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Battle only half won in Romania green revolution

Romania’s modern green movement began from the top-down. The European Union started setting targets, the Ministry of the Environment passed laws, billions of Euro in structural funds became available for entrepreneurs and modernisers, while multinationals tried to set a good example by publicly cutting down on energy waste and dispatching their staff to the countryside to stuff a tree in the ground.

February 2010 - From the Print Edition

Now at a local council level, new waste containers are appearing, which encourage citizens to separate their rubbish into glass, plastic and paper.
Superficially the country is becoming more eco-friendly, but the truth is more complex. Household consumption is higher than five years ago, despite 2009’s economic dip, which means waste is on the increase. Romanians have abandoned reusable glass bottles for plastic, which drives up rubbish levels. The EU and past Romanian Governments have not helped by setting targets for Romania to close down its rubbish dumps with deadlines which are impossible to achieve, causing confusion in local Government and illegal tipping.
If one examines the inside of the ‘selective rubbish bins’ on a city street-corners – an exercise I would not recommend – the crisp packets, bottles, newspapers, half-eaten kebabs and dog pollutions are often mashed together in a cocktail of filth.
On the high street and in the shopping mall, there is a growing appetite for ecological food and clothes, but the costs are high and the number of products from Romania is low. It is absurd that small enterprises on Bucharest’s streets import basic bio foods. A similar situation exists concerning biofuels made from oil seed rape and sunflower. Romania is an agricultural nation with huge areas of empty land – but petrol producers must import biofuels to Romania to fulfil EU targets.
Together, bags of flour, barrels of oil and hemp shirts are shipped, flown or trucked into Bucharest from thousands of miles away, burning up the ethics which their suppliers should be advocating. Romania also exports much of its material for recycling, again betraying a green conscience by expanding the carbon footprint.
Romania needs a bottom-up green revolution. This should start with public education, effective awareness campaigns, consistent implementation of environmental policies at a local level and improved public transport. This is slowly happening.
There needs to be better subsidies for local food, bio farming and, in the long term, organic farming – which must be a major focus of Romania’s new EU-educated Minister of Agriculture. Biodiesel also must not be ruled out. Energy from sunflower, soy and corn is a controversial issue. Why should the world use its fields for fuel when billions are starving? But so much of Romania’s agricultural land is vacant that any incentive to bring the ground back into use should be welcome.
A real change would be better policing of the countryside. In the summer, most Romanian beauty spots are invaded by biscuit wrappers, cigarette butts, nappies, tissues, beer cans and charred pieces of barbecue – with clearings resembling the aftermath of a riot at a football stadium rather than a jolly trip to the woods.
The irony for Romania is that the best recyclers are the underclass. There are a growing number of homeless feeding off the country’s need for greater consumption, keeping warm from burning trash and living in shelters made from plastic sheets, broken furniture and cardboard - the only true ‘green buildings’ in Romania. They make their living from collecting aluminium, electronic parts and glass, and then selling this on to recyclers or middle-men. These scavengers are immediately sensitive to market changes – they will switch their focus from collecting cans to plastic bottles depending on the daily market price. The wake-up call for the country is that the amount Romanians waste is so massive, it can sustain an underground market.

Michael Bird

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