#sfrome: Living an environmental sustainable life: Replacing plastic and PET bottles for cotton bags (77)

Written by Rima Alcadi

Armine Tukhikyan, from the Urban Foundation for Sustainable Development (UFSD), tells us that Armenia is a very beautiful country – in terms of its natural, cultural and historical heritage. However, the country has a big problem and it’s that it is littered with plastic bags. She tells us of two projects that are geared towards addressing this major issue.

The first project is about recycling plastic bottles. The separation of plastic from solid household waste is quite recent - not only in Armenia, but also in most of the post – Soviet countries. This issue is especially acute in small towns and rural areas. In Armenia, the UFSD was the first organization to use special bins for collecting plastic bottles. Of course, as pioneers, they had no idea whether people would use these bins or not! So they first piloted the idea in a small town of 20,000 people.

It worked! The municipality and the private sector are also involved in the project, denoting a great example of Public-Private partnership. The plastic bottles are collected by the companies, that turn the plastic bottles into flakes and then sell these flakes to other private sector entities, as secondary material. Currently, the plastic bottles are not sold to the companies collecting them: it is not yet economically remunerative because the volume is not sufficient to cover for the transport. The municipality is being encouraged to buy a machine to flake and press the PET into bales, so that the material can be sold. In addition, it is expected that rural communities will benefit from savings in garbage collection fees. Considering that in Armenia, plastic bottles make up for 31% of the total volume of household waste, these savings could be considerable.

Encouraged by the success of the first project, an ambitious attempt was made to reduce usage of plastic shopping bags. UFSD is promoting the use of reusable shopping bags. They analysed the various possible materials that could be used – they wanted something durable and that also looks good. They came up with 2 different models, sold for Euros 1.5/1.7 depending on the quality of the bag. This bag is currently being sold in a supermarket chain. Following their corporate social responsibility policy, the management of the supermarket chain bought several thousand bags, with a first batch distributed for free to their clients to educate them on the usefulness of the reusable bags. They then started to sell these bags. But the bad news is that ownership of the supermarket chain has recently changed and we are left hoping that the new owners will want to subscribe to this environmentally friendly initiative as well ….

How are these two projects related? Well, they both address the issue of the reducing the use of plastic bags. The first project, whereby plastic bottles are recycled, should reduce the use of plastic bags by 31%, since, as stated above, that is the proportion of household waste that is constituted by the plastic bottle. In the second case, the idea is to eliminate the use of the plastic bag altogether, by replacing it with the reusable shopping bag. These projects reminded me of a mantra all environmentally-conscious consumers should bear in mind: Reduce, reuse and recycle.

UFSD works a lot to educate children as well. They believe it is essential to build environmental awareness at an early age, to ensure a greener future as well as to hold their families accountable for a greener present. They tell children that plastic is made out of oil, which is a non-renewable resource that is not biodegradable and that contaminates our soils and water. They reward schools for adopting environmentally friendly behaviour – they give a medal to schools with the title of “green school” when they recycle, plant trees, reuse shopping bags etc. UFSD also involves the media a lot and they advertise and promote the “green schools” as role models.
For more information, contact Armine Tukhikyan (atukhikyan@aua.am) and visit the UFSD website