However, independent of whether there is a real or just a perceived lack of space, building new landfills becomes more and more costly. The introduction of a "new generation" of municipal waste incinerators in the early 1980s, equipped with sophisticated air pollution control devices, did not solve the problem.
Incinerators generated even more public opposition due to potential dioxin and other air pollution problems and problems with ash disposal. To site an incinerator is every bit as difficult as to site a landfill, and the cost of burning waste is no lower than landfilling it. An interesting phenomenon occurs at this point: the price of waste disposal increases. The waste management market becomes a lucrative one for large companies, sometimes transnational, which tend to build large-scale facilities far from the actual waste generators. The difficulties of siting a disposal facility operated by a large corporation are usually much greater than the efforts necessary to open a small municipal landfill because the public is much more hostile to strangers trying to bring somebody else's garbage into their area. Because of public pressure, politicians insist on the introduction of stricter standards, which further increases the costs. Thus an increasing proportion of waste is handled by the large companies which can afford to meet stricter environmental standards. This results in the increasing hostility of the public and . . . . here we come to the starting point of this "vicious circle" which I call the Downward Spiral of Waste Management.
The concept of Integrated Waste Management, developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in the late 1980s, involves a set of general principles. The main concept emphasizes separating different components of the waste stream (plastics, aluminum, newspaper,food waste, glass, etc.) and handling each one in the most environmentally sound and cost-efficient way. In addition to traditional landfilling and incineration, recycling, source reduction, and composting become an integral part of the waste disposal picture.
The Eastern European countries have just entered the critical stage of development of their waste disposal practices. The amount and variety of their waste stream are rapidly increasing. The burden of municipal waste management is shifted to local governments and municipalities. The local authorities, sometimes supported by NGOs and the public, extensively use the power to refuse siting new waste disposal facilities in their areas. For example, in the city of Dolgoprudny, close to Moscow, the landfill capacity was used two years ago and the city administration has been unsuccessfully trying to site a new landfill for all this time. In Lipetsk, opening a new landfill generated a great public controversy, and the issue has been debated by the city administration for over a year.
If the governments and the people of Eastern European countries were to adopt and implement the principles of integrated waste management, they would avoid getting into a waste management crisis, and would not face the troubles associated with getting out of it.
She asserted that people in Eastern Europe have been so spoiled by communist rule, their morale has so completely deteriorated, and they are so suppressed by economic hardship that they cannot participate in recycling activities.
To respond to this challenge, I recalled that in Soviet times during some embryonic recycling efforts of the 1970s, all over the country, plans were set to collect food scraps separately from other domestic refuse. I remember an angry passionate note voluntarily put up by one of the neighbors on the wall above a bin for food scrap installed in my apartment building in Minsk. The note said: "Comrades! Isn't it shameful, being Soviet Citizens, to discard garbage in a bin for food scrap?!"
I further recalled the well-known fact that the rate of recycling is highest in Japan, a country well-known for its so-called "communal spirit." The communal spirit means, among other things, the strong tendency to follow examples of social behavior set up in the community; it includes the inclination toward "doing the right thing" regardless of economic stimulus.
My colleague Vadim Vinichenko has suggested that the "communal spirit" of the Russian people has not vanished. During the most recent election campaign in Moscow, most successful politicians appealed to such a spirit to communicate to their electorate. It was admirable that in a post-Soviet society seemingly filled with social apathy and indifference, people were ready to participate in local social and political life. They took responsibility for local community affairs by forming "neighborhood committees", organizing meetings to decide on important issues and to elect representatives to convey their messages to municipal governments. This type of enthusiasm may be the best thing to utilize, along with market incentives, to set up local recycling schemes in societies with similarities to Russia.
Indeed across the globe, local recycling efforts seem to tap into a need to affirm individual and community automony. One way in which people can assert control over their lives is to control the disposal of their wastes, particularly when they become aware that these "wastes" contain valuable resources which could help their country's economy. Organization of recycling is most effective on the local level, and has been a focus of NGO efforts in many countries.
As to the failure of recycling programs in Budapest - such situations have to be carefully analyzed in each particular case. There are many instances when only the exterior of Western recycling programs (dumpsters for recyclables, for example) were copied in Eastern European countries. The other elements of the successful recycling scheme (advertising, incentives, legislative measures and enforcement) were not put in place. Experience shows that superficially translated measures have never resulted in the replication of the meaningful results.
After a few years, the Forum's activities ceased. Some of the Forum's most active members moved out of the area. Those remaining met several times, but did not feel the urgent need to plan any more public meetings. However, the precedent for holding public meetings on county issues had been established, and was continued by other organizations. Local officials had more respect for the views of citizens, after attending meetings organized by them, and continued to hold their own meetings.
An outside funder (had there been one) might have been disappointed at the Forum's demise. No enduring structure had been created. Looking back, however, the Forum was not a failure. Its members had created a mechanism to meet a variety of needs, both social and political. When the Forum was no longer necessary, it dissolved. But its members had learned about the organizations, laws and social and political structure of the county. They had met many of its influential people. They carried this knowledge with them, and used it to contribute to other groups they joined in the future. Also, realizing the popularity of "Meet the Candidates" meetings, other organizations moved into the vacuum and began to sponsor them.
Many miles across the Atlantic Ocean, and more than a decade later, people throughout the formerly Soviet-dominated nations have been using their new freedoms to contribute to similar processes. In a recent instance, a group of citizens in Salacgriva, Latvia decided to do something to keep used batteries out of local landfills. They created themselves as a new branch of the (already established) Latvian Society of Nature Conservation, and obtained a grant of $450 USD. They organized a campaign to collect used batteries. Fact sheets were compiled, printed and distributed, explaining the dangers of discarding used batteries in landfills. Explanations of the collection procedure were placed in local newspapers. Stationary and mobile collection boxes were made and distributed by local student volunteers. Once the project was underway, it was given additional financial support by the municipal government, which also agreed to collect the batteries. This campaign, initiated by an NGO, showed public support for safer means of battery recycling. The municipal government agreed to continue the project in the next year.
The achievements of the Salacgriva project went beyond the development of recycling: all those who participated also contributed to building a tradition of active participation in their community.
The Estonian Green Movement was founded in 1987, using the opportunities of glasnost and perestroika to organize public response to Soviet environmental threats to the country, particularly a proposal to develop large phosphorite mines. The wave of public support for the EGM reflected the growing expression of nationalism and the independence movement. But after the original goals had been achieved, public support for the Estonian Green Movement declined.
Some individual environmentalists remained active, and have maintained the EGM structure of groups in different towns. They are now working on specific projects focused on local needs. For example, in response to several incidents in Estonia where discarded radioactive materials found their way into people's homes and businesses, the Estonian Green Movement group in Tartu recently purchased a radiation detector with a grant of $660 USD. Their goal is to investigate different areas, to locate radioactive objects, and to inform authorities and the public about dangerous findings.
The effectiveness of their purchase of the radiation detector will depend on the extent to which it is used to accurately locate problem areas and materials, the way the public is informed of problems, and the success of EGM members in working with local and national elected officials, members of the environmental ministry, and the citizens.
In the following year, several islands were created. Participants have also carefully selected and planted species of plants which had been present in the bog before sections were dug up. This project is now being viewed as a model for others throughout the Baltic region, and has attracted additional sources of support for its expansion.
As success leads to further successes, the activities of many non-governmental organizations contribute to a dynamic society. As more people grow accustomed to taking responsibility for actions to improve their own communities, an ethic of constructive public participation spreads. This example and enthusiasm are contagious, and empower others.
Often the term "organizational capacity" is rather narrowly used to refer only to the long term survival of a variety of medium and large professional organizations. However, equally important for organizational capacity is the societal base of expectations and support for public participation behavior. In many ways, the small projects of a variety of NGOs build such a base, and thus contribute to the civic culture.
In each nation (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) an Advisory Committee publicizes the availability of the grants in the languages of each country, holds workshops to teach interested environmentalists how to design and write a project proposal and draw up a budget, and makes recommendations on the most suitable projects to be funded each year. Recommendations are then reviewed by ECOLOGIA's Baltic Programs Office in Vilnius, Lithuania. Recipients submit an interim and a final report, both of which include documentation of their activities and a budget statement. Recipients also inform ECOLOGIA of matching funds their projects receive.
The Mini-Grant projects have served to revitalize some already established groups (by giving them an incentive to focus on an achievable, visible project). Some well- established groups operating larger projects with other sources of money, have sought out newer or less well financed groups in rural locations, and notified them and encouraged them to apply for Mini-Grants. This has been especially true in Latvia. Although the population of Riga, the capital city, is more than half that of the entire country, the second year's Mini-Grant projects were almost entirely from first-time grantees, newly formed groups in rural areas or in smaller cities.
Most importantly, these small project grants have encouraged new NGOs and innovative projects. Groups without previous grant experience are more likely to apply for, and to receive, a small amount of money targeted for a specific attainable project, than a large amount of money for a vague or overly ambitious project.
ECOLOGIA's Mini-Grant program is only available for the Baltic nations, but other organizations fund similar programs providing small project grants to NGOs in other parts of the world.
For more information, and for application guidelines, and addresses of local Advisory Committees, please contact ECOLOGIA's Baltic Programs Office in Vilnius.
Fine airborne particles are primarily emitted from fuel-burning vehicles. Diesel engines are particular culprits, emitting soot and unburned hydrocarbons. Statistics from London indicate that "diesels installed in buses, lorries and taxis produce 85% of the smoke for which transport is responsible, which is itself 95% of the total - 18,600 tonnes in 1993. Newer designs tend to be cleaner, but many urban vehicles have working lives of 30 years. Ways need to be found to deal with these older vehicles." (The Economist, February 18, 1995 p. 83).
Studies reported in 1995 issues of the American Journal of Epidemiology, the Lancet, and the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine all link specific cardiac illnesses to fine particulate air pollution. In addition, increased levels of other types of air pollution, such as carbon monoxide and sulfate particulates, have also been linked to increases in heart failure and lung diseases.
These findings should strengthen the public demand and political will to require catalytic converters and filters, to produce clearer burning engines, and to reduce or restrict vehicle traffic, particularly in areas of high population density. In addition, those who walk or bicycle now have additional reasons to encourage the enforcement of clean air standards for a variety of pollutants, including the fine particulates.
Sources of information for this article: "Airborne Particles: Smallest are Worst", Acid News 3, June 1995, page 5; "Heart-y Risks from Breathing Fine Dust", Science News Vol. 148, July 1, 1995, page 5; "Air Pollution: The Way to Dusty Death", The Economist, February 18, 1995, pages 82 - 83.