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From classroom to country. How DS Smith is working with schools to help Romania meet its recycling challenge

Romania is falling behind the rest of Europe in meeting its recycling targets. As part of our Now & Next Sustainability Strategy, our Zărnești Mill, 189km north of Bucharest, is inspiring local school children to embrace the circular economy and help a nation rise to the challenge.

In 2018 the European Commission released a report showing half of the EU member countries were at risk of missing their 2020 recycling targets. It identified Romania as the country most likely to fall short, with an estimated municipal waste recycling rate of 19% by 2020 against a target of 50% of waste to be either recycled or reused. 

Although Romania’s recycling rates have improved in recent years, as much as 80% of all rubbish still ends up in overflowing landfill sites – some of them illegal. This includes material that could be recycled but isn’t, because it has become contaminated by not being separated at source. Yet whilst landfill sites overflow, the biggest recycling company in Romania imports 50% of the waste it processes from Western Europe in order to stay fully operational.

The Romanian authorities have been working hard on possible solutions. These include higher taxes for waste going landfill and a tax on non-reusable packaging. Whilst in one Bucharest district, people who separate their dry and wet waste don't have to pay a waste collection fee.

Environment Minister Costel Alexe, who has been in office since Nov 2019, has also presented a feasibility study looking at introducing a bottle deposit system and has set a target to separate half of the country's waste so that it can be recycled and meet EU targets.

Sustainability begins at school

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As part of Our Now & Next Sustainability Strategy we want to engage 5 million young people on the circular economy and circular lifestyles by 2030. We’ll achieve this via our partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, our community programmes and the delivery of school lesson plans and outreach programmes, both face to face and through digital platforms.

Located 189km north of the capital Bucharest, Zărnești paper mill has been operating for over 150 years and is one of the leading manufacturers for paper and corrugated board in Romania. Now it has developed an educational programme in partnership with Brașov County School Inspectorate and is leading the way in educating children on sustainability, environmental protection, selective waste management, recycling and the circular economy.

Two hundred children in communities around the Zărnești paper mill have already benefited from circular lesson plans. Our HR Manager at the mill, Diana Ciuraru, leads the sessions.

"We enrolled for this ecological education project. We were all curious and eager to find out as much as possible. We learnt about the planet's resources, recycling, circular economy, how we can take care of the environment and much more. The students were excited! They began to pay attention to everything around them, to everything that could be recycled. How nice it is to see the little school children concerned about the health of the planet!"
— Anca Savu, 4th grade teacher at Brașov County School Inspectorate

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The reaction from the children to the first session was excellent, during which Diana alternated between her presentation and challenging the class to identify which materials can and cannot be recycled. 

"The session was planned for 45 minutes but it was too short sometimes. The children were very enthusiastic and wanted to participate. They asked a lot of questions and came up with many examples of good recycling practices that they can now follow in their own homes. Now the children also want to come and visit us at the mill!"
— Diana Ciuraru, HR Manager at DS Smith Paper Zărnești

The project doesn’t end there. The mill is also organising a competition in every local school, with the overall winner being the class that finds the most recyclable items at school and at home. After that the next step will be to organise visits to the mill for all the schools that have taken part in the programme.

In the coming weeks and months Diana is hoping to continue her visits to the schools. However, if Covid-19 cases increase, she can also ‘visit’ the children online.

At DS Smith, we are committed to engaging the local community, and our Zărnești colleagues have demonstrated this through their devotion to this programme. It’s further proof that together we can help to build a more sustainable world.

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