How volunteers power Ukrainian city’s recycling revolution
A team of volunteers are behind a waste sorting project in Drohobych that is making the city cleaner for everyone who lives there.
Bohdana Rushchak, 21, is something of a recycling expert. She knows precisely which materials can be composted, which plastics can be recycled and how to give a new life to old cardboard.
The young student also teaches locals in Drohobych, Lviv, how to do the same at the city’s new waste sorting station. What is more, as a volunteer, Bohdana does all this for free.
“I became a volunteer because of other people who inspired me,” says Bohdana, smiling. “Volunteering has the power the changes the world.”
“We give things a second life”
Bohdana is busy sorting through the piles of bottles, cardboard, tin and glass that locals have brought into the sorting station, known as Dro.Eco.Logical.
“The main thing is that the garbage they bring us should be clean, dry and flattened,” she says.
Over the past year, Bohdana has become heavily involved with various environmental initiatives in her city. The waste sorting station is the result of one of those.
“We have a very beautiful city where there was a garbage disaster,” she says. “At first, garbage was not taken out and it lay in piles around the city, then the authorities allocated a plot for a landfill. But the problem has not gone away.”
Thanks to the waste sorting station, approximately 500 kilograms of secondary raw materials were diverted from the city’s landfill over the course of three months. The project is non-profit, and all proceeds from the sale of any items go to the development of the station.
“This is the first and only sorting station in the city,” says Bohdana. “In fact, we give things a second life and make the city cleaner.”
“You can do a good deed from home”
Bohdana knows the power of social media, which is why she recently hired a team of volunteers to help run the station’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
“I saw a lot of people coming to us at the station who said: “I saw you on Facebook and decided to come and see. Tell me what you have here,” she says.
Until recently, she had struggled to run the social media accounts herself, doing it on weekends, at night and in between classes. She knew she needed help. But finding the right people seemed like a huge challenge. Then Bohdana discovered the Volunteer Platform.
The Platform is an online directory of verified opportunities for volunteers, which already has more than 25,000 users. Thanks to funding from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Volunteer Service and SoftServe, with the support of the Ministry of Youth and Sports of Ukraine and ING Bank, the Platform makes it easy to find like-minded people from all over Ukraine. It is designed to enable both volunteers and organizations find or publish a volunteer opportunity in 12 categories – from helping the animals to online volunteering – in a few clicks.
The Platform was the perfect way for Bohdana to search for volunteers.
“The website is super convenient,” she says. “I published the announcement very quickly. And I thought that the first application would probably come in about a week.”
When she visited the website the next day, she could hardly believe it.
“There were 44 applications there,” she recalls, with a grin. “And I thought: my god, what can I do with so many?”
By the time Bohdana removed the advert, she had received almost 100 applications. She answered everyone and eventually selected five girls to form a social media team.
Together, the team write posts, answer questions about sorting and produce ideas for TikTok videos. They have also launched a Telegram account.
“We have developed online volunteering,” says Bohdana. “This is when you can do a good deed from home. And the Volunteer Platform gave us people from Kyiv, Lviv and other cities.”
“Volunteering is developing in small cities”
Bohdana says that the response proves not only how important the environment is to young people in Ukraine, but also how popular volunteering is.
“Many young people are now joining the volunteer movement,” she says. “Volunteering is developing in small cities. I see how – thanks to the Platform – telephone volunteering is developing. And this is great, because everyone can fulfil themselves in something, find an opportunity for themselves. That is, you don’t need money or authority to do useful things.”
Bohdana now visits the Platform three times a week to learn about new opportunities. And when COVID-19 restrictions are eased, she hopes to find more volunteers who can help to collect household waste the homes of Drohobych residents.
“Volunteering drives communities. Communities are driving their cities. Active cities are driving the country. This is how volunteering changes the world.”