Struga, 28 February 2019 (MIA) – Ljupka Arsova, an environmental engineer who is a waste management coordinator for the Eastern Research Group (ERG), in an interview with MIA talks about her research work and the challenges she faces at work on a daily basis. Although her specialty is waste management, she also talks about air pollution, and some of the ways we can protect the environment.
She told participants of the 10th School for Young Leaders that ‘if we take care of nature, nature will take care of them.’
Her most valuable life experience has been working with an Indian tribe in Alaska to develop a sustainable waste management solution which would enable the youth to stay in the island, regardless of the financial cost of the project.
You took part in the School for Young Leaders, organized by President Gjorge Ivanov. What did you teach the young leaders there?
What I wanted to teach young leaders was that they, like all of us, have to take care of the environment. Anyone can make a difference; if we collectively make some minor alterations, we can contribute to a greater change in the world.
Having the most advanced technology in the world is meaningless if we don’t have a healthy environment. We are living organisms and as such, we require a safe and healthy environment in order to survive. The waste we produce ends up in the oceans, where it disintegrates, and then returns in our food chain, through food, water, air and soil.
Nanoplastics had been discovered in the drinking water in America. The particles were so small that it could not be filtered out. These particles come from our plastic waste.
Pollution can lead to the emergence and spreading of disease.
What’s the first step we can take to protect our environment?
There are several things we can do. One possible starting point is the implementation of certain laws. Our regulations should be similar to the European Union environmental, air, water and waste regulations, and should be strictly enforced. A lot will change, once the regulations are implemented. Another thing we can do is offer better education for the population. It would be a major improvement if people understand the issues we are facing and the fact that all of us are part of the solution. In order to do this, someone needs to lead the way, and take on bigger responsibilities.
I’ll take China as an example. China used to be the world’s biggest polluter, until the government decided to take action and turn China into an environmentally-friendly country. Six months ago, it was decided that the entire organic waste in Ninnguo would be sorted and used as biogas. The collection of waste began as planned, but it was soon discovered that people didn’t sort out their waste properly. So, the mayors started going door to door and ask people what stopped them from sorting their waste.
The public needs to be aware that we all breathe the same air, and we must all try to keep it clean for everyone’s sake. It’s not only up to me, or up to you, or up to the president to recycle – the solution lies in all of us. And the responsibility too, falls on all of us.
Recently, the percentage of PM particles in the air was high in several cities in the country, and for a couple of days Skopje was the most polluted city in the world. How do you recommend we reduce air pollution?
The biggest polluters in an urban environment are traffic and the solid fuel or wood heating devices. The public transportation vehicles in Skopje are between 30 and 50 years old and the cars still run on diesel and other similar fuels.
We need to establish some rules in this area. For example, in Beijing, one of the most polluted cities in the world, a rationing policy was implemented, which dictated that cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates would be driven on alternate days. Additionally, you cannot just go and buy a car in Beijing. First, you must submit a request and be approved, as the city allows only a certain number of vehicles to be in use. This might seem as a communist solution, but it must be effective as it cuts down the number of vehicles in the city, which in turn reduces pollution.
We know that cars in Macedonia are being imported in shady ways and most of them don’t meet the required standards. Additionally, Skopje is located in a valley, so there is a geographic proclivity for limited airflow.
What needs to be done in order to reduce air pollution is to improve the urban planning, encourage the public to use public transportation more often and motivate people to buy electric cars or cars that run on biofuels. But, the most important thing is to make people understand that if we want to reduce pollution we must all contribute to this cause.
Do construction sites contribute to air pollution?
Of course, they do. Poor urban planning affects many aspects, like wind and traffic, which are unpredictable. This is a problematic area for us. The biggest trend in the world right now is developing “smart cities”, where traffic and illegal construction sites are monitored and their impact on pollution is being tracked. Illegal construction sites and poor urban planning do not cause only air pollution, but other types of pollution as well, as they cause the water and sewage lines to malfunction.
How do you recommend we reduce air pollution?
I’m not an air pollution expert. My expertise is waste management, so this is the area where I can offer some advice. Personally, I would shut down the Drisla incinerators, as they don’t function in accordance to European regulations. They have no filters, so we don’t know the amount of damage that they cause.
You’re a waste management expert. How do you suggest we overcome the landfills issues and can the public-private partnership model be implemented here?
We’re already working on this. Areas have been mapped out and development projects have been prepared. Some of these areas are already under concession, and construction work on the regional landfills is underway. Public-private partnerships are a good solution for managing waste. This concept is a win-win model and it’s being implemented all around Europe, and in the US, as well.
On the one hand, the municipalities don’t have the financial or technical resources to invest in building a landfill or an anaerobic digestion plant, which would convert waste into energy. On the other hand, there are companies that would like to invest in such a project, and have the financial resources and experience. If the two sides start to cooperate, everyone comes out a winner. It’s much easier to work with a company that has a good reputation and has agreed to meet certain standards, than forcing the municipalities to build and manage plants on their own. When companies present a business-model which has been implemented elsewhere and has shown a high success rate, that same model should be sustainable from a technical and economic aspect here, as well.
A lot of renowned companies want to build their plants here, and sell the electricity that they produce, as electricity here is expensive.
I don’t think finding investors that would present an economically sustainable business model would be an issue. The problem is that many investors see our country as being corrupted and are afraid that laws are not enforced. They don’t believe their businesses can succeed in such an environment. Additionally, they’re afraid of having competitors who wouldn’t be opposed to bribery and corruption and would propose similar, but much less expensive projects and run them out of business.
I’ve been in charge of a bidding process before, and here, most often, technical and financial bids are separate. The technical bids are evaluated first, in order to find the most suitable solution, after which the financial estimates are discussed and the most cost-effective solution is chosen. In this way, the decision is not motivated by the price, but by the quality that is being offered.
Tell us more about yourself and about your ideal waste management solution in one society.
I work as a waste management consultant for the Eastern Research Group. I am an environmental engineer and I coordinate the waste management aspect of the company. While I was a post-graduate student at Columbia University, I was more focused on research, but now I work on implementing solutions. I work with people from many cities, states, municipalities and tribes, who are in charge of the waste management in their society.
My ideal waste management solution would involve me and my company being involved in the project from the beginning, so that we can judge which solutions would be best suited. There isn’t one ideal solution for every situation. Most often, we present three options that we see as the most sustainable ones, but we never try to sway our clients one way or another.
Every solution has its pros and cons. Our job is to provide our clients with various solutions, because they are the people who know that area the best and can decide which option best suits their needs from a technical, financial and environmental aspect.
For example, it’s important that they have the technology to process all the waste, as well as the ability to keep waste prices stable. And finally, solutions are evaluated on the basis of how much they would contribute to the reduction of the emission of greenhouse gasses.
It’s important that the public is also included in the development of a sustainable waste management system.
During your career, have you been particularly influenced by some event?
Out of the many interesting situations I’ve found myself in during the course of my work, one event involving an Indian tribe from Alaska stands out. Most often, when you work with city officials on certain projects, they are guided by their political agendas. That was not the case with the Indians.
“We want a sustainable waste management solution that would keep our children from leaving the island. We want them to return here. That’s the only viable solution for us. We don’t care about the cost, or the time it will take to implement the measures. This is an investment in our children’s future,” they said in their waste management application.
This is a lesson that I will always remember, and that should apply to everything we do. At the end of the day, all of our actions are an investment in our and our children’s future.
Tr. by Monika Mihajlovska