Efficient waste management in Moscow: small changes with big impacts

Inner courtyard of the Swiss embassy in Moscow.
The new Embassy in Moscow: The layout of the space underlines the representation of an open and transparent Switzerland. But how is sustainability promoted behind those walls? © Brauen Wälchli Architects – Yves André

In line with the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, Switzerland is very dedicated towards a more sustainable future. An important element of a sustainable working routine is efficient waste management. Over 25 million tons of waste are produced each year in the city of Moscow. The waste processing facilities are nearly running at full capacity. It is thus important for the Swiss Embassy in Moscow to act and make its own meaningful contribution to tackle the waste management problem. The Embassy’s example underlines how environment-friendly activities, which can be done with little means and mostly by adapting behaviors, can in time lead to positive outcomes for our planet.

Together towards efficient waste management

The 2020 Russian regulation prescribes to separate waste in household garbage and recyclable waste. The Embassy goes further and introduces a more thorough recycling system based on the Swiss approach: Paper, glass, batteries and plastic bottles (PET) are separated at the Embassy, picked up and brought to a special waste treating site managed by a well-known Russian NGO. Also, by collecting plastic bottle caps separately, the Embassy supports an important social project called “Dobrye kryshechki” (Kind Caps). Not only is the plastic from the bottle caps reused, but the money paid by the recycling plants goes to “Dobrye kryshechki” and supports children with developmental disorders.

Good communication is a prerequisite for triggering change in behavior and the Swiss Embassy supports this actively: It inspires its workers not only to recycle at the workplace, but also in their private life. Embassy employees are encouraged to bring batteries and plastic bottles from their own home to the Embassy, where they can be easily recycled.

Promoting Sustainability: The Embassies’ Sustainable Development Group

Raising awareness among all employees is crucial and sustainability is thus a key topic on the Embassy’s agenda. Measures aiming at increasing the sustainability of the Embassy are discussed within a dedicated working group, the Sustainable Development Group. Members of the Sustainable Development Group meet for regular brainstorming sessions, implement internal and external projects, and promote events and cooperation in the field of sustainability. This group advises both the Ambassador and the whole staff of the Embassy on matters of sustainable development, circular economy, ecology and climate change.

Awareness-raising event for schoolchildren at the Swiss embassy.
Awareness raising on waste management and recycling in a Russian primary school, organized and led by the Swiss Embassy and Russian partners. © FDFA

Among other things, the Embassy and the Moscovite eco-movement "Sobirator" conducted an awareness campaign in 2020 in a school, a university and a children’s library. Together, the Embassy and “Sobirator” have been holding and organizing eco-classes and lectures on ecology and circular economy in the three Russian institutions mentioned above and helped them implement their own waste separation. During these events, Swiss experiences in recycling and the circular economy in general are shared and it is discussed how a recycling and circular economy can be developed further and how current challenges can be addressed.

Reduce Reuse Recycle

To the same institutions, the Embassy provided kick-off funding for the introduction of waste separation (The “Reduce Reuse Recycle” project) and for a new waste collection infrastructure (containers, bins etc.), so that they could start waste separation on their own. Separated waste is collected by “Sobirator”, which runs a big collection and separation facility (eco-center) and brings separated waste directly to recycling companies. In 2020, the Embassy published a video entitled "Going Green" on its social media, which was met with a very positive response. In the same year, the Embassy also held roundtable discussions for a broader Russian audience on the topics of "climate change" and "sustainable gold mining."

The positive image of Switzerland as a recycling economy has been promoted through the different projects and the active participation of the Ambassador. The Sustainable Development Group aims to continue and broaden the cooperation with the partner institutions and to implement a fully-fledged recycling system at the Embassy. At the same time, the Sustainable Development Group seeks to promote a high awareness of ecological aspects in daily life both in the partner institutions and the Embassy itself. The Sustainable Development Group has identified further possible measures to be taken at the Embassy, such as eco-friendly cleaning agents, seasonal cuisine, vegetarian and vegan menus at official events and setting up a compost bin.

The new building as starting point

The new Swiss Embassy, which has been inaugurated in June 2019, is an environment-friendly building in harmony with the surrounding environment. Special attention was paid to the use of non-toxic construction materials, the lighting system and the intelligent use of glass. Due to modern floor-to-ceiling windows, the Embassy uses natural light to its full potential and it allows to reduce the use of electric lights inside the building. Another example of resource saving technologies is the Embassy’s climate control system, which has replaced the traditional central heating.

The new construction design contributed to lower the buildings’ environmental footprint and has inspired its occupants to seize new opportunities and develop initiatives towards the promotion of more sustainable practices.

It is indeed its staff’s motivation to make further commitments towards sustainable practices that makes the Embassy stand out.