Sustainable practices for recovery of Ukraine

Ukrainian adherents of responsible consumption carefully use resources and show concern for the environment even amidst wartime hostilities, demonstrating deep engagement and a wide range of sustainability practices.

A team of Ukrainian researchers studied the views, level of interest, awareness, and participation of Ukrainian consumers in the circular economy (CE). Data were gathered from 10 interviews conducted as part of Work Package 4 (WP4) in the CIRCLE project, which focused on the study of consumer perspectives.

The majority of respondents showed deep interest, a high level of awareness and engagement in CE practices. For many, smart consumption is part of life and manifests itself in many actions, such as using reusable shopping bags, sorting waste and composting, purchasing recycled clothing and choosing eco-friendly transport. Even though the lack of infrastructure is the main problem for the development of CE in Ukraine, and the respondents feel their efforts are only a drop in the ocean, they are confident, and cannot and will not do otherwise. They believe that everyone’s responsibility determines the result.

It is important that the war hasn’t changed the attitude of interviewees towards sustainable practices. Rather, there has been increased concern about how much effort will now be required to overcome the negative consequences. Respondents are concerned about the damage caused to the environment, particularly to the fertile soil and water. “It’s simply impossible to enter the forest in the suburbs now,” says one respondent. “Everything has been dug up by trenches, there are remnants of shells. This is life-threatening, you can blow yourself up. We used to go to the forest to pick mushrooms, but now it’s impossible”.

The study identifies the lack of waste management infrastructure as the main barrier to CE implementation in Ukraine. Respondents note a lack of sorting tanks, their limited accessibility, as well as irregular emptying of containers, which is especially observed against the backdrop of hostilities.

This is how a respondent describes the problem of transporting sorted waste to recycling plants, which she constantly faces: “There are very few such stations, and they are located remotely. To take plastic for recycling, you need to schedule a whole day. Moreover, recycling points are in different places, scattered throughout Kharkiv in inconvenient locations. And to get to them, I need to order a taxi. In general, it is always a quest: to think about how to dispose of glass separately, plastic separately, etc.”

Another key barrier, according to respondents, is the lack of public awareness about the importance and necessity of sustainable practices and, consequently, the underdevelopment of a culture of responsible consumption.

It is noteworthy that among those interviewed, only one respondent was familiar with the concept of CE and could explain how it works. Most participants are familiar with this phenomenon in other terms, such as “smart consumption”, “reuse”, “recycle” and “recover in consumption”.

It is interesting to know about the experience of respondents who, due to forced resettlement, became acquainted with CE in Europe. This helped them see the difference, compare, and offer options on how the infrastructure and attitude towards CE issues in Ukraine could be improved. It can be assumed that people who have gained CE experience in Europe can make a significant contribution to the development of this area in Ukraine upon returning home.

In general, to implement the CE principles in Ukraine, according to respondents, a state program should be adopted at the national level, regional and local governments should actively work, monitor implementation, and support initiatives. The state program in CE should be developed considering the consequences of military intervention, particularly environmental disasters.

It is necessary to create a convenient infrastructure for the collection and processing of various types of waste, to build and modernize factories. This is how one of the respondents sees the work of the future waste recycling plant in Ukraine, comparing it with how it works in Austria: “… this is an ideal system, since it provides the entire city with energy and fuel. People from all over the town bring biowaste there, which is then sorted and used for biogas production. And the residents of this area drive on biofuel. When I’ve heard about it, it became my dream”.

Much work needs to be done to inform and educate the population. It is essential to incorporate explanatory classes and educational activities into the curriculum of kindergartens and schools at the state/regional level. Although sustainable development is in its early stages of implementation in Ukraine, taking measures to overcome barriers and consistently implementing steps to integrate the principles of sustainable development over time will enable Ukraine to successfully join the pan-European sustainable development program. Furthermore, as the study has shown, there are already individuals within the population who will provide reliable support for its implementation.