In Russia, eco-living is still a nascent movement, but pioneers are carving out the first tracks towards a greener society.The Calvert Journal caught up with eco entrepreneur and consultant Olesya Besperstova, the zero-waste activist and founder of No Plastic It’s Fantastic — a blog, community, and shop bringing artists and influencers together to make sustainability a compelling, relevant idea.
Tell us about No Plastic It’s Fantastic and how you managed to turn an eco initiative into a profit-making enterprise.
No Plastic It’s Fantastic started as a blog, my own experiment in a zero-waste lifestyle and a daily source of inspiration for people. My experiments helped me to create a collection of quality reusable goods — now on sale in our shop in Lenpoligrafmash in St Petersburg and soon to be available on our website — as well as a range of hand-made goods I create from fabric leftovers. We use old billboards, safety belts, and tents to make backpacks and sell them at affordable prices, while our 99 recycle project produces tiles out of recycled plastic. I earn money by helping enthusiastic manufacturers to promote their recycled goods on my platform, and consulting restaurants and businesses on both how to become more ecological, and then how to market their new strategies.
Was there a particular moment in your life when you first realised the scale of plastic waste, and decided to act?
I went to Bali to learn to surf, and I was shocked to see forks, cans, plastic cups, and bags everywhere — things I myself used every day. I realised that some of that waste was actually mine. It helped me to understand my responsibility.
How do you understand your contribution to the ecological movement in Russia?
Two-and-a-half years ago, things were just starting out here in Russia, so I focused on education. My goal for 2018 was to put zero-waste on the agenda for the Russian media. The next stage was to trigger a change in people’s minds. I could still reach out to a pretty large audience — people in the restaurant business, designers, architects, photographers — and present recycling as something stylish and trendy rather than hippie or underground. For the Hungry Waste People exhibition [co-authored with Ksenia Dubyago] we created images representing six major ecological challenges.
Which restaurants have you worked with?
We partnered with KM20 restaurant in Moscow six months ago and I’m excited to see the results. KM20 encourages clients to bring back plastic bottles from cafes in exchange for discounts, has switched to paper cups, and has banned single-use containers in their kitchen. Garage Museum has also followed suit in minimising waste: their takeaway containers are now made of sugar cane or corn starch.
What’s more efficient — recycling, reducing, or reusing?
Of course, the concepts of reuse and zero-waste are less about recycling and more about reconsidering the scale of your personal consumerism. But our consumerist culture is certainly still underdeveloped. Many people, especially in the regions, are barely able to satisfy their basic needs; there is no space for ecological thinking there yet, especially when it comes to business. It’s the fashion industry and mass market brands offering cheap goods that are disastrous for our planet: the production, logistics, distribution of these goods. In Russia there is no fabric recycling technology, so the reuse philosophy is really the key here.
Is the lack of recycling infrastructure in Russia a disadvantage, or can it be beneficial?
One of the positives in Russia are our markets, where you can buy non-packaged food. In Sweden, for instance, people have become used to overusing plastic again, just because they have a sustainable recycling infrastructure. It’s an illusion — no plastic can be recycled more than seven times anyway. So I think the lack of infrastructure in Russia can really help us be more deeply conscious about what we buy and what we waste. We can constantly ask ourselves: “Where is my T-shirt coming from? Who made it?”
What’s the least ecologically-friendly thing in your life?
Tetra Pack. I love coconut water and coconut milk, which usually come in Tetra Pack packaging — a multilayer material that’s really hard to replace. On the whole, I’ve managed to replace 70 per cent of the plastic in my life with glass.
What helps you to carry on?
The scale of our country. In St Petersburg there are three package-free shops already. But other regions are only picking up on this stuff now, and local activists are following my work. There is so much to learn here: new biodegradable materials, new sources of energy, and I’m proud to be among the first to kickstart it here.
Who are the people that inspire you in Russia?
There are so many! The community is growing. I recently met Evgeniya Zarukina, a bartender at El Copitas in St Petersburg, who set up a glass recycling scheme. They collect glass waste from local bars and send it to recycling plants in the area, investing their own money and introducing a charity cocktail to gain crowd support for their initiative. I managed to negotiate a bank deal for them and I hope other regions will catch up. I know how much effort it takes to get an idea like this off the ground. You’ve got to be crazy to do it!