Meet our members – Friends of the Earth – SPZ, Slovakia
Zero Waste Europe is happy to introduce the blog series “Meet our members”. Through this series of monthly interviews, we want to give you a chance to get to know our members and the work they are doing.
This month, we are thrilled to introduce you to Lenka Beznáková and Monika Medovičová from our recently joined associate member – Friends of the Earth – SPZ, Slovakia.
Can you give us a brief introduction to Friends of the Earth – SPZ Slovakia’s focus?
Founded in 1996, ‘Friends of the Earth – SPZ, Slovakia’ is an NGO focusing on minimisation of pollution of the environment caused by waste and toxic substances, and on offering sustainable solutions for the benefit of future generations and other forms of life.
The main activities include:
- collaborating with the Slovak municipalities to make the waste management systems more efficient and aligned with the zero waste strategies, systems’ optimisation and creation of strategic roadmaps;
- working on the introduction of separate waste collection, including organic waste, community composting and composting at home;
- fighting against harmful and dangerous intentions of facilities such as incinerators and chemical recycling plants;
- working on systemic policy changes on a national level, creation of conceptual and strategic documents and analyses; and
- information campaigns for the general and professional public; organisation of seminars and conferences.
As for you, how long have you been in the field? And actually, what got you into (zero) waste?
[Lenka] It has already been 17 years since I have been working on the topic of waste. I spent the first five years working at a municipality council, where I focused on separate waste collection and on closing down an old landfill site. However, the possibilities around legislation on a municipal level didn’t allow me to move waste management towards zero waste, and my ambitions to search for new innovative solutions were not well received. When I first met ‘Friends of the Earth – SPZ, Slovakia’, I knew that is where I belong. Now, I get to directly shape policies on waste, create pilot projects, elaborate analyses, search for new solutions and new implementation methods… and that keeps moving me forward!.
[Monika] I have been working in the field of waste for almost 25 years now, out of which I have spent 23 years in the state administration, and for the last two years I have been a member of the team at ‘Friends of the Earth – SPZ, Slovakia’. It may not seem directly related, but my interest in waste was primarily sparked by my admiration towards wildlife and the need to protect wildlife from waste pollution. At the moment, I am driven mainly by the concerns about the negative consequences of the production of large amounts of waste and the repercussions of incorrect waste management on human health.
What is your current role in your organisation?
[Lenka] I have several hats in the organisation. In particular, I am an expert in the setting up waste management systems on the municipal level, and in the creation of information campaigns. I am also responsible for the fundraising side and financial management.
[Monika] I do lecturing for municipalities and schools, comment on conceptual materials of the Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic, and write articles on current waste management issues. I constantly monitor the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes in Slovakia and in cases where there might be significant threats to the environment, I draft the objections with which we enter into proceedings. In addition to that, I am responsible for our “Citizens’ Help Center”, which we set up on our website.
Tell us more about one ongoing campaign/activity you’re working on?
[Monika] At the moment, we have an ongoing campaign against the buildout of new incinerators in Slovakia. I have drafted objections for the EIA proceedings, which at the moment includes two incinerators, and I have defended our stand at a public hearing. What I personally consider important is our campaign against the build-out of six facilities for chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste, whose effectiveness is questionable and whose outputs (pyrolysis liquid) would very probably end up as fuel for various heating plants or also for households. Our organisation takes part in the proceedings of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of chemical recycling. In addition to that, I communicate with the representatives of municipalities that refuse the build-out of these facilities. I will be taking part in the public hearings so that we can explain to citizens what the real intention of these facilities is, and what harm it causes to the environment.
[Lenka] Together with a colleague of mine, we collaborate with municipalities to make the waste management systems more efficient and in alignment with zero waste strategies. What we do concretely is analyse the situation of a given municipality, suggest more efficient steps that lead towards the reduction of mixed municipal waste, increased engagement of citizens and waste prevention at source. What we do a lot is talk with people and ask them: What are you not happy with? How would you like to change that? We include them in the discussions and in the decision-making processes. As a next step, we make these changes happen on the ground or we collaborate with municipalities to make them happen. We do waste audits of municipal waste and we pay citizens short visits directly in their households, this is what we call ‘from household to household’ approach. We treat each municipality individually and look for the best possible solutions for that particular city or village, and that is what I truly enjoy!
If there was one thing that you would like your organisation to be known for, what would it be?
[Monika] I think that our organisation can be proud of achieving better separate collection rates in around a hundred Slovak cities and villages. In these cities and villages, we drafted what we call “The Conception of Separate Collection of Municipal Waste”, which we helped implement via consulting, information campaigns, and audits. The document also looks at the implementation of zero waste strategies in administrative buildings and all related activities. We put a particular focus on organic waste, coming from both gardens and households. In that respect, from 2017 until 2019, we held 640 lectures on composting in villages and cities. We have also visited citizens in several thousands households as a part of a project focusing on waste prevention through composting.
[Lenka] I am most proud of the successes of our organisation when it comes to systemic changes in Slovak waste policies. We do this work whether we are paid for it or as volunteers; we are deeply persuaded that without legislative support there is no way forward. In particular, we have succeeded in:
- pushing through measures for DRS on single-use beverages packaging;
- making the standards for separate collection of municipal waste stricter;
- pushing through the implementation of mandatory organic waste collection and standards for the collection of organic waste (food and green waste);
- implementation of several measures to support waste prevention;
- contributing to the extension EPR so that it covers not only packaging but also other non-packaging items (paper, plastic, and glass); and
- pushing through for zero financial support from the state for chemical recycling.
We bring examples from the ground to the policy negotiations, where we show the officials that this is not only our theory, this really works directly in Slovak municipalities.
How would you describe the growth of the Zero Waste movement in Slovakia ? What is your perspective for the future?
[Monika] on our dedicated website www.nulaodpadu.sk, we regularly add new ideas that can get citizens closer to a zero waste lifestyle. We publish articles and our comments on the current state of waste management in Slovakia. Our objective is to persuade as many Slovaks as possible that we need to aim for zero waste and that we cannot be satisfied with a few of us being zero wasters, even if in a consistent and thorough way. We aim to collaborate with the Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic on a more thorough implementation of the ‘2019-2025 Programme for waste prevention in Slovakia’ and contribute not only with advice through our website, but also with awareness raising directly on the ground, amongst the citizens.
[Lenka] When in 2005, we published our first guidebook on moving towards zero waste for municipalities, most of the general and professional public thought we were half-crazy. And at that time, we already had a success story also in Slovakia – the village of Palárikovo, where we managed to increase the separate collection rate from 0% to 76% in 5 years.
In the last five years, the situation in Slovakia significantly changed. The initiatives by zero waste enthusiasts have been multiplying, even if they are often primarily focused on lifestyle changes on an individual level. Then we have the initiatives that work in wider contexts, but they avoid controversial topics such as incineration or chemical recycling. Even if we are happy for every good initiative, we know that it is not enough because we observe a growing demagogy and opposition against the zero waste philosophy from the side of advocates for landfilling and incineration… that is why in our organisation we work with the zero waste philosophy in a complex way: through gradual incorporation of zero waste principles into Slovak legislation, through collaboration on best practices in municipalities, and personal examples of individual citizens, through activities to prevent implementation of inappropriate waste management systems such as incinerators, chemical recycling plants and similar, and offering alternatives to landfilling and incineration.
We feel the need to widen and improve our activities, which is why we started negotiations with potential partners to create a Slovak zero waste alliance. Its objective would be synchronisation of our activities to create sufficient pressure for change to happen in Slovakia.
Can you share a favourite quote of yours?
“If you want to achieve something you haven’t achieved yet, you have to do something you haven’t done yet.”
We would like to thank our dear members Lenka Beznáková and Monika Medovičová for taking time to reply to these questions.