In his role as CEO of FEPRA, an important group of companies in the collection, recycling and sutainability sectors, Ionut Georgescu talked during BR’s recent Environmental and Sustainability Summit about the grassroots level of what is happening in Romania in the field of waste management, a recurrent theme in almost all discourses related to sustainability and circular economy.
“How do I see waste management in Romania? An image came to my mind, I’ll try to put it into words: a man who bangs his head against a wall when something is not working out and he continues this thinking he’s going to tear down the wall, but in the end all he achieves is bleeding from his head.
We’re in a paradigm where we’re trying the same things that haven’t worked for the last 20 years. And we hope that overnight, local authorities will see the world differently, they will have overnight a separate collection infrastructure, they will start overnight to take European funds that are no longer available.
At the moment I think that Romania needs a bit of will and when I say will, I am referring especially to the area of entrepreneurship. There are companies that want more than what is happening at the moment and I think that at this time, Romanian entrepreneurs should think and try to imagine a system in which we, as corporations and as entrepreneurs, can get in direct contact with the citizen who is both a consumer and a generator of waste and try to redesign our waste management. How could we get rid of the dumpsters and garbage chutes that we still have after so many years in our apartment buildings? Or if we call a courier to our house with a product, can’t we return the packaging with that same courier? How can we work with retailers who have take-back systems for packaging?
But I’d like to come back to a positive side, because it can be done, there are so many examples in Romania, where local authorities and citizens want to do more and are getting involved in this area. I am also glad that the banks are financing sustainability. We’ll send out a quick email with all the projects we have in the area of waste management. But we have to be realistic that for now, in the area of waste management banks and investment companies still see a risk. There is still low transparency. We don’t know if in reality there are only reports circulating that there is recycling or there is really waste circulating, but there are projects and we can move forward.
At the moment, we have a deal with EBRD, through which we are totally reorganising ourselves to be able to cope better with investments and to be able to really develop nationally and regionally, with the services that we do. We are trying to transform all our services, from extended producer responsibility, to recycling, collection centres, or direct collection, into a one stop shop of circular economy in the area of packaging. I think the new generation, Generation Z, will push us much harder than we think. Yet the circular economy is often seen in terms of a cost. We still have a sustainability cost. That cost needs to be much lower than the risk of losing the market, the risk of losing the trust of the end consumer, and I think it’s not long until that time.” Ionut Georgescu had to say about waste management, recycling and packaging.
How Romania ranks in terms of implementing sustainable practices in the economy compared to other countries. Are we better positioned? What has been done so far and what do we need to do next?
“Claudiu Sabau’s (Head of Client Coverage at ING Bank Romania, and also a speaker in the Sustainable Business Panel at ESS2021) comparison, with the train leaving the station and starting to pick up speed, is very apt. No one imagines that Romania would be among the first cars of that train, but it is not among the last cars either.
We are very lucky to be members of the European Union which is pulling us in this direction. The best indicator is the way Romanian citizens see the circular economy and address environmental and social issues in this area. Last year, FEPRA, together with ISOP, did a study on how citizens perceive certain realities in the market and it was a very interesting study, even a difficult one to understand. It was about 200 pages of demographic analysis and also on other criteria, but the result was overwhelming.
In recent years the issues of waste management, clean air, green cities have started to grow very, very much in the interest of citizens and their desire is to get even more involved. We have seen through this study how citizens are not only theoretically involved, but also actively. One of the questions was if Romanians are willing to pay more for certain products that are indeed sustainable, organic, green and already a large part of Romanians are starting to say yes.
Well, from saying to doing it is still a long way, but if we look at the supermarket shelves, we start to see more and more organic products. The more organic products we have on the shelves, with reusable packaging, less plastic, more glass, the more those consumers will be demanding them.
And there’s another important thing here, which we need to understand in Romania as well, and where they are trying to change perceptions globally. What are the real costs of a product? Are all costs included in the products we buy? The answer is categorically no! If we included all the costs and the environmental impact a product can have, we would understand the impact of our consumption and a cup of coffee is a very good example for this. Dozens of litres of water are consumed for us to drink a small cup of coffee. From the water that is used to for irrigation, the water that is used by people when they pick the coffee beans, to the water that is used in the washing process or the production process and so on. There are dozens of litres for a cup of coffee. Hundreds of litres for a T-shirt, hundreds of litres when we talk about a piece of meat.
Now we also have to look at the purchasing power of Romanians, because if Bucharest has a GDP that has surpassed cities like Rome or Madrid, the rest of the country is much further behind in terms of purchasing power. And Maslow’s Pyramid says we first need to look at our basic needs. Sustainability is a little bit higher up.
To give a conclusion to this question, I think we are on the right track and Romanians and Romania will increasingly adopt these attitudes of becoming sustainable, of consuming sustainably, but we will see this with an increase in education levels, with the increase in purchasing power and with the increase in our involvement as citizens, because if we look at sustainability, I think we are far behind other countries in our involvement as citizens.”