Friday, August 11, 2006

Macedonia cleans up its plastic containers

A cleaner and friendlier environment is the ultimate goal of a recycling project in Macedonia. Some 1,500 tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate containers -- used mainly for the packaging of food and beverages -- are to be collected for recycling by the end of the year.

USAID, which is sponsoring the project, has selected seven companies and an NGO to implement it. Some 700 plastic containers have already been collected, processed and turned into new containers, for export to China and Turkey. The price for the recycled products ranges between 400 and 500 euros per tonne.

People now have an incentive to gather bottles and turn them in for compensation. The "bottle collectors", as they are becoming known, usually target illegal waste dumps along the highways and in the forests, or near small villages with no organised waste collection.

The initiative has been so successful that people are starting to joke about the sudden absence of plastic containers. For instance, Lake Debar used to be covered with plastic bottles after any rise in the level of the Radika River. The surge of water after heavy rains dragged the waste from illegal riverside dumps along the banks into the lake. With the bottle collectors hard at work, this phenomenon could become a thing of the past.

"There is probably a gain for everybody, and the most important thing is that plastic waste in Macedonia has been cleaned effectively in only a few months. A better pattern could not have been conceived," a Tetovo resident says.

Collection points are located in Skopje, Kratovo, Kumanovo and Tetovo. USAID is now planning to expand the project in collaboration with the local self-governments. Success with this project could give a boost to initiatives for recycling other types of waste, including metal and textiles.

Use of recyclables is not a novelty in Macedonia, but there has been a lack of facilities for processing. As a result, waste that could have been recycled has been ending up at the dump. Authorities recently have taken new steps to promote recycling, including promoting the use of cloth instead of plastic bags.

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