BEST PRACTICES: ZERO WASTE SOFIA

Restoring the public fountains in Bulgaria. That’s one of the main goals of Zero Waste Sofia. Their founder, corporate communications professional Simona Stiliyanova wants to create a movement and help everyone in Bulgaria to reduce their waste, from packaging to wardrobe. And she pays special attention to public fountains. We were really curious about this initiative, so we picked up the phone. 

INTERVIEW WITH SIMONA STILIYANOVA (S)

Why did you start Zero Waste Sofia?

S: Adopting a ‘zero waste lifestyle’ is something many of us dream about, but struggle to actually do it. Where do you even start? I managed to reduce my waste by about 60% and I wanted to document my successful and unsuccessful attempts to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, and that’s how Zero Waste Sofia was born. I want to show that living a little more “green” does not necessarily mean mixing up recipes with 400 exotic ingredients all day long. On the contrary – by implementing various small changes you can simplify your life and even save money and earn more time for yourself and your loved ones.

Can you tell us more about the specific ‘fountain project’?

S: Fountains of Bulgaria enables active people to stop using disposable plastic bottles and save money by giving them a map of all sources of free tap water near them. I am working to embed information about its quality, feedback for broken fountains and other initiatives too.

CAN YOU DRINK TAP WATER IN BULGARIA?

So we assume, tap water in Bulgaria is potable?

S: Yes, we are fortunate to live close to thousands of free sources of high quality drinking water. In Bulgaria, there is an old tradition for people to build drinking fountains. As a result of it, there are nearly 7,000 of them all over the country. However, nowadays our modern society is rapidly adopting the “throwaway” culture, putting the tradition on the shelf and sending nearly 5 million disposable plastic bottles to the landfill every day.

 I conducted a national research among 600 respondents, and found out why people use or do not use public fountains. The 3 main reasons for not using them were:

  • 89,4% of all interviewees consider that they do not have enough information about the quality of water
  • 64% do not use public fountains, because they are broken or dirty.
  • 54% do not know where to find them

That’s why I decided to go further in addition to the mapping. I partner with local civic organizations, contact municipalities to report broken fountains and encourage my readers to do so. And together with some other volunteers, we started to clean the fountains ourselves.

Oh yes, we read about that on Zero Waste Sofia. On September 14th, you joined with the Let’s clean Bulgaria together” event. Can you tell us more about this?

S: I am really happy that even it started small, it grew so quickly and was supported by many volunteers from all over the country, even two whole municipalities and bTV national television. For the clean-up we used only natural products as vinegar and baking soda. 

You already have 960 refill stations on your map. How do you add new fountains? Can bars and restaurants also sign up as a refill station?

S: I started to add fountains to the map myself. Nowadays hundreds of volunteers are helping me out by adding new fountains through the website form. Venues that provide tap/filtered water and welcome people to fill their water bottle for free can also join. You can already find some restaurants on the map.

FUNDING & SUPPORT FOR THE PROJECT

Do you get any financial support to do all this work?

S: No. Currently the project is ran without funding by volunteering efforts in our spare time. The project is working without a budget as a Google map since 2018 and it has already gained ambassadors, volunteers and public support, including national TV and other media features. To achieve higher impact and scale our solution we need to invest in a fully functional digital platform, water sampling and analysis and a strong awareness campaign. This year “Fountains of Bulgaria” even was ranked among 30 semi-finalists from over 500 projects across Europe challenging plastic waste in the European social innovation competition. As a part of it we visited a Social Innovation Academy in Turin where I attended many really useful workshops and met amazing people from all over Europe. Integral part of the team were my partner, who is also supporting me a lot with the project and my (then 2 months old) baby, who travels everywhere with me. :)) Thanks to the competition we also met our amazing coach, who is still supporting me with the project.

Last question: what is your ultimate goal? 

S: I want to start a national movement of tap water users and ambassadors – bringing tap water its credibility and public fountains back to life. A change in consumers’ mindsets and behaviour towards purchasing bottled water (in regions where water is drinkable). Hopefully we will achieve a system change – municipalities investing in the development of a strong public fountains infrastructure, instead of encouraging the usage of more single-use plastic bottles and looking for ways to recycle them. And of course the ultimate – legislation change – plastic bottles bans at key public places. 

READ MORE

The website Zero Waste Sofia is in Bulgarian (yes with a Cyrillic alphabet!), but that doesn’t stop us from being big fans (thank you Google Translate!). In our opinion, Simona is a true hero, and a talented photographer too. Check out the Zero Waste Sofia Instagram, and get inspired!

Do you have tips for Simona how she can grow the refill network in Bulgaria? Or do you want to become a volunteer or project partner? Please contact Simona at Simona@zerowastesofia.com.

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5X PLASTIC FREE GUIDES

This month marks the 5th edition of the Plastic Diet Challenge in the Netherlands. Each week, we reveive tips and tricks how to avoid and reduce single-use plastics. Refilling your water bottle is one step, but there are many other products to tackle. Just look at your fridge or cosmetics. We love plastic-free tips & tricks. In today’s blog, we highlight a couple of interesting platforms and guides. 

1. TRAVEL WITHOUT PLASTIC

The Travel Without Plastic founder Jo Hendricx and her team created ‘Let’s Reduce Single-Use‘, a Toolkit to help hotels and accommodation providers reduce or eliminate single-use plastics and providing practical, affordable recommendations. Besides the toolkit, they offer a “Plastic Reduction Guide” (avaliable as free downloadable version, or €79,- for the complete guide), workshops and personalised support. Furthermore Travel Without Plastic has inspiring blogs and reports.

Travel Without Plastic

​ 2. HET ZERO WASTE PROJECT

Dutch Sisters Nicky and Jesse Kroon live a zero-waste lifestyle. Step by step they managed to eliminate their waste stream, using the 5R-principle: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. They wrote the practical book “Het Zero Waste Project” (in Dutch), opened their own sustainable lifestyle store called SMIR, maintain a blog, and keep an online overview of ‘bulk stores‘ in the Netherlands.

Het Zero Waste Project

3. SLO ACTIVE

This luxury swim wear brand recently updated their guide, titled Plastic Pollution: Single-Use Plastic Impact on our Oceans. It’s comprehensive, intensely detailing the facts and figures of plastic pollution, the impact on our oceans and marine life. The brand is inspired by the slow movement.

4. BETTER PLACES

Better Places is a sustainable travel agency. Practical tips and tricks how to avoid plastics, eat vegetarian and susainable hotels can be found on their website for each country in their portfolio (in Dutch).

Image: Better Places

5. MYPLASTICFREELIFE.COM

100 steps to a plastic-free life. Wow! This inspiring woman, Beth Terry, has been blogging for more than ten years and researching plastic-free alternatives (see her ongoing Plastic-Free Guide). She also enjoys reviewing alternative products from ethical companies. 

What is your favourite plastic free source?

There are hundreds of cool plastic free tips & tricks guides and zero-waste guru’s. We picked these 5 platforms, because we like them (we don’t receive commissions!). Please note we did not try to make a complete overview. Do you have another favourite plastic-free guide or guru? Leave your comment below. 

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REFLECTION ON A PLASTIC DIET

During the month September I was on a plastic diet. One month without using single-use plastics. Or at least trying to do so. The plastic diet was organised by Opgemärkt and consisted of four weekly assignments. How did it go? Read about my struggles and victories.

WEEK 1: INSIGHT

The first assignment was to collect all plastics you’re throwing away and share your picture. I felt somewhat embarrassed but I put my picture on facebook (see below, and this is excluding plastic waste to-go). Furthermore I set myself the 1st goal: to cook plastic-free meals. This was though. I had friends over for dinner and wanted to make lasagne. I walked in the supermarket and ran out. Spinach, lasagne, butter, cheese. Everything wrapped in plastics. No lasagne tonight, and no more shopping at Albert Heijn this month.

WEEK 2: MAKE AN INVENTORY

This week’s assignment focused on tracking different categories of single-use plastics. Plastic bags, cups, bottles, straws, shampoo flasks etc. I already banned straws, bags and bottles, but realised that was about it. Ready for the next step! I took my tupperware to the roti-restaurant and my mug to my favourite coffee bar. As a sympathetic gesture they gave me 5 cent discount. Do you know you get €0,25 discount at train stations when you bring your reusable mug?!

WEEK 3: REPLACE

The past two weeks I avoided to buy things wrapped in plastics, like dairy products or cosmetics. But my stash was running out and I didn’t want to live on fruits, veggies, rice and bread forever. I switched to glass bottles (with €0,40 deposit) for yoghurt and milk (at EkoPlaza) and went to a bunch of speciality stores (e.g. cheese, nuts) with my own bags and jars. What a treat! It tastes amazing. I must admit the glass bottles are heavy and visiting all these stores is pretty time consuming. Luckily, you can find an overview of bulk stores in the Netherlands here.

Furthermore I experimented with cosmetics. I washed my hair with a soap bar. It took forever to rinse, so I’m not sure what’s actually better for the environment. My home-made deodorant (coconut oil, lavender oil and baking soda) was okay but got too fluid above 25°C. Making my own body-scrub (sea salt, olive oil and honey) turned out to be more successful, my skin felt super smooth and smelled great.

WEEK 4: SOCIAL SITUATIONS

Besides bringing my own cup, bags and jars, I started friendly chats with the waiters or other staff about single use-plastics and alternatives. This led to some interesting conversations and new insights. Two restaurants said they would eliminate plastic straws ASAP. Hurray!

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I thought I was doing pretty okay in plastic reduction, but during this month I realised I’m not even halfway there. When the plastic diet was finished, I felt relieved. And a bit sad. On one hand I had cravings to everything wrapped in plastic, on the other hand I did not feel like buying any plastics anymore. I feel I’m not ready for a complete zero waste lifestyle, like Jessie and Nicky Kroon (hetzerowasteproject) or Elisah Pals (ZeroWasteNederland). But I managed to change some aspects of my daily routines and that’s something to be proud of.

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I AM ON A PLASTIC DIET

This week I was one of the speakers at the “Plastic Dieet Kickoff” (Plastic diet) in Rotterdam. A great opportunity to present Refill Ambassadors and to share tips on where to refill your bottle. I also got inspired myself. How much plastic packaging do I use? And what can I do to reduce this?

WE ARE ADDICTED TO SINGLE-USE PLASTICS

Plastic bags, coffee cups to go, plastic straws. Plastic packaging is everywhere. The idea of the plastic diet is to avoid single-use plastics as much as possible for one month. By doing so, we raise awareness and hopefully change our addiction to plastics.

Some pioneers show it is possible. Nienke Binnendijk from BlueCity has been living almost entirely “plastic-free” for about two years, while Jesse and Nicky Kroon from Het Zero Waste Project adopted a zero waste lifestyle.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

Time for some self-reflection… Some measures to avoid single-use plastics are already part of my daily routine. As refill ambassador I use my BBF (Best Bottle Forever) instead of buying plastic bottles. When shopping, I try to bring my own bags and jars. These are baby steps. The amount of plastic packaging still entering my house or used on the go is considerable. Some of the groceries I buy are pre-packed, magazines come in a plastic wrapper, and almost all caring and cleaning products come in plastics. Plastic is also inside some products I use on a daily base, like facial scrubs or toothpaste.

For the first time of my life, it’s time to go on a diet. This month I will try to avoid products involving single-use plastics. That’s going to be hard, but I’m really excited to join this challenge!

READY TO START YOUR PLASTIC-FREE MONTH?

It’s the first week of September and you can still sign up for the challenge. You will receive tips and exercises to reduce the amount of single-use plastics. All communication is in Dutch. Looking for another language? Find your free tips here:

Spanish: 30 Días Sin Plástico

English: Plastic Free July; MyZeroWaste

German: Stadtkind; Otto; Kein Plastik für die Tonne

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IN 450 YEARS FROM NOW…

We humans nowadays live up to around 80 – 90 years. This is peanuts for plastic bottles. They need around 450 years to decompose. 450 years? That means an empty bottle disposed today could still be alive until the year 2468.

PET FOR DUMMIES

Water bottles are made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is a thermoplastic polymer. PET belongs to the polyester family. Parts made from PET can be recognised by resin code number 1. The material can be found in different states: white (semi-crystalline), transparent (amorphous), or coloured (using additives). PET is very suitable for storing and conserving of beverages. Furthermore it is easy to process, widely available and cheap. It is possible to recycle PET, either by chemical or mechanical recycling.

So far, so good. What about the difficulties?

PET is a non-degradable polymer. It consists of relatively large molecules that decay very slowly. That’s why plastic bottles can survive up to 450 years. Presently, the majority of empty PET bottles is not recycled. One reason is that bottles are not properly disposed. For example, because consumers don’t properly seperate plastics from general waste. Secondly, the infrastructure for recycling is still limited. As a result most bottles end up in landfill or are being incinerated. Valuable material is wasted. Incineration also causes air pollution and contributes to acid rain.

YOUR DEED FOR THE DAY

Your mum may have told you not to pick up things from the street, but… Next time you see a roaming PET bottle, pick it up and dispose it in a proper place. So it won’t celebrate its 450th birthday in our nature. Believe me, it becomes quite entertaining and rewarding when you do so!

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