In the hall of St. Petersburg University of Cinema and Television students, staff members and three photographers are rushing around a "barrier": a table with a blue box made of cardboard. 21-year-old eco-activist Irina Vlasova and two volunteers are collecting used batteries. At first, she imagined that more than 100 people would put their batteries inside the box, but then ditched this hope. "I'm just a dreamer. It'll be great if just ten people are coming", said Irina the day before the action. Wearing a big smile, she praises the contributors, providing them sweets, pens made of tetra-pack and brochures on waste recycling for "having saved a couple of hedgehogs".
About 50 people took part in the action. But not all of the students are willing to help: "I don't care much about this battery stuff. I know they are dangerous", says Mark K., "but we still have lots of water and land on our planet, so what's to worry about?"
He's not the only one. The group around Irina found out that only 19% of students in her university recycle batteries in a proper way. And when the batteries rot they release venomous chemicals, which pollute air, soil and water of St. Petersburg. It's just one example of the city's "main environmental problem", as Irina calls the lack of waste separation. Every garbage, no matter if it s a plastic bottle, apple or a mobile phone rots at the landfills, making citizens suffer from the terrible smell meters away. It is a big problem not only for St. Petersburg, but for other Russian cities as well. According to an article the Ministry of Natural Resources is arguing that the government doesn't provide efficient facilities. Moreover, people often have no idea how to seperate waste properly. That's why at the age of 16 Irina started to engage other people in this problem.
As a first step, Irina introduced waste separation into her family life. Her mother supported the idea, and even took part in a recent action. Other members aren't always so happy about this as it causes some inconvenience. When they want to get rid of already separated waste, they have either to check if the eco-van is coming to their district and plan the day beforehand. Or keep all their waste at home and wait until the first Saturday of the month comes, when a volunteer action - not supported by the government - takes place in different parts of St. Petersburg. Irina's also volunteering: "By the end of the month we have three boxes of waste!".
Apart from separating the waste at home and organizing eco-events in her university Irina holds educational workshops for primary school children, writes for her own ecological column on a web page "Gorod-Plus" and also gave a free 5-month course in eco-journalism with the help of two other activists. By covering this issue in her articles and filming the actions, she wants to make more people, especially Russians, aware of ecological problems and therefore care about the environment. She sees it as a responsibility for sustainable development: "We haven't received the Earth as a heritage from our ancestors", she quotes the saying. "It's our children who lent it to us. When you borrow something, it implies you have to return it in the same condition".
This January the authorities banned the construction of a waste burning factory in the north of St. Petersburg after 30.000 people signed the petition against it. Now eco-activists are trying to make the governor ban waste incineration once and for all and finally introduce waste separation. Irina Vlasova filmed a Greenpeace action which took place on the St. Isaac's Square, March 17. Activists unfurled a 30-meter banner with a short sentence, the meaning of which changes for the opposite depending on the place of the comma.
By the end of the day Irina and friends of her feel overjoyed at the success of the action: the box is full. The volunteers are going to transport the batteries to a special place, where they will be recycled."We have to ask some men to carry the box as it's really heavy!", says Irina happily.