Ukrainian eco-project EcoSort winds up: why waste sorting is not always effective

The EcoSort project has been sorting waste for about two years: it has been installing containers for collecting paper waste and plastic bottles near houses in Kyiv. But in July 2019, the founder Yurii Zhukov decided to wind up the project. In his article for The Village, he explains the reasons for his decision and why waste sorting in the city is not always effective.

Economic reasons for winding up

  • The founder developed the project using his own funds. There were no investors. “My mistake was that even though I had a plan, I could not calculate everything exactly due to the lack of real experience. Problems followed one after another,” he writes.
  • The project produced containers of 10, 20, 40 liters, and the founder offered them to HMOs [Editor’s note: Housing Management Office] and condominium associations: one of the HMOs even paid extra to install the containers near the houses. For the first few months, EcoSort was handing over all the collected raw materials and then had to rent warehouse space to sort and press the raw materials (the pressed raw materials can be sold).
  • It turned out that renting a warehouse, pressing, and selling raw materials was also unprofitable since the company’s costs were higher than procurers have.
  • In the spring of 2019, the price of paper fell from 3 to 2 hryvnias per kilogram, respectively, the project first was break-even, but then it started to operate at a loss.

Environmental reasons

According to Zhukov, he decided to wind up the company when he realized that there is also no environmental reasons to continue the activity.

“There are a lot of the internet pictures with inscriptions like “If we recycle 100 kg of paper, we save one tree,” but it’s far from the truth,” he writes.

For example, recycled paper is used to make a paper of lower quality: toilet paper, newspapers, cardboard. But fresh raw materials (what trees are cut down for) are used to produce quality paper (napkins, writing paper, etc.).

“No matter how much we sort, it won’t reduce cellulose consumption. For example, Tetra Pak cartons are only made from fresh raw materials. Recycling of it will not reduce resource consumption,” he said.

Another example: according to Zhukov, when paper, metal, and glass get to the landfill, they do not produce methane, that is, they do not affect the greenhouse effect. “Organic waste produces methane: it interacts with high-density metals, electric batteries, fluorescent lamps, and produces leachate at the landfill. It is a very poisonous substance, which gets into the groundwater. And the amount of plastic in the landfill has no effect on it,” he writes.

According to him, the biggest problem with sorting is that people often give themselves the right to buy more packages, while the goal should be reducing plastic waste.