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THE GARBAGE KINGDOM. A REPORT FROM OUR CAPITAL’S LANDFILL OF SOLID WASTE

THE GARBAGE KINGDOM. A REPORT FROM OUR CAPITAL’S LANDFILL OF SOLID WASTE

The employees of the capital’s only solid waste landfill debunk three myths re. garbage, tell strange stories about various landfill visitors and explain the reasons of the events in Gribovichy.

Ukraine was shocked with the tragedy that happened in late May at Gribovichy solid waste landfill next to Lvov. Massive waste slide due to fire has caused the deaths of three squad officers. A week passed the event, and the landfill is still on fire, local authorities recommend to send children away from the area and to declare the location of Gribovichy as well as the areas of Lvov and Malekhov village to qualify as emergency areas.

To understand the reasons of this tragedy and to explain to [our] audience what happens to the garbage after we get rid of it, NV travelled to landfill No.5 – the garbage dumping area next to Kiev that hosts all the solid waste generated within the locations of the right bank of Kiev as well as within Obukhov and its vicinity. 

Waste Myths

- There are three myths related to waste. Myth One: waste is money. This is not completely true – starts taking the general manager of “Kievspetstrans” company Andrey Grouschinskiy. He promises to walk us around the landfill No.5 – the huge garbage dumping area located next to Kiev that hosts the waste generated within all the areas on the right bank of Kiev, within Obukhov and other nearby locations.

But before that Grouschikskiy takes us to “Kievspetstrans” office at Pobedy avenue. While getting there through the city he keeps talking about waste: his talk sounds as really extensive, intriguing, hearted (as strange as it may seem) and knowledgeable.

- Surely, the way our planet goes around, we need to make money from everything. Even from waste. The myth here is actually that you can make huge money from waste. Myth Two – waste business is all under mafia. Do I look like a mafioso? – Grouschinsiy asks when we exit his car in the backyard of “Kievspetstrans” office. By the way, there is the one and only monument in the world to the garbage truck in front of it. Grouschinsky himself does not lookat all like mafioso. 

- Who knows, - responds nevertheless the NV photographer Natasha. Grouschinskiy is laughing. Natasha is giving him the hints she’s eager to ride the garbage truck footboard. Grouschinskiy points at the orange trucks parked around and says she may choose any one. Then hands her the orange-colored uniform vest and gloves and gets to the driver’s place in the truck himself (clothed in grey business suit and white shirt) and drives Natasha around the yard.

- Movers get quite competitive salary – up to 8 thousand UAH. The actual rate depends on the quantity of the containers collected, on where they were collected, resident quarters or elsewhere, - tells afterwards the general manager of “Kievspetstrans”.

When already in the office, Grouschinskiy gets to the Waste Myth Three. It is all about waste segregation, more specifically, that it will globally contribute to getting rid of waste fast and safe. According to him, however, prior segregation allows to truly segregate only 10% of all the garbage. All the rest of waste will still be taken to the landfill, stored and dumped/bulldozed there. 

- Even supposing you have got separate waste containers, the waste still gets mixed inside. Say, you dumped the filled vacuum cleaner bag, it gets torn, everything gets mixed around. Or the yardman dumped what he or she swept from the street – leaves, sticks, dust. Again, it all gets mixed up, - says Grouschinskiy. – I have got special boots that I normally wear at the landfill and put them on to dig through the garbage to just show the journalists what one can find there.

According to him, there is no properly managed waste treatment business in Ukraine. This is the main problem that requires a strong solution. Imagine there is a pioneer of the kind that finally shows up and decides to construct such a facility. We will then need incentives for the population to pay the monthly waste treatment fee.

- As of today, each family pays for waste collection. Some 9-10 UAH. This goes to pay the movers’ salary – for them having come and collected the waste you’ve dumped into your house’s waste containers and taken it elsewhere. Normally and average person does not consider the matter any further, like where is this waste gone, what’s going to happen next, - explains the general manager of “Kievspetstrans”. – It’s good if this waste reaches us at the end. We have got intake planning, waste management instructions, norms and regulations, equipment and official staff. Leachate accumulation system, treatment systems, landfill de-gassing measures, we collect biogas, we refill/intersperse the landfill plots, so we get nothing burning. But the story is completely different at any unauthorized waste dump area in the forest or elsewhere.

According to his calculations the optimum amount each person has to pay monthly to ensure the proper waste treatment makes about 50 UAH. So, it will make about UAH 200 fee due from an average family. This all is provided the waste collection is paid separately. He stresses once again that 50 UAH is a ‘per person’, not ‘per family’ benchmark, since every person generates garbage. The annual generation benchmark per person is about 450 kilos of garbage. However, the real rate of waste generation differs from person to person. That is the reason why he highly doubts everyone will be ready to pay the same amount. Indeed, why should one pay the same 50 UAH when he or she generates less waste than the neighbor.

- The family will spend these 200 UAH per month to pay cinema tickets, a cable TV show or a yummy snack, but not to pay waste treatment. Though payments at such a rate would have mostly solved the problem, - Gruschinskiy elaborates.

Given that, the least burdening method is making each person pay regularly to finance the waste treatment – that is, to add this very amount (as a tax) on the price of goods causing the remaining of this garbage. Under this concept, when buying the products packed in plastic, or plastic wrap, the customers would automatically pay for treating the relevant type of waste. There is another catch in here – many manufacturers will not accept such an approach. 

- I have got a visit from one of the Kiev City Council members proposing to procure and place a certain quantity of waste collection containers around Kiev area to promote waste segregation. I told him right away it would not solve the problem, save for that he will get some money gain while procuring the containers. For now, the homeless are probably the only ones to benefit from separate waste containers. They would be grateful for not having to dig across all the garbage to find something worthy, - Grouschinskiy comments.

He says the gypsies frequent the landfill looking for something to sell further or to just use the items thrown away for their own living. According to him, it’s better to have a deal with such people, since turning them out and away may pose quite a risk.

- Look, I am turning them out today, and tomorrow the landfill goes on fire all of a sudden, like they had it in Lvov, - my interviewee speculates.

What we would have called a huge garbage dumping area is formally called Landfill No. 5 storing municipal solid waste. It is located next to Podgortsy village in Obukhov area of Kiev region. While we are driving there Groushinskiy shows us a high hill passing by in the car window. The hill is totally a neat green lawn with absolutely no trees.

- That is also the waste, all around, by the way. There was a waste dump area there in 1970-ies, later it was refilled and covered. The 1970-ies’ waste is in no way similar to what we deal with now. Not that much of non-organic waste. Plastic bags were preserved by everyone, washed even – recalls the general manager of “Kievspetstrans”.

We finally reach the landfill No.5, its total area being about 63 hectares, only a part of it being filled with waste. The landfill is in operation since 1986. It has accumulated over 6,5 million tons of waste in 30 years. In spite of our expectations we fill almost no alien smells or stinks. The landfill staff is confident this is due to implementing the correct waste management technologies.

We approach the entry to the landfill territory and Gruschinskiy introduces us to the two operators sitting in the check-in area who are supposed to meet each and any car entering the landfill. The weighting equipment is built into the floor in these premises designated to weight each incoming garbage truck. The operators’ monitor indicates both brut and net weights. The surveillance cameras are placed in each corner of the weighting area. The window sill in the check-in area hosts several cactuses in pots, the sticking flytrap hangs from the room ceiling.

-  All the data are transferred to the capital, to Kiev City Municipal Service Company. Each truck hands over such a voucher, it is formally called the ‘itinerary admission card’, - explains Vladimir, one of the staff members. The garbage truck drives into the check-in area almost immediately, the driver handing the paper over to Vladimir who carefully checks something and enters to his register. Then he gets out into the street and calls up for us to follow.

- Each car undergoes the radiation rate check. We are using this strange geological survey unit for that purpose – it’s way better than the radiation badge, - Vladimir takes the equipment unit very close to the truck and takes the measurement. The monitors are full of zeroes, so the truck is clear of radiation. Meanwhile the garbage truck driver, a man of about 50 years wearing a dirty black T-shirt and same color shorts, is simply wondering around.

I ask the landfill staff if there were cases when the radiation rate exceeded safety benchmarks. They tell me it happened last year. That time the radiation contaminated garbage contained the waste from the Kiev city oncological center. The nurse has obviously put the waste into the wrong container – 60 kilos of radiation contaminated waste, four bags. Radon plant took it from the landfill for further recycling.

After that Grouschinskiy introduces us to the landfill director, Igor Grygoryevich, who takes us around the landfill. A flock of gulls is flying over the huge piles of garbage – trying to gamble for some food there. One can see the smoking tractor nearby, going there and back dumping the garbage. The garbage trucks are driving in one by one unloading the collected garbage.

- Typically, it makes 80 to 140 trucks per day. Of course, it’s way less on weekends. On holidays, naturally, the workload gets tougher, - tells Igor Grygoryevich. He is wearing a light beige suit and looks slightly over 50. For some unknown reason he asks not to indicate his family name. he jokes quite several times and has a friendly rolling laugh. He also often uses the wording “I have got it here” when describing the landfill and the work and functions he performs.

His staff entails 60 persons – the team specifically dedicated to operating the landfill. They work in shifts, 24 persons per shift. E.g., you’ve got here the mechanics, electricians, tractor and bulldozer drivers working hard.  Igor Grygoryevich says he asked the bosses to hire additional staff, but they denied. He further claims there is a clear need for new equipment, since the major part of what is available today is, according to him, good for nothing other than be taken to museum.

I ask whether there are any complaints from local population re. any smells/stinks. The landfill director laughs sincerely: there is a pig farm nearby, he says, this is the one which stinks way worse than the landfill, especially in summer.

- The gypsies visit sometimes – they are camping up there, behind the landfill. Sometimes looking for something, predominantly for sale. But you can’t just take them out and away, they are same people like us, with Ukrainian passports, by the way. – comments Igor Grygoryevich.

Aside from gypsies, he says, there sometimes stalkers and generally the youngsters get in there looking for some crazy adventures, and - the journalists. The latter, specifically, once even climbed the fence to get to the landfill area.

- And then they aired the whole footage of one of them climbing up the hillside. I told them, like, you know, guys, you are always welcome in here, just knock at the door and get inside, why climbing the fence, - complains the landfill director. – They tell me, well, you know, there is not even a sign here to mark the landfill. God, do I have to put those signs at all the 60 hectares?

A small furry dog appears from behind the tractors’ parking lot and steadily runs elsewhere on its doggy business.

– There are really many homeless dogs here, we tried amassing them to get them sterilized, even called for vet service. Did not help much, though. The vets take them away, but then again, they are here. Just like this garbage, - Igor Grygoryevich laughs again pointing at the plastic and paper bags drawn along by the wind. Right then a plastic wrap that used to pack the white bread in it is flying past us.

Igor Grygoryevich keeps walking us around the landfill showing out its area. The gas tapping pipes are laid alongside the waste dump areas – to ensure the harmful gases generated due to waste disintegration are duly contained. There are several little green cabins nearby, separated with the steel wire fence. They are used to generate the electricity using a part of garbage. The territory around them is well maintained, some flowerbeds are also in place along with a small collared mongrel dog running around.

‘I have once seen the gulls and the crows to fight for controlling the landfill territory. The sky was half white and half black.’

- By the way, the gulls, for the same matter. You have also got the crows here. So, once I saw them fighting for the territory. The sky was half white and half black, - recalls our interviewee.

You can also see the storks grazing around the garbage piles. Their white feathers, however, have already turned deeply grey. Birds are not afraid of neither people nor equipment. Me slowly climb the hill passing by the garbage piles. The piles are separated from the walking track with small ravines where black liquid is moving slowly.

- Just don’t step into it, for there is a whole bunch of harmful substances there. We have got some medical knowledge (though substantially incomplete) as first education, so we are at least able to deal with the substances – warns Igor Grygoryevich, and I have an impression he refers to his own knowledge.

- What happens if I step in there, then? Shall I be able to keep my leg on me till getting back to Kiev or they’d need to cut it off right away? – that was the joke from our photographer. The landfill director laughs again.

- Well, yes, cutting the leg is something we are capable of. Putting it back together, however, is a totally different story, since our medical knowledge is highly insufficient.

We finally approach the large dark hangar-type building with a ‘Rochem’ mark on it. This is water treatment station. It neighbors some water reservoirs. Igor Grygoryevich takes us inside the hangar, demonstrating the staff on duty. There is a fishbowl next to the wall, several carps swimming in muddy water.

- This is the fish that lives in purified water. All the journalists are keen on checking on them, always pouring in some extra purified water to shoot it on camera, - the landfill manager tells. The special staff member is sitting next to us in the cabin, watching carefully the data at the monitors. A calendar, probably presented by “Solidarnost’ political party, is pinned to the wall.

- I actually think the fire at Gribovichy was due to lack of competence with the firemen. With all my due respect to them, of course, - tells Igor Grygoryevich at the end of our excursion.

We are back to the landfill entry, and one of the landfill employees points out at a number of neighboring cottages/households trying to prove one can live next to the waste landfill and there is nothing particularly harmful in it.

- Look at the great cottages they have got built out there. Evidently, both air and water are good here then, - he waves his hands pointing at the fine cottages flashing by the car window, - by the way, that’s were Pavlo Zibrov lives. 

There my interviewee points at two cottages – one in red brick, the other one having notably white walls. He reminds me that Victor Yuschenko [ex-President of Ukraine] also lives in close proximity, right in Podgortsy village. He further speculates that the environment must be protected, so all that waste needs to be dealt with somehow quite urgently.

- I believe, what happened in Lviv, it all was due to wrong technology, - he comments. – They did not comply with waste treatment rules, unlike us here. Hence, it went on fire. There is the gas generation process going in there. If you do not dump/bulldoze the stuff well, there will be holes inside these huge garbage piles, and this will only add to gas generation. That’s when it all enflames.

I am asking why the waste dumping area is officially called differently - ‘the landfill” - in Ukraine. The interviewee shrugs his shoulders:

- I’ve been asking the same question since having fist come to work here. Was wondering, what was so military about it – any explosives buried here or what? Still have no idea. 

Alexandra Gorchinskaya

Source: Novoye vryemya

 


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