A great little sustainable innovation in the city of Sofia

October 29, 2013

  • Tags: innovation, sustainability, eco-friendly development, irena sabewa

Can a good tendency represent a sustainable innovation for a whole capital of Europe, so revolutionary as to increase the quality of life of the citizens and contribute to reducing the cost of waste disposal?

The answer is yes, if we talk about Food for the Earth, Bulgarian winner of the EU competition “A World How You Like It“. The idea of ‘giving food to the earth’ is of Irena Sabewa, social psychologist, president and co-founder of “Our District,” an association which works in Sofia for the development of eco-friendly practices. With “Food for the Earth”, the volunteers of the association will run a special composting site in the neighborhood where people will bring their organic waste and garden clippings, receiving in exchange the compost to fertilize their flower beds. In the proximity of the composting site, a small playground for children, which will include the possibility to hold cultural events, workshops and laboratories for the recycling of material, will be created. An innovation not only sustainable but also socially responsible. Planet Inspired interviewed Irena Sabewa.

Irena, where was the idea for this project born? Can you give us some information on your background?

“In Bulgaria there are no municipal systems for the separate collection of organic waste and the problem of the dumping grounds is very serious. The municipality of Sofia where I live has a program for composting at the household level, but in our neighborhood people do not put it into practice. In the DNA of my family we have the ‘gene’ of respect for the environment, so in our daily lives we try to implement as many eco-friendly practices as possible. We do composting in our garden as a very simple and responsible step for the mitigation of climate change. Instead of this method, the people of the neighborhood throw away their organic waste in their garbage bins, mixing it with all other waste. For us it was very ugly to look at, and so one day my husband and I decided to start looking for a solution on how to avoid the bestowal of organic household waste and garden cuttings in the dumping ground and increase environmental awareness in people. Our idea was that we should address the problem in a way that would increase the cohesion of the community, would produce the composting on the premises and would be efficient. CO2 emissions will be reduced by reducing the costs of transport; high-quality compost will be ready and people will have a chance to get together to do something useful by taking care of the environment. It is along these lines that ‘Food for the Earth’ was born.”

It seems that a key element of the project is the relationship developed among the people. Can you explain how this works and how you reached this particular approach?

“The idea is exactly this: to raise ecological awareness in the individuals by providing access to composting facilities, increasing at the same time cohesion in the community. The project “Food for the Earth – a benefit for all” is still in the initial stage, but I could testify that day after day each one is striving to cooperate. We are well aware that this change takes time and steps to increase motivation and information. We also try to involve the neighbors in beautifying their neighborhood – to clean together, to plant flowers, bushes, trees, and to build a small park with a children’s corner. Some of the people are very supportive and, together with the volunteers, the activities are going on well. We still have a lot of work to do and we intend to continue neighborhood by neighborhood, across the city.”

How were the reactions of the people so far, and what results do you have at this point?

“Over the years, the municipal garbage collection service has created the attitude in people that waste is a problem that does not concern them, because it is the responsibility of the local government, and also the belief that it is a simple service that all one has to do is pay for it. The team that put together the project understands very well that to change these attitudes it takes time and reliable support from the government. We are very happy for the meeting we had with the mayor of Sofia after the award of the European Prize. The mayor of Sofia Fandakova has expressed her readiness to support us by looking for tools for the implementation of “Food for Earth – good for all”. For us this is a very important and necessary collaboration. We expect the first quantities of compost to be ready in the spring. The estimate is that about 10-20% of the raw material becomes compost. At the same time, it is estimated that organic waste constitutes at least 30-40% of the volume of all waste going to the dumping ground. If we imagine how many tons of organic waste could turn into “food for the earth,” it means uniting climate-friendly behavior with a deep respect for nature and humanity.”