300 kg of plastic in four months
A 16 year-old girl and her team implement an environmental project in Belarus
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When people doubted her project, a 16-year-old Eliza understood that she needed to work further to prove the opposite. Eliza’s project was the most debated on the sidelines of the intensive workshop on UPSHIFT technology. The jury swamped her with questions, and peers kept the fires of doubts. However, Eliza and her team persevered: they defended the project and received seed funding for implementation and mentorship support from UNICEF.
In the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference COP27, we would like to share how UNICEF in Belarus is helping young people become environmental champion to enable boys and girls to have the skills and knowledge to address environmental issues.
“Honestly, it was scary,” Eliza says with excitement in her voice, although more than three months have passed since the training. “I am from a small agricultural town of Porechye in Belarus, and I didn’t think that we could win and get funding.”
In July this year, over 80 boys and girls gathered in Minsk to undertake training on UPSHIFT technology from UNICEF. For four days, with the support of trainers, teenagers developed their own projects on environmental issues.
Since 2019, UNICEF in Belarus has been providing training for young people to help them develop universal skills, including problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, effective communication and leadership skills.
UPSHIFT influences not only the participants of the training, but also the communities through the projects they manage to come up with and implement. Thanks to UPSHIFT, the attitude towards young people themselves is also changing - society begins to see them as champions of positive changes, and not a source of problems.
Many interesting projects were created: installation of a 100-meter arch made of virgin grapes above the highway to reduce carbon dioxide emissions near the busiest section of the road in Gomel; introduction of vending machines (a machine for collecting cans and bottles for recycling) near lakes and rivers; interactive trash cans for collecting batteries.
Eliza, together with her friends - Dasha, Katya, Anya - suggested recycling plastic caps.
About the project
In Belarus, about 280 thousand tons of plastic are taken to landfills annually, of which about 4 thousand tons of plastic caps. They take over 100 years to decompose, are highly toxic and pollute water and soil. But caps can be recycled: they are made of high-quality plastic and can be better recycled than bottles.
Recycling plants pay money for plastic caps. Eliza and her team deliver caps to the Grodno city recycling enterprise. One kilogram of caps costs 12 cents. Part of the income is used for the advancement of the project and another part is donated to a local animal shelter. To draw attention to the topic of plastic waste, Eliza and her peers plan to arrange a fashion show with garments made of recyclable material.
It all started with TikTok
“I came across a few videos on TikTok about the environment back in winter. They were about pollution of the planet,” says Eliza. “It frightened me, it was frustrating. We got together with friends, discussed everything we saw, and decided to start from small steps to solve environmental problems in the area we live in. We remembered how two years ago we collected caps at our school. We realized that we could continue this project and expand it. This is how the project was born.
As I was thinking of the project, I got a call from Grodno with an invitation to attend UNICEF training on environmental issues in Minsk. Everything came together."
Prior to the training, Eliza and her friends had delivered several homemade cardboard bins to collect plastic caps. When the bins were full, the girls collected the caps and took them for processing.
“We did not know how to organize everything in the best possible way. But we knew that it was definitely possible to scale up the project and collect more caps. I was very scared before attending the UNICEF training. I assumed that the jury would not like our project and would find no value in scaling it up.
For four days, with the help of UPSHIFT trainers, the team discussed the idea, thought through all the components (costs, implementation and promotion), polished the project and prepared to present to the jury who would be the potential sponsors and partners.
“The project had the most heated discussion. On one hand, we felt it was good. We realized that we’ve got noticed and the project got the jury's attention. But at some point we were disappointed why such a great project generated so much debate. We really wanted to win and get funding. We wanted the project to live. And luckily it all worked out well."
After the training, the team arrived in Grodno city to strategize how to proceed further. The team has developed booklets about the project and are now distributing them in the Grodno region to allow as many people as possible to learn about the problem and join the collection of plastic caps.
In addition, the team organizes special awareness raising hours in different schools and talks about the project. “The younger kids are the most involved,” Eliza laughs. “They are more impressed with our project, and then they arrange a competition on who will collect and bring the most caps.”
The first cap collection container has been already designed. The first container will be made of recycled plastic caps. Currently, the team is negotiating with shopping centers on the placement of containers.
In the evenings, Eliza collects filled containers in her native Porechye. She collects them in the cultural centres, kindergartens, churches, village councils - the places where containers have been installed. As she collects the caps, the phrase “People will not accept” resonates in her mind, but she is determined to continue and prove the opposite.
“In a few months, we collected about 300 kilograms of caps. People respond very well. I am so happy every time I sense solidarity and see people bringing in more caps at their own initiative. My godfather is a surgeon. He is such a devoted advocate of my project, that almost all his patients know and bring caps to him. It is so cute to see, for example, old grannies bringing carefully packaged bags with plastic caps. Now my parents also help me - they believed in my project and are supporting me now, although at first they also had some doubts.
Eliza has recently become a UNICEF volunteer in Belarus
“I was very inspired by the mentor who was with us at the training. Her name is Sasha and she is a UNICEF volunteer. I was surprised to see how much time she spent with us, believed in our capacity to implement the project and how much she supported and inspired us. Now I also want to inspire others. Let's start with small - recycling a piece of paper, cap or battery - just start with a small project for your region. I'm sure you will succeed."