Roman Yudakov points in the distance to a stinking mountain of trash looming over the Russian capital and sighs: “Take a look at our pyramid!”
The rubbish towers above the Timokhovo dump outside Moscow, one of the biggest in Europe. Authorities plan to build an incinerator to burn some of the trash, but Yudakov and other activists are fighting for it to be recycled instead.
“The priority of the authorities is to burn, rather than sort (waste for recycling). Nobody is ready to do that,” says the 36-year-old electrician as he flicks his cigarette butt in the direction of the 157-metre (515-feet) high dump east of Moscow.
Open since the late 1970s, Timokhovo receives dozens of lorries every day from the capital some 80 kilometres (50 miles away).
Since 2013, residents have complained of foul sulphurous smells and worry that effluents are polluting ground water. The authorities acknowledged the smell comes from the dump, but say it is now safe because of a filtration system. Activists however dispute this claim.
Just seven percent of rubbish is recycled in Russia, according to official data. This falls far below France’s 43 percent or Germany’s 68 percent achieved in 2017, according to Eurostat.
The majority of household waste in Russia ends up in locations like Timokhovo, whose trash pile can be seen from many kilometres away.
In recent years, waste management has emerged as a subject of heated debate as residents of towns surrounding Moscow have protested against dumps filled to over capacity or catching on fire.
Authorities came up with the idea of unloading some of the local landfills and taking the waste from Moscow, which produces 15 percent of Russia’s garbage, to the Arkhangelsk region in the north.
The new landfill project launched in the region 1,000 kilometres (621 miles) from the capital caused unprecedented demonstrations and led to clashes between local protesters and construction workers and security guards.