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The Recycling Ambassadors

The recycling industry has its rightful place in the annual Green edition of The Diplomat. Our reporters researched the market with the objective to highlight the best initiatives, campaigns, projects, actions or statements.

December 2012 - From the Print Edition

6 Photos
Our attention was drawn by the approach of one compliance scheme that operates in Romania in the field of e-waste recycling and that speaks to us in familiar terms about ambassadors and diplomacy. We spoke about "recycling diplomacy" with the President of the Romanian Recycling Association, Mr. Liviu Popeneciu.

You often mention in your statements the "ambassadors" of RoRec Association. Who are they, how did they join your projects and... how do the "letters of accreditation" recommend them?

Liviu Popeneciu: If we speak about diplomacy, I would like to start with a few words about us and our projects, as actors on the European stage. RoRec Association is a collective, not-for-profit organization that operates to develop a coherent e-waste management system, on behalf of an important part of the electrical and electronic industry in Romania. We have assumed tasks and measurable commitments to support, as a reliable partner, Romania's objectives as a member of the European Union in the complex field of environmental protection.

In order to reach these objectives, RoRec Association carries out campaigns and projects aimed at building a national network for e-waste collection and recycling, based on the current legal provisions and under safety conditions for both the environment and human health. This process entails many stakeholders, a great amount of work and... indeed, a lot of diplomacy.

And I would mention here our main partners, the authorities. Both central and local, they are all preoccupied with the same issues as we are: our country's collection and recycling targets. First of all, we support a good cooperation with these authorities as the legal framework and mainly the implementation and control of the law are key factors underpinning our activity. This year is fundamental for the transposition of the European WEEE Directive into national law. On 4 July 2012 the new directive was signed by the president of the European institutions in Strasbourg and received the number 2012/19/UE. Romania should ensure that the directive will be transposed into national law by 14 February 2014. Thus we have a busy year to work on this issue.

Then the cooperation with the local authorities is essential. We now have a collection center network in 25 cities and small towns and we are planning for the enlargement to 70-80 centers. This project can only be unfolded with the support of local authorities. And the legislation that provides for a collection center at every 50,000 inhabitants also comes to support us.

And since we talk about community services, of paramount importance is communication and the voice of authority is of course the one recognized by the citizens. And that is how the ambassadors start to come forward...

So a town hall can be considered an ambassador of your Association?

Liviu Popeneciu: Even more, it is the head of our "diplomatic corps". And I would quote here one of our partners who said at the opening of our Alba Iulia Collection Center: "We need a collection center in our town as we need the school and the church. People were asking what to do with the e-waste, now we have an answer: we collect it at a center built at European standards!" The local authority is the one that builds the "roads" for the citizens to "drive on" and only the power of example can entail action. The voice of the local authorities is the one that reaches the citizens' ears. And where the local town hall got involved, we had good results. And there are about 1,000 such examples. We cooperate with almost 1,000 local authorities from cities, towns and villages. We see the spirit of "good householder" developing. If at the beginning they were suspicious about us - "we have a lot of things to do, why do they bother us?", now they call us, take part in our campaigns, come up with new projects. The most recent example is a special project that we launched last November together with Timisoara City Hall. It is a monthly free pick up from home collection service, with a dedicated call center. Every last Saturday of the month all collection orders registered during that month are honored. Even on 29 December, we had over 100 requests for large WEEE pick up from home. And there are other town halls that would like to implement this system with our support. This is what the power of example means… and people's reaction is impressive. I remember what a teacher from Timisoara said when we went to her house to pick up a large household appliance: "I am glad that we are becoming Europeans and not only based on geographical criteria".

You can say that we have a large "diplomatic corps"...

Liviu Popeneciu: And I am just at the beginning of the list. A great contribution in the dissemination of our message is brought by the citizens that we meet during our campaigns. In 2012 we carried out almost 850 collection actions in more than 1,000 towns and villages, which is an average of 20 actions/month in each county. These add up to 300 actions carried out since mid 2010 and in 2011. People have started to look for us, to contact us, to ask for our support. We have a data base of more than 100,000 people who disposed of WEEE during our campaigns in the last years. And those who got in contact with us understand our message and our endeavors, support us and convey the message further to relatives, family, colleagues, friends or to the "gang" from facebook. We have more than 45,000 friends on our accounts. Not all of them have e-waste to dispose of, but they recommend and support our actions, they ask questions, make comments and come up with suggestions. The most frequently asked questions are: "When do you come to our town?", "When will there be a collection center in our area?", "How can we become volunteers in your projects?" and many other statements of support, congratulations and appreciation of our activity. And here we come to another category of ambassadors … the citizen who wants to responsibly dispose of his waste and not to throw it at hazard or take it to iron scrappers...

I have recently read a statement of a big recycling plant in Romania saying that more than 30,000 tones of e-waste go to iron scrappers. It is true?

Liviu Popeneciu: The recyclers represent another important category of ambassadors. The big recycling plant you are talking about is GreenWEEE, one of our partners that fight along our side for this cause. They were the first to point out this fact including to our authorities, as it is reflected in their business indicators.

And we have common objectives, they are interested in building up a waste management system based on solid, fair and transparent principles, fact also demonstrated by their acceptance to undergo the WEEE Forum first audit of recycling standards. Last year we both took part in the first European training on the implementation of WEEELABEX standards or the Label of Excellence in recycling of WEEE Forum. And where do you think it took place? In Bucharest! Our Association was their first supporter of these standards in Romania. We are proud to point out the fact that 90% of the WEEE collected by RoRec Association have already been treated and recycled according to WEEELABEX standards. Moreover, all our contracts with the recycling partners provide for the respect of these standards. Very briefly, I would mention that since its establishment up to present, RoRec Association collected and transferred to recycling more than 300,000 refrigerators, more than 266,000 CRTs and other significant amounts of WEEE. And the recycling industry's activities are meant to help the implementation of the law. Thus it contributes to the promotion of our common message.

We found out that in December you received the Grand Prize of a gala for your activity in 2012. Do these prizes, tops have any value today? Does a diploma still counts today?

Liviu Popeneciu: Of course, the paper per se is not valuable, but what lies behind is, in terms of performance. You have referred to the Grand Prize awarded by the Infomediu Europe Magazine. It is a specialized magazine on environmental and ecological issues, member of the European Environmental Press, that thoroughly scans the developments in the field. To quote them, "Infomediu team decided, after a journalistic meticulous analysis, to award this year's Grand Prize to RoRec Association. Why? It is very simple: because they want to take attitude, to create opportunities, to do something different! They do not wait for things to happen, they make things happen."

We do not want to display false modesty. This prize honors us and rewards us for our endeavors on the difficult road that we chose. The fact that mass media appreciates these endeavors, binds us to keeping the same path and developing what we have started a few years ago - the building of a coherent collection infrastructure, represented today by RoRec's National Collection Network, as well as constant awareness raising, education and information campaigns for the population to activate a sense of responsibility for the environment from the earliest age.

You see, the press thoroughly follows us and supports our projects. A monthly average of 200 articles on WEEE collection in the local press - published and online, the result of our Public Relations Department's intensive work, which adds up to news aggregators cannot pass unnoticed. The support that we benefit from the local and central media shows the increased interest for our activity of the media and the authorities, and especially the citizens, the main target of our messages. The press has become our ambassador and has started to ask more information about our activity.

And guess what? We even told Infomediu representatives that we intend to take their award this year too! As our projects have all the potential to be developed, to become even stronger and much more visible, contributing thus to the increase of the national collection rate .

Talking about projects, you mentioned the collection centers, the campaigns carried out in all counties. How do you manage to support such a great deployment of forces? Where do so many resources come from?

Liviu Popeneciu: It is obvious that we speak about ambassadors in this case too. We have more than 5,000 volunteers that joined our activity and take part in campaigns disseminating flyers, managing the collection points, they are everywhere. They believe in what we achieve together. That is why they are authentical. And by their enthusiasm and the message they constantly send to the communities they live in, they become role models for the others. And they convince people to do a good, normal, natural thing. If you read their posts on our facebook account, you will see the "ecological spirit" blooming with their help. The same as we learn to say "good afternoon", to be polite, to respect the others, we learn to be ... ecologists and to take care of the environment. The parents, the school, media and ... the law ... help us develop the taste for what is beautiful and settle behavior rules.

And who are these volunteers? How do you find them? How do you convince them to join you?

Liviu Popeneciu: Most of them are students and teachers. In Galati, for example, we had a team of foreign volunteers who came to work on a humanitarian project. Volunteer work is voluntary. It is not about convincing anyone. But you need to respect them. To respect their dedication, the time they spend for the project, their enthusiasm, their trust. And you must not disappoint them. I would rather let my colleagues who work directly with them to tell you more about this.

One of the team members joins us - Alexandra Arnautu, project manager. I repeat the question and here is the answer.

Alexandra Arnautu: We have learned to listen and be very careful with details. The respect and wish to achieve something to the benefit of the community creates the bridge for communication and trust that we need.

The meeting with the volunteers - mostly students and their teachers - is always for us the key moment for the organization of a campaign. They put a lot of questions, sometimes look at us suspiciously… some of them who were disappointed before by other volunteer projects came only as the teacher asked or by curiosity. Signing a volunteer contract with the Association represents for most of them a new experience. Some of them pleasantly surprise us as they read it carefully before we ask them to do so. It is for all of us a moment when we assume responsibilities, including against one another.

At the beginning, on the collection day, we were asking ourselves "Will they be in time? Will they all come?"... Later we gave up these questions. Even if there were cases when someone was late or did not show up, they always came up with solutions. They already form a group whose reputation should be protected. We strive ourselves to be close to them, to listen to their suggestions and find what other extracurricular projects they take part in.

My colleagues tell me a lot of stories about volunteers. In a campaign they could not convince two youngsters to close the collection point earlier, although it was raining heavily and they got soaked to the skin. They had to wait for two persons who had promised to come back with other household appliances. We could not believe that on such weather they would come back. However they came. Only then did the kids accept to close the collection point and go home. Then we thought that their parents might get upset. But in the evening we met at the award ceremony and everybody was smiling. The children had done their duty.

Or there were moments when I asked them to work extra hours. "Of course I can wait. Did you collect somewhere else as much as here?" The local pride contributed to the success of our action.

Sometimes it was difficult to convince volunteers not to lift heavy and large appliances. The youth gave them wings. "Do you think we are not able to do it?" The supreme argument was that they signed a contract. It seemed to have the strongest effect.

Everywhere in the country, due to the volunteers, we learn again to laugh with pleasure. We become young again! We found out that high school students, and youngsters in general, are much more responsible and better informed than we used to be at their age, that there are many cultural and educational projects for local communities, but they are not sufficiently known and promoted.

We know that we carried out a successful campaign when we are asked whether we come back. It means we did not disappoint them, that we convinced them about the advantages of WEEE separate collection and we leave trustful that they will convey our message further. Mission accomplished!!! The diplomatic corps has enlarged a little bit. We have many stories about the volunteers. How many pages did you spare for us?, she asks me laughing.

Now they seem to be insufficient. I would just like to ask one more question. I understand that you cooperate a lot with the schools. Besides these campaigns, are there other projects for the educational institutions?

Alexandra Arnautu: We have a very nice project that we are very proud of: The Recycling Patrol. It is already at its third edition. We started in spring 2011, with a pilot project, in Timisoara. At less than two years since its launching, we have almost 700 schools from 27 counties registered in the program and more than 20,000 agents of the Recycling Patrol. They are absolutely amazing children who were also lucky to have wonderful teachers. We receive amazing projects from all educational institutions, kindergarten or high school. I would rather invite you to visit our account on facebook - facebook.com/patruladereciclare - to convince yourself. There every day they post pictures, ask questions, tell us about their "heroic adventures", about their plans or projects.

Liviu Popeneciu: And I would also like to mention the artists who joined our projects and who convey our message further: Analia Selis, Nicola, Mircea Vintila, Johan Pohrib, Cargo... We are becoming a noteworthy community. With many ambassadors, our hosts end smiling.

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