Recycling in USSR

Recycling in USSR

Recycling of used goods – whether on personal or industrial level undoubtedly has become more than just a temporary trend. The European Union has undertaken several judicial measures, to recycle all plastic packagings. However, its reach is not worldwide. Many sceptics of global warming and climate change, especially outside the collective West (if we take West as a civilization in the sense of S. Huntington), particularly in the countries of the former U.S.S.R. deny that these things exist and are quite pessimistic about undertaking measures to reuse used well. On the other hand, many of people in the countries positively refer to the recycling traditions of the Soviet Union. Let us take a look how people recycled goods in the U.S.S.R.

You might be reading this with perplexity. The country that had put heavy industry factories and Stalinist blocks literally in the middle of Siberian forests (which is not really an eco-friendly move), invested a significant part of the GDP in the military-industrial complex, supported almost every socialist movement and so on. But less people know that Soviet people, though globally, but acted locally, not only in the political affairs of the Politburo.

In fact, what might sound even stranger, Soviet people were encouraged to recycle. And what is even stranger – European recycling policy is compared to the Soviet one. For example none of glass have been just thrown away, but re-used. People, for instance, could use their glass bottles of, let us say milk, to pay for goods in the store. Scrap metal was collected and reused, 10 kilos of newspaper / paper waste were exchanged for book and people with a string bag went to the stores without butter to get the butter.

Soviet poster encouraging recycling of scrap metal in the U.S.S.R. “Pioneers and schoolchildren! Komsomol members and youth! Give metal scrap to the country! Factories, combines, machine tools, motor ships will be made of it!”, Poster author: V. Naryshkin, 1958

It is not really appropriate to think that if people 50 years ago went to the store with the same bag they go today, the system is the same. No, it is different, at least because the EU is not silent about ecological disasters, or huge amounts of harmful industrial waste, unlike the Central Committee together with the ministers that did not care much about nature.

Soviet propaganda has done a good job to promote separation of waste at the level of the individual and the state – Soviet cartoons, for example, promoted the separation of waste. In the meantime, centralized government had been setting up the plans for recycling of different metals, paper, glass and, if the plan was fulfilled, responsible people have been rewarded by the Party. Officials even built a chain of factories for recycling, especially of metals, as metallurgy has become the leading industry in the Soviet Union.

Yet, in the U.S.S.R. not a lot of plastic has been used to wrap up the goods. It is not because of the purely environmental approach, but because of the fact there were simply not enough of the goods.

Nevertheless, by the end of the U.S.S.R., according to different sources, nearly 45% of all glass waste has been recycled and nearly 30% of all paper was reused. There are no exact statistics, due to lack of reliable sources available, in the first place, and to the fact that Soviet officials were “adjusting” (mostly increasing) the statistics, to fulfill the plan, in the second place.

Also, on the scale of the state, officials had not been talking, nor published any data on pollution, emissions, environmental friendliness of the technologies used in the U.S.S.R., which makes it hard to confirm / deny efficiency of the statewide recycling policies. Yet, on the household level, it worked. But after the end of the Union these initiatives have vanished, recycling of municipal solid waste was forgotten. Hand in hand with this, and newly opening of the post Soviet market, more plastic and other materials have arrived, which have not been seen before. As consumerism was growing, the less state became capable to soberly manage and handle such amounts of waste. Today, at the end of 2019 the situation is far away from previously known socialist heaven or nowadays European way of recycling.

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