The European Union has maid its intentions regarding pollution and waste quite clear for many years now: by 2030, all member states must reduce their plastic waste by 55%. Whether that will or will not happen is still under discussion, but one thing is sure: up until September 2018, 14 states were falling way behind meeting their recycling goals.
One of the three countries at the bottom of the list was Hungary, who is now receiving help from the EU to successfully develop a strategy that will help meet the established goal. But how exactly is Hungary dealing with the amount of waste that is produced, and what changes can be implemented to educate and help the population understand the need for recycling?
How are Hungarians dealing with waste?
Although 35% of the total waste is, in fact, recycled, Hungary seems to be confronted with two main problems: plastic recycling and e-waste.
On average, it was estimated that every Hungarian is using 80 plastic bags a year, with the majority of these bags ending up in landfills.
The main problem with landfills is that the waste that ends up there produces toxic gases that heavily pollute the air. And, when you think of the fact that a bit over half of the total waste generated ends up in landfills, you start to see the actual size of the problem.
When drawing a comparison to the average EU plastic recycling rate, which is 42%, Hungary does, in fact, seem to have a serious issue, as the country only recycles 31% of its plastic waste.
The Government is taking measures to reduce the gap and place Hungary near the top of the list. In 2021, single-use plastics will be banned, with the Government also planning to increase taxes on other plastic items, such as straws, plates, and cups.
E-waste, Hungary’s second major issue, seems to still bring up challenges. While the majority of people are aware of the fact that they must recycle selectively, meaning paper goes to paper, plastic goes to plastic, and so on, they don’t seem to have the same knowledge about e-waste.
Hungarians usually throw away appliances they don’t need, either directly into the garbage bin, or on the side of the street, in case someone might need them. Although the idea is generally well-intended, leaving e-waste on the streets is not necessarily the best way to make sure your unused appliances are being given a new purpose.
All over the country, people can dispose of e-waste in electronic stores, or even have them removed for free, when new appliances are delivered. But, when asked why they do not recycle e-waste, 15% of Hungarians say they don’t have the necessary time to do so, while 20% of them are not aware of the importance of e-waste recycling.
Green programs are on the rise
Despite not graduating top of the recycling class, Hungarians are still trying their best to fight global pollution. Various environmentally-friendly programs have stated shaping up around Hungary, in an attempt to raise awareness on the pollution issues the world is confronting with.
Sziget Festival, one of the most popular music festivals in the world, held yearly on a Danube island in Budapest has launched a sustainability program this year, called Green Sziget. The festival staff is aware of the major footprint such as massive festival can leave, and are determined to reduce it as much as possible. Selling drinks only in reusable cups, encouraging people not to use straws, and handing out pocket ashtrays are just some of the measures taken to reduce waste production. LED lighting throughout the entire festival, using renewable energy to power some of the key elements, as well as shuttle buses and ride-sharing options, will help reduce energy consumption and lower CO2 emissions.
Trying to bring sustainability into the fashion industry, Global Sustainable Fashion Week, launched in 2015, is a fashion event dedicated to supporting ethical clothing. But the event is much more than just a fashion show.
Conferences with some of the most important names in fashion, as well as workshops and exhibitions, are held throughout three days, all aiming to educate people about what sustainable fashion actually means.
What’s more, this year, German property investors, FAKT, poured over $1 billion towards the construction of what will be the first fully carbon-neutral town in Hungary. The entire 1.27 square mile town will be fully powered by renewable energy, wither solar or biogas, and could potentially create over 5,000 permanent jobs in the northwest of Hungary. The main purpose of the town is to provide the means for other regions in Hungary to transition from fossil to renewable energy. Besides apartments and education facilities, the town will also provide greenhouses, to help supply the country with organic fruits and vegetables.
Comparison with other member states
The situation in Hungary seems to be slowly turning better and better, but Hungarians need to pick up the pace if they want to bridge the gap between them and EU recycling leaders, such as Belgium, Lithuania or Sweden.
Belgium seems to be one of the world champions when it comes to recycling. They manage to recycle not less than 81.9% of their waste. “The secret seems to lay in their waste pick-up system. Every household is given four distinctive trash bags to collect waste selectively, which are then picked up by garbage trucks once a week. Apart from that, each region has a designated area for collecting chemical waste and toxic products.” Explain the experts in waste management at Miltek.
Countries such as Malta and Slovakia seem to struggle much more with recycling, as they only manage to reuse 30% or less of their waste. Poland, which seemed to struggle as well, is now working towards climbing the recycling ladder, allowing for only 36% of its waste to go to landfills.
Although the situation in Hungary is far from being ideal, progress is made every day, and that can be seen throughout the entire country. The Government is working towards educating the people on why recycling is important, as well as providing means for the Hungarians to do so.