It was five years ago, Andrey Protasov recalls, that he and his wife, Elena, decided to begin doing a very un-Russian sort of thing: recycling their garbage.
“We started thinking, why should we waste?” said Mr. Protasov. “We can save forests and other natural resources. It’s a message that goes to your soul.”
The two accountants began with paper, which they stashed on the balcony of their Soviet-era high-rise apartment in a middle-class suburb of Moscow. But they quickly ran into problems. Not surprisingly, since the city of Moscow has no recycling program (despite an impending garbage crisis), they had trouble finding a recycling center that would take their paper.
Internet searches were fruitless, and the commercial collection companies they found in the phone book were unwilling to accept small amounts of paper.
Four years went by, and the paper piled up waist-deep on the balcony, which led to a new problem — grandfather would wait until they left home and then throw the paper in the trash surreptitiously. “He was always trying to get rid of all the garbage from our balcony,” Mr. Protasov said, grinning. “He thought we were quite crazy guys.”
Surprising though it may be, the Protasovs, who eventually took a car-full of old paper to a private company an hour’s drive away and sold it for virtually nothing, are not alone.
In Russia, where most household trash goes straight to landfills, a small but growing cadre of people not only want to recycle, but are willing to go to great lengths to do so. They entertain modest dreams that they will someday inspire the government to institute wide-ranging regulations for garbage separation.