Break Free From PlasticZero Waste Alliance Ukraine

Plastic Bag Free Campaign in Ukraine: from a local initiative to a national campaign


11 Jul 2019

Written by

Sofia Sydorenko


In a very western point of Ukraine there is the city of Lviv. In 2016 Lviv was suffering from a very poor waste management system, which caused a fire on the local landfill. After the accident, the local authorities realised that things needed to change, and this is when Zero Waste Lviv introduced the strategy based on waste prevention and responsible consumption practices. Zero Waste Lviv is one of the founders and active members of Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine, which recently became a member of Zero Waste Europe and Break Free From Plastic.

In November 2018, as a result of the adopted strategy, the Lviv City Council passed an advisory decree to reduce the amount of plastic bags used in supermarkets. It is important to understand that Ukrainian municipalities are very limited on passing any restrictional directives, those can be adopted only by the government. So we were a bit concerned and did not know how the retailers would react. As expected, some shops started “bragging” about their “eco bags”, which decompose in 3 years. We immediately started explaining what oxo-plastic is, and how dangerous it is. By now, the majority of retailers who started using those bags refuse them.

As a next step of the directive implementation, the Lviv City Council and Zero Waste Lviv decided to launch the “Plastic Bag Free” Awareness Campaign starting on April 9th, 2019 and finishing on the 3d of July, aka International Plastic Bag Free Day. The campaign goals were:

  1. Promote the idea of refusing single-use plastics.
  2. Encourage entrepreneurs to create loyalty programs and motivate their clients for responsible shopping.
  3.  Advocate for real environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic packaging.

So it all started on April 9th: 8 stores, 16 supermarkets and more than 100 shops. Different retailers joined the campaign offering various single-use plastic reduction methods:

  • Replacing plastic bags with paper and cotton ones.
  • Refusing plastic bags at the cashiers.
  • Replacing plastic gloves with reusable tongs and spades.
  • Offering discounts for cotton bags.
  • Offered incentives for those who came to their stores with their own bags and containers.

After that day we could witness a lot of permanent changes, for instance some stores substituted plastic gloves with reusable utensils, and they keep using them afterwards. Some stores started working on the loyalty programs for the customers who shop with their own bags and containers, others started selling cotton bags for crops and other groceries.

The campaign got important media coverage: 2 international, 8 national, 30 local and 10 media outlets from other cities covered it, along with more than 10 television storylines.

After the start of the campaign, we received 5 requests from other cities to support them on similar activities. In the meantime, the United Nations Development Programme offered us to replicate the campaign in other cities. So we decided to organise a round table in Kyiv for retailers and other stakeholders. After the event the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine decided to support the campaign. So this is when Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine together with UNDP and the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources started the “Plastic Bag Free” National Campaign in Ukraine.

We created a list of requirements which retailers should implement in order to join it, but taking into account it was the very first experience for most of them, we were not too strict and let them choose the activities they wanted to implement. All the participants who wanted to join, had to fill in the registration form and describe the activities they were planning to do. We’ve received more than 100 applications from 42 cities and towns, and the most interesting part was to see who applied: city councils, youth councils, community centers, libraries, book-stores, coffee-shops, drug-stores, and of course different supermarkets. There were applications from small towns with a bit more than 10.000 citizens, to the biggest cities in Ukraine like Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv.

We organised different activities during the campaign. For instance, on the 3rd of July Kharkiv Zero Waste consulted more than 1.000 people in two big city supermarkets and a flower bed made of plastic bags was created in the public place. The idea behind this art installation was to give people a choice between the different kind of covering there could be for parks and gardens: green grass or plastic bags. On the same day we had a press conference with journalists and representatives from various organisations on the Plastic Bag Free Day. Our ideas have spread throughout Ukraine.

Probably, the most important accomplishment we have achieved during the campaign, is the small changes that stayed after one-day actions. Some stores replaced single-use gloves with tongs and spades for good, others started selling cotton bags and planned loyalty programmes for their responsible customers. Another important outcome was to normalise for people the habit of buying using their own tote bags and in bulk. Shopping in supermarket chains with tote bags and boxes was no longer seen as weird.

Our Ministry’s support was another fundamental achievement: now we know that plastic pollution will be tackled on different levels.

Now we planned to have all the retailers who joined the campaign keeping the changes they have implemented, as well as motivate them to implement new actions to reduce the amount of plastic bags used in their stores. Also, as part of the Plastic Free July campaign, we keep promoting tote bags, cotton bags etc. Every day we receive pictures of people using their own bags in shops, so we see how the movement is growing. There is still so much that needs to be done, but we know for a fact that the process has started, and we are on the way to the great change!