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New Year's re-zero-lution

How to do the holidays with zero waste, with an online guide

Violetta Ryabko, author of Greenpeace-produced brochure, who moved to Israel from Russia: ‘I want to contribute something good to this country’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Violetta Ryabko (far left, with hat and sunglasses) and husband Vasily Yablokov (standing, second from right), join lawmaker Alon Tal (standing on right), Greenpeace Israel director Jonathan Aikhenbaum (seated, center), and other activists, at a Greenpeace protest against Israel's policy on natural gas in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2022. (Greenpeace)
Violetta Ryabko (far left, with hat and sunglasses) and husband Vasily Yablokov (standing, second from right), join lawmaker Alon Tal (standing on right), Greenpeace Israel director Jonathan Aikhenbaum (seated, center), and other activists, at a Greenpeace protest against Israel's policy on natural gas in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2022. (Greenpeace)

Just four months after arriving in Israel, former Greenpeace Russia media director Violetta Ryabko has penned a brochure for Israelis on ways to reduce plastic waste over the High Holidays, which begin with the Jewish New Year on Sunday evening.

The online brochure, produced by Greenpeace Israel in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and English, sets out the dangers that single-use plastic poses to humans, wildlife and the environment, and describes simple steps that can reduce waste, with links to companies that can help.

Ryabko is passionate about reducing waste. She published a book on the subject before leaving Russia, which she would love to translate into Hebrew.

“I don’t just want to come here and enjoy all the benefits,” she told The Times of Israel. “I also want to contribute something good to this country, and I have a strong expertise in zero waste.”

Israelis spend NIS 2 billion ($570 million) annually on plasticware, with the amount used per person nearly five times that of EU residents, according to the Environmental Protection Ministry.

In November 2021, the ministry introduced a new tax on disposable plastic plates, bowls, cups, and straws, adding NIS 11 (just over $3) per kilogram to prices.

“I was surprised when I came here that so many people use plastic dishware at home, and produce more waste than people in Europe — mainly because of single-use plastic,” Ryabko said.

In big cities in Russia, people are more aware, she noted. There are lots of zero-waste shops where customers buy goods in reusable containers. “I’ve found two or three in Tel Aviv so far, and in some cafes, they’ve stopped using plastic straws,” she said.

“Also, it seems that people in Israel don’t really understand the system of recycling.”

In this undated photo, Violetta Ryabko poses in Haifa, with her book on zero waste. (Courtesy: Violetta Ryabko)

She emphasized that “while [plastic] recycling is important, it’s not the solution. We need to solve the problem where it begins — at the production stage. We need to produce and consume less.”

Ryabko and her husband Vasily Yablokov, both in their 30s, met while working for Greenpeace Russia in Saint Petersburg.

Both are now taking part in a six-month Masa program that ends in November. At that point, they will become Israeli citizens.

The program includes internships, and Ryabko is currently interning at Greenpeace Israel. Last week, she was out near the Energy Ministry in Jerusalem, demonstrating against the government’s policy on natural gas — a fossil fuel.

“It’s interesting for me to see freedom of speech and how people can express themselves,” she said, but she preferred not to talk further about Russia or its invasion of Ukraine.

Husband Vasily Yablokov, whose background is in geoscience and whose expertise is in reducing carbon emissions, is currently interning at Ray of Impact, which helps companies and investors to manage their ESG (environment, social, governance) operations.

Vasily Yablokov, pictured at the PLANETech World 2022 conference on climate technology, held at the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, on September 21, 2022. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

He is networking extensively among green organizations in Israel. On Thursday, he was at the country’s first climate tech conference, in Tel Aviv, PLANETech World 2022.

He and Ryabko are currently working on an application to help new immigrants find ways to smooth their move to zero waste in Israel.

They are encouraging other Masa participants with skills in technology to get involved.

“This is a turbulent time,” said Yablokov. “I realize that I can’t just smoothly continue what I was doing before. I will have to rethink a lot. The whole system is different here. And the world is changing very fast. You need a lot of internal resources to adapt, and perhaps by doing good, you can achieve a certain calm.”

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