throughout Tbilisi (and ten in the Black Sea city Batumi), to which people bring their separated glass, plastic, aluminium and paper waste. Additionally, they cooperate with over 50 factories, restaurants and hotels in Tbilisi that want to recycle their waste. Parki ar minda have helped to promote the collection points to a wider public, as well as combatting prejudices to recycling. “We often hear that there is no use in separating waste, because it would all end up on the same dumpsite anyhow”, says Pesvianidze. At least for the recycling plant organized by Clean World and CENN, this is not true. “The explanation is quite easy”, says Tatiana Remneva. “They collect the waste for free, sort it, and sell it to companies that recycle it. There is huge economic potential here that the Georgian government still needs to recognize.”

Recycling waste demands a higher level of self-education in Georgia.

Due to Covid-19, the waste collection points in Tbilisi had to close down at the beginning of March. Parki ar minda then started organising an Eco-taxi that could pick up the already separated waste at people’s homes and workplaces and bring it to recyclers. Now that the collection points are open again, they still want to keep the Eco-taxi. “Especially cafés and restaurants cannot bring their high amount of waste to the collection points”, explains Tatiana Remneva.

While recycling waste is pretty easy in other European countries, it demands a higher level of self-education in Georgia. Generally, it is possible to recycle glass, plastic, aluminium, and paper. However, especially plastic often consists of mixed materials, so you might need to check which parts of your bottles or bags can be recycled here. “This is why the process of sorting at home already increases the consciousness of people”, says Tatiana Remneva. Right now, only specific types of plastic can be recycled in Georgia, which requires more vigilance from people. The two founders work on widening the scope to be able to collect old batteries or discount cards. In general, they have many plans for Parki ar minda’s immediate future: their next step will be a proper website apart from Facebook and other social media, so that they can provide an even better overview of recycling options and other methods of waste reduction in Georgia.

Cover photo: Parki ar minda

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    Laura Worsch, 26, recently moved back to Berlin after living in Tbilisi, Georgia for half a year. After she finishes her Master of Eastern European Studies in Berlin, she wants to move somewhere East and either pursue a carrier in journalism or writing.

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