- Tímea Varga
Waste-hunter, the tiniest volunteer!
Did you ever feel like you should do something for your environment, but you have no idea what to do? Maybe you do not have time to do something on a big scale and feel that doing something small is not enough? These Hungarian guys will prove you wrong!
Waste-hunter is a movement in Hungary that was created two years ago by a few enthusiastic friends who believed that small actions taken by one person could contribute to a big change. The idea comes from Peter Szebenyi, who launched the website (www.hulladekvadasz.hu) on 1st January 2016 with the purpose of attracting attention to a common problem in Hungary – and probably in other countries as well. Namely, that there is an incredible amount of waste left where it shouldn’t be. Illegally, of course.
The logo of the movement. (https://hulladekvadasz.hu/)
The founders of the movement realized how people were disturbed by these waste-filled places, and since nobody knew what to do about them, the movement found a solution. Waste-hunters are 15 passionate volunteers, who decided to become intermediates between people and the local governments – besides having their own jobs and families. Since this is a nonprofit organization, they do not receive any payment for their work; what is more, they often pay the expenses of the organization from their own pockets.
The most important function of the website is to provide a platform for people who are bothered by the waste, but have no idea who to turn to with this problem. People can take a picture of the illegally planted garbage and send it to the operators of the website, who then forward the information with the exact location to the responsible local government. In most of the cases, following the report, the local government takes care of the territory and cleans it up in a maximum of 2 weeks (but sometimes they even manage it in one or two days). The local governments have separated a great amount of money for this purpose (although they have many other sectors that would make use of this money).
Waste-hunters are trying to raise awareness and show people that even five minutes is enough to do something for your environment, and seemingly they are doing it quite well. The most active region is the capital, Budapest, but the website operates nationwide, and they are receiving reports from all over the country. They even set up a competition to motivate people: every month, the person giving the most reports, wins an eco-textile shirt. Utopia 500 conducted an interview with Peter Szebenyi from waste-hunters and we have asked them whether they think they were successful in grabbing the attention of Hungarian people:
Have you noticed a change in the mentality of people in the past two years, since the website exists? Has the number of people giving reports and following your page grown?
The motto of the page and the movement itself is ‘Waste-hunter, the tiniest volunteer!’ This can be embraced easily, perceiving the reality of the problem and understanding that we should do something for our environment even if it is just a small thing, such as waste hunting. In Hungary the number of people who become involved in the movement increases day by day. On an average day we have 2-3 reports, but this number can go up to 11 even. You have to know that two enthusiastic founders and a few volunteers are not enough anymore. That is why we are recruiting all the time, to have more and more volunteers working with us.
A cleaned street before and after. (https://hulladekvadasz.hu/2018/03/22/bolcsode-szemetdomb-ferencvaros/)
Just to see what this means in numbers: during these two years, they received more than 2000 reports, and almost half of that has already been cleaned. Both the local governments and the Hungarian media play an important role in that success, since they are very cooperative. The local governments are quite grateful for the work of waste-hunters and they are stating from time to time that they are delighted to work together with the operators of the website. Of course it would be much better if there was no need for their job, and there were no waste-filled lands, but for that, they have to make sure the cleaned territories stay clean. Do they think that is possible? We have asked them:
Is there a posterior control, are you paying attention to the places that are already clean, whether they stay clean? Is there a possibility at all, to keep them clean?
Yes, there is a posterior control in every case. We forward every single report to the responsible local government, and they send us pictures of the place right after cleaning it. We always upload these pictures to our website – this way we can also present the hard work of the local governments.
There is always a possibility to keep these territories clean, mostly with constant control by the responsible authorities.
Still there are many cases where the problem reappears – in order to change that, they believe the approach and mentality of people should be changed. They also think it would help a lot if cameras were set up near the mostly affected areas.
Waste-hunters frequently appear in the Hungarian media – including written media, the radio or television. Naturally, not all of their cases are presented, only the most important ones, for instance the one they consider their biggest success:
What do you consider the greatest achievement of the past two years?
It is hard to choose, we had so many success stories. But the issue creating the greatest upheaval was probably our field work on Veresegyháza (a small town close to Budapest), where the GE Power Hungary (an industrial company that manufactures, repairs, and services heavy-duty gas turbine stationary components) made the local government to burn their waste. There was a huge fuss about it, since a lot of people got cancer in the area because of this activity. Besides posting an article about it on our website, we also have a video taken by a drone that we uploaded on our YouTube channel and it appeared in the Hungarian media as well. (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCijjMfAHKb3z5fUabIZRW2A)
In the previous year, May 2017, the founders of the website created a fund, in Hungarian called ‘Jövő Öko-Nemzedéke’ (JÖN) – the future’s ecological generation. What is the purpose of that? Let them explain:
Why and with what purpose did you create JÖN fund?
Our main and most important goal is to strengthen environment protection, to create a real, active environment protecting organization – like a small, Hungarian Greenpeace. Furthermore we needed the fund to solve legal issues in connection with the operation of the website.
The fund calls people to protect their environment with all of its actions. It tries to propagate the idea of sustainable development and the use of technology enabling it, such as electronic cars. Furthermore, the fund has its own website, where they run a ‘Plant a tree’ blog. The two most important projects active now are ‘Don’t burn, compost!’ and ‘Smoke kills, a.k.a. burning waste is BAD’ which are quite seasonal topics that speak for themselves. The fund, as they already stated, helps to solve the legal issues of the waste-hunters website, for instance it provides a possibility for people to financially support the movement.
Waste-hunters have several other projects, besides handling the reports. They often organize garbage collecting actions with the participation of more than a hundred people. They also run a blog on the website, where different topics appear, sometimes controlled by people outside the movement. The common feature of these topics is that they are all connected to the theme of garbage. But how is a new topic chosen? The operators have explained this as well:
How do you choose the topics appearing on your website? Do their editors contact you or is it the other way round?
The reason we have these different topics is that waste is a quite wide-ranging subject. Our website in Hungary is currently a highly acknowledged website dealing with environment protection and we regularly appear in the Hungarian media. Creating a new blog topic is only a question of actuality. If we find a new, quasi ‘virgin’ topic, we start to deal with it. The new columns of this year are ‘Readers Opinion’, ‘Waste-Food’ and we have an old one restarted, called ‘Magnetic Fishing’ (it is just like fishing but done with a huge magnet, searching for metal waste in lakes).
Magnetic Fishing (https://hulladekvadasz.hu/2017/06/17/szarvasi-holtag/)
These blog topics are also meant to shape the mentality of society, which is especially true for ‘My household without waste’. It is a blog, written by a mother, working, running a household with three children and still managing to produce an incredibly low amount of waste. They even offer (in another blog topic in the website) creative ideas of DIY projects made of waste – in case you have no idea what to do with the leftovers. Their other special topic is ‘Cityscape destroyer’ where they present a picture and a description of a building in the city which has no function anymore, and that ruins the cityscape because of its erosion. This project also seems successful, since a few of these buildings have been demolished after the issue was denounced.
A Cityscape destroyer - a casino on the verge of destruction. (https://hulladekvadasz.hu/2017/10/15/kaszino-a-megsemmisules-kapujaban/)
As we can see waste-hunters do a quite wide-ranging job in Hungary, and an utmost important one as well. They are currently the most popular voluntary movement dealing with environment protection in the country, and hopefully more and more people will follow their example and join the movement. We are happy to present their work and popularize their ideas and wish them success for the future!