SHIYES, Russia — Moscow has 12 million people, and no system to recycle.
That’s created a garbage crisis not just for the city, but the entire country.
Officials say the health of up to 17 million Russians is at risk due to overflowing landfills, and the problem is most acute around the capital — where noxious gas leaks from Soviet-era dumps in city suburbs have hospitalized children.
Nationally, Russia reuses just 4 percent of its waste, compared to an average of 60 percent across the EU. Packed landfills, many dating to the Soviet era, cover almost 10 million acres of the country.
But plans to ship half a million tons of garbage annually to Shiyes, an otherwise unblemished swamp and forest 800 miles north of Moscow, have been met with unexpected resistance in a country where unauthorized protest is illegal.
Groups of residents have moved to block fuel deliveries along country roads, while a semi-permanent tent camp has opened at the construction site. Protesters take shifts living in the camp and prevent further work from taking place. And they’re getting help from an unexpected cohort: Moscow’s residents.
Egor Staroverstsev, a schoolteacher from Moscow, is one of the many ecologically-minded Muscovites to make the three-day journey north in support of the protest.
“It’s an ecological and environmental disaster,” he said. “The whole area is a swamp… It is absolutely obvious that sewage from the waste landfill will very quickly contaminate huge territories.”
But local officials are reluctant to turn away the money that comes with Moscow’s trash.
Igor Orlov, the regional governor of Arkhangelsk, says his region needs Moscow’s cash to fund services. He's framed the dump as a jobs-creator, and branded protesters “scum” in a much-publicized outburst.
“I’m the governor, I must do my job; that’s more important to me. I will be guided by my duties,” he told VICE News.
Moscow, meanwhile, has announced plans to introduce some recycling bins in communal courtyards for the first time next year.
This segment originally aired July 28, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.