Cleaning up the Yenisey River in Russia. Photo: Elena Kim, Live Planet.
In the world's largest country, much of which is sparsely inhabited, it's easy for garbage to be out of sight, out of mind. But with Russia's people living increasingly urban, and more consumerist, lives, the growing amount of trash can no longer be ignored. Fortunately, a new generation is stepping up to protect the country's vulnerable environment."The typical Russian has never taken the garbage problem seriously. He has dumped trash on the shores of rivers and streams, hoping the spring's high water would carry it away from his house to an unknown area," Elena Kim of the Russian environmental group Live Planet wrote in the article "A Trashy Topic," which she sent to Treehugger earlier this month.
As in Turkey, lack of proper garbage disposal didn't do as much damage to the environment before plastic and other synthetic substances came on the scene and consumption of packaged products started to skyrocket. "Shores of rivers couldn't contain all the garbage, so people started to use ravines, hollows, and even outskirts of cities and villages," Kim wrote. Unlike in the small European countries, which "quickly realized the threat to ecology and health," the sheer size of Russia kept the problem from becoming obvious so soon.
Vulnerable Siberian Steppe
In the Khakassia region, where Kim is based, an area of almost 24,000 square miles is served by just one ecologically sound landfill area, putting this unique territory full of mountains, steppes, boreal forest, alpine meadows, and lakes at risk.
Cleaning up Lake Itkul in Russia. Photo: Elena Kim, Live Planet.
"The Siberian steppe is very vulnerable. The arid climate, low vegetation, and thin layer of topsoil, lying on a stony base -- all these factors make a garbage dump almost eternal," Kim wrote. "[Trash] doesn't get covered by new grass over time, doesn't rot under a thick snow layer. And strong steppe winds carry plastic packages, cellophane, and other garbage long distances."
Children Helping Clean Khakassia
For the third year, Live Planet and officials from a local nature reserve have organized local residents to clean up Khakassia's natural areas. This fall, 1,193 people took part in the "We clean the world!" campaign, picking up almost 100,000 pounds of garbage from around nine rivers and creeks, two springs, and six lakes, many of which are important stopovers for migratory birds. Ninety percent of the participants were children.
"On their fragile shoulders lies all the weight and the filth of our adult indifference and ecological ignorance," Kim wrote, emphasizing the need for adults to be taught proper practices when it comes to disposing of trash, for punishments for illegal dumping to be increased, and for more and better garbage-disposal facilities to be constructed. "Nobody has to ask the children to clean," Kim wrote. "They are ready to take care of garbage, but they want to be assured that they won't have to come back to the same place again and again."
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