Field Note on Community
St. Petersburg, Russia
Lately, I’ve begun to notice certain things that Russians do and don’t do in my surrounding community. I didn’t notice them before because I was too overwhelmed with the “newness” of living in St. Petersburg. One thing I really noticed though was all the trash! Do you want to hear about what I saw?
To start off, there are certain things that I have always expected to find while in a big city. In the United States, I’m used to traveling to big cities and seeing a trash can, wastebasket or recycling bin always nearby. They’re everywhere! This makes them quite easy to find and use. Well, here in St. Petersburg, Russia it was the complete opposite!
As you know, I live on the southern end of the city. So what did I notice in my surrounding community? Well, there were barely any trash cans around. There weren’t many in public areas like on sidewalks or in the small parks here. Also, no recycling bins of any kind were to be seen anywhere. This made me extremely upset. I got frustrated a lot because I had to carry my trash in my pockets for long periods of time.
I did notice the big dumpsters that each apartment building has assigned to them. These dumpsters are located right next to the building and sometimes even inside the building. I use my assigned dumpster at least every other day. It’s located outside of my apartment building. I dump my trash there often because I use a small pot underneath my kitchen sink as a trashcan at home. It fills up pretty quickly because it’s so tiny so I usually have to change the little plastic bag inside frequently.
Unfortunately, because there are so few places to throw away trash, I see that many people here litter the ground. There is litter everywhere! It seems the Russian people living in St. Petersburg don’t care about their environment. When I see people litter, I get very angry. I also become sad because I can’t understand why they don’t want to love and protect their environment! Maybe they do but it’s very hard to do when there aren’t many ways provided to the public to actually do it.
I decided to ask a couple of my Russian friends about the trash and littering problem here. I wanted to find out if there were any ways people could recycle in St. Petersburg because I had not seen any recycling bins anywhere. Even if there are no recycling bins, perhaps there was something like a recycling center located in the city?
First, I asked my Russian friend, Nikita. Nikita told me he doesn’t recycle at home because he doesn’t know where to take all the recyclable waste to. He told me there used to be a very small building nearby his home where he could bring bottles and cans to be recycled. He remembers when he was ten years old he would do this every once in a while in order to earn a little money to buy himself some ice cream. What a treat for the environment and for himself! Nikita then told me that the building isn’t open anymore and has been closed down for a while. How sad! Now, he admits he has no clue where to go to recycle anything anymore.
I was happy to hear Nikita say he was concerned for the environment. He told me how he hates watching people, especially his friends, litter the ground. Nikita tries to stop them and encourages them to look for a trashcan or wastebasket to throw their trash into. He is 22 years old and he thinks that not many people, especially people his age, care about the environment here in St. Petersburg.
Next, I asked my young professor named Alexander. Remember him? I interviewed him a few weeks ago. Well, he was able to tell me a few things that gave me hope for St. Petersburg!
I was surprised to hear that there used to be recyclable bins around the city a long time ago. Alexander told me the government got rid of them after a little while because people didn’t pay attention to the different labeled bins. People would mix trash with the recyclables. This made a huge mess of things!
He also said the Russian government started a special program called Ekomobil just a few years ago. The program is named after the small vans that travel around the city, set up little stations for an hour at a time and collect recyclable waste before going to another location. They have a schedule I was able to find online. I tried to meet with one of these Ekomobil vans but was unable to. I showed up to a location at a time they were supposed to be there and they were nowhere to be found. Also, many of the locations they stop to collect recyclables at are not easy to find!
Alexander also told me about a few friends of his that had started an organization called Green St. Peter. Sometimes, they go by the name Beautiful St. Petersburg. This group of young people get together and volunteer to collect litter and clean up public spaces for the sake of maintaining a green and beautiful city! I was super excited to hear that a group like this existed here and wanted to meet them! Since they are such a small organization it was difficult to find them online and contact them. I managed to email them but they did not get back to me before I left Russia.
Overall, I learned that the majority of Russians don’t care for their environment. Most of the people who do care feel like they can’t make a difference and the people that try don’t get too far. The government has taken a few steps to change things, but I think those steps have been too small. I feel that both their efforts haven’t been publicized enough in Russia. They have not gotten enough attention and therefore, they have not gotten enough support in order to make a real difference. I truly hope this changes in the upcoming years!
• Trash cans located on public streets: Very few, if any.
• Individual homes recycle trash: Not really. The vast majority of people don’t recycle at home. Some people don’t even know what recycling is!
• Grocery stores charge money for plastic bags: Yes. The price differs depending on the size of the bag and the material from which it’s made. A small plastic bag costs about two roubles or about $0.05 in our American currency. A large plastic bag costs about four roubles or about $0.13. And a reusable plastic or cloth bag costs about 30 roubles or about $1.
• Grocery items are heavily packaged with plastic: Sometimes. If you are buying certain things they like to wrap it in small plastic bags.
• People drink tap water: Never. You must always boil water here before you drink it because it is full of chemicals and metals from the water pipes.