The truth about our trash
Interview with Mojmir Jirikovsky, co-owner of JRK waste management
It’s about changing of our mindset. Many people think that waste isn’t something we should take care of, because someone else will take care of it… But actually it’s our responsibility. If I create waste, I should take care of it.
Each of us living in Prague produces on average around 300kg of trash per year, of which around 40% is organic waste. The majority of it gets buried in a landfill or burned in an incinerator, although most of it could actually be reused or recycled into something more valuable.
No matter our level of waste separation skills, many of us wonder what happens to the stuff we put in those multicolored bins. The rumors swirl, and it’s not infrequent that you meet people who have given up on it entirely. But we have two options: we can either let our planet get buried in a pile of trash, or we can get to the bottom of it.
JRK is a company choosing the latter. By working with local municipalities, they are trying to change how waste management is done in the Czech Republic, and how it is perceived by the public. They saw room for improvement, and have built a business model on it.
The company has been growing since 2009, now present in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. They have helped over 350 municipalities in the Czech Republic improve their waste management systems since 2009, literally digging through the mess as part of their waste analysis service, and offering solutions in the form of community composters, education and other tools.
Their main message is that organic waste, which comprises 40% of all waste, actually shouldn’t require a separate waste management system because it can be a valuable resource at the site where it was created in the form of compost. This is why they also sell a wide range of community, industrial and household composters through their e-shop.
At the end of the day we all created the mess, so we should get ourselves out of it. And we’re grateful to JRK and others in Prague for helping make that easier.
See below for our full Q&A with Mojmir Jirikovsky, co-owner of JRK waste management.
Can you briefly summarize JRK’s main activities?
What we are doing is that we understand that there is a huge amount of waste delivered to landfills or incinerators, in Prague for example, and we are closely searching for ways to prevent these kinds of processes and do it smarter: more ecologically and more economically. How we are doing it is that we are doing waste management analysis. That’s the most important thing because if you want to change something you have to take a close look at the problem. You need to do more than small nice-to-have actions, but really have some systematic change. So when we are doing this waste analysis we take about 10% of waste from cities, municipalities or villages as an example, because it can show everyone how the situation there is.
This is a very smelly activity… it takes about a day to do it, and we measure what is inside. 40% is biological waste, 20% plastic, etc. We can always see that there is a really, really small amount of waste that can’t be recycled… and it’s really visible that 80-90% of the content is just not well managed because people are just throwing it into the mixed bins. So this is really surprising for everyone, even the people from municipalities, because they think that people are separating waste, but that’s not actually true. People just say they do it but most people don’t do it or only do it in a small way.
We can always see that there is a really, really small amount of waste that can’t be recycled… and it’s really visible that 80-90% of the content is just not well managed because people are just throwing it into the mixed bins.
Then we start a discussion with people from these local governments, because they are responsible for the situation. We start a conversation about what they can do, how they can educate people, give them tools and control the system afterwards. Those three things are really important. Educating people is maybe the most important, then giving them good tools, so that the composters or containers are close enough to peoples’ homes and good quality and finally, if you are not controlling it, it will not work. So these three parts are most important. And this is quite new because not everyone is thinking in this way. So step by step we are trying to improve these processes in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – but mainly Czech Republic. Why we are always showing composters is that the majority of waste is biological waste. This is a big issue because if we are talking about tons per year that are created and transported to landfills and incinerators, the biggest percentage is bio waste.
Why is it such a problem?
From an economical point of view it’s a problem because it’s expensive. Because it’s not actually necessary to transport this kind of biological waste somewhere. If you imagine that every week there needs to be someone who is transporting it to a landfill or incinerator, if it’s 40% of everything then it’s quite a problem. If you imagine if people are already composting at home in their flat or garden, then if you are mayor of the village you don’t need to pay for this transportation and it’s really cost efficient. From an ecological point of view, in a landfill it’s creating methane and CO2 because the conditions are not good for composting… even if you compare it with transportation and agriculture, it’s really a significant problem. Imagine all the landfills around the world…
Also, it’s not really waste. Biological waste is a resource. You can’t recycle glass or plastic in your garden, but you can recycle biological waste and create something useful out of it and something that is upgrading the soil. We are also facing this problem that soil is degenerating all the time… what was created from the soil should be given back there where it was created. This is why we don’t support transporting bio waste to somewhere else. These brown bio waste bins are better than bringing it to landfill, but still if you are transporting it somewhere it’s already unnatural; the best way is to use it directly where it’s created.
Biological waste is a resource. You can’t recycle glass or plastic in your garden, but you can recycle biological waste and create something useful out of it and something that is upgrading the soil.
And where does the bio waste go that is collected in the brown bins?
It can be either composted in a composting plant, or it can be used in biogas stations. But there are not so many places in Czech Republic that are working well. Those that are working well are using bio waste from agriculture rather than waste from homes.
How can people decide which sort of composter is good for them?
It depends how big your garden is. On our e-shop you can choose how big your garden is and you can see which composter is suitable for you. For gardens larger than 1000m2, we recommend 1000 liters. For a small garden I wouldn’t recommend smaller than 400 liters. But it’s just an estimation. If it’s bigger it’s no problem. If you have a small composter you can buy a second one and some professionals actually recommend having two so you can mix it better.
Why do you think people don’t compost anymore, if it used to be a normal part of life in our grandparents’ generation?
Composting has tradition in the Czech Republic. My personal opinion is that it’s similar to other areas of our life: why we aren’t doing more exercise, or why we aren’t cooking anymore… I think it’s changing — that composting is coming back. It’s the modern way of doing it and modern composters give you more optimal conditions.
Do you think it’s important for people living in flats in the city to separate bio waste?
It’s about changing of our mindset. Many people think that waste isn’t something we should take care of, because someone else will take care of it… But actually it’s our responsibility. If I create waste, I should take care of it. That’s why it makes sense to compost your food waste, because most people create food waste. There are 1 million people in Prague, and together this really becomes a huge amount of waste. This is an activity where it makes sense to start with ourselves.
What’s the most practical way to compost in a flat?
In my opinion the best way is vermicomposting: to use the power of worms to compost kitchen waste. Kitchen waste is not the same as bio waste. Meat or eggs are not included in biological waste. For kitchen or food waste I believe vermicomposting is the best. It’s natural, it creates really high quality compost, which you can put on your flowers and garden and everywhere. If I compare it with some electric machines, they are of course faster, but the outcome with vermicomposters is better.
What about meat and citrus, can it be put into vermicomposters?
You can put it there, but not too much because the worms don’t like it. If you put too much meat it will be smelly.
Probably we’ll never find a 100% perfect solution. There are a lot of articles about this online and people should try to play with it. 90% of things will be ok. Sometimes there will be problems, but we shouldn’t use this as an excuse to give up. You have to just try a few times until you learn how to do it.
What is produced by the electric composter and what can it be used for?
Electric composters are really fast and the compost looks good, but it’s not really compost. It’s too acidic and that’s why you can make a mix of 10% of this and 90% soil and it can be a good contribution. It’s maybe good if somebody like our company collects it from you. It doesn’t need to be every week – once every half year is enough. We have this service.
There are a lot of people who are cynical about waste separation in Prague because they think it doesn’t really get recycled. What’s really happening?
I think they are trying to do it there but they are not doing it properly. Most of it gets burned. To end these discussions you should maybe really go there with a video and find out. I have been inside the incinerator, but I haven’t seen the step before.
People make a lot of excuses. What we really believe can help is to change the system and give motivation to people to separate this waste. The next problem is tracking and managing it. What we are now developing — and we now already have our first four customers — is a system called Econit… Imagine you are the inhabitant of some village or part of the city. You have your own code and when you are creating waste and putting it into plastic bags or containers, you will always be checked; for example, that you created 3kg of plastic. If you do this, there will be a scanner to check your code, and you will have just earned 10 crowns of credit. If you deliver it to these places where the village is separating waste, for example on your way to work, you can just leave it there and you will get not just 10 but 15 crowns. Throughout the year you can increase your credit like this and it could get so big that you don’t need to pay the waste management fee for the next year. This is absolutely changing the economy of waste — also the ecology — but especially the economy. For example this village of Trojanovice: it’s already been working there for four years! People were really supporting this idea and it’s really working.
The main point is to decrease the amount, in tons per year, of mixed waste that goes to the incinerator.
The problem is that companies like Prazske Sluzby don’t support this idea. Because the way it works is that the more waste produced, the more invoices there are… The city of Prague is paying them a huge amount of money for that. Prague local government should really push them to change the system. Now there is no motivation.
What about the use of mixed waste to generate energy from incinerators?
It’s the second worst way to manage waste. It’s a little bit better than landfilling because at least you are creating something out of it and the technology is already quite advanced, so it’s not even so bad for the environment.
There is something everyone should know, and it’s called the “hierarchy of waste management”. It’s a pyramid, which is really the answer to everything. At the bottom is landfilling, and then incineration. But even better is separation; then other companies can use it and transform it to other products so they don’t have to use new materials. Even better than using waste for electricity is using it for something useful. Then even better is that you are using it again. For example if my mobile phone isn’t good anymore, I will give it back to the producer, who will use it again.
People now are used to just buying a new one when something breaks. The best thing you can do is prevention of waste. That’s why we’re so addicted to composting: because that’s prevention. All this “zero waste” philosophy is connected with prevention. So that’s absolutely the best.
The best thing you can do is prevention of waste. That’s why we’re so addicted to composting: because that’s prevention. All this “zero waste” philosophy is connected with prevention. So that’s absolutely the best.
After biowaste, what’s the next biggest category of waste?
Paper, plastic, then glass, then textile, then metal.
What are your plans for the future?
We are working on a new shop that will focus on not only composting but also wider issues.
What have you achieved already?
We started in 2009 and in Czech Republic we have helped more than 350 municipalities. It’s such a huge topic that we cooperated with others. What it means is that they now have composters, but I can’t say those municipalities do everything perfectly. It’s a long, step by step process.
What is your vision of the ideal future for waste management?
Only 4% of waste is really unrecyclable, currently. Our vision is that we will see in these mixed bins only this 4% of waste… Then what will happen is that you will have one bin, which you can keep for weeks and can be collected once per month.
Thank you for your time.
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