Take Five: “As women environmentalists, we are here to prove that women can do anything”

Date: Monday, December 23, 2019

Anastasiya Martynenko, female eco-activist and founder of o’Zero and the Zero Waste Alliance. Photo: Sergey Korovayny
Anastasiya Martynenko, female eco-activist and founder of o’Zero and the Zero Waste Alliance. Photo: Sergey Korovayny

Anastasiya Martynenko is a 33-year-old eco-activist and founder of the NGO o’Zero, which teaches people how to live in an environmentally friendly way. Over time the idea spread, and the now well-known Zero Waste Alliance was born. The Alliance operates in different cities across Ukraine. Last autumn, Martynenko and partners opened the first physical zero waste store in Ukraine.

What sparked the idea for o’Zero and how did you build the NGO?

I always knew and understood that it was necessary to work on things that make me happy. The history of o’Zero began in 2014, like many other inspiring stories in Ukraine. Like other Ukrainians, I wanted to help when the conflict in eastern Ukraine started. And, since I was raising a small child, and couldn’t join the army at the frontlines, I searched for alternatives.

I was very inspired by Bea Johnson, founder of Zero Waste Home. Together with our neighbors, we got organized and began to figure out how we could help the army. We started collecting and recycling the paper waste in our local district. We used that money to buy items that the army and the hospitals urgently needed. We started working more with the community. Our idea was to open the first zero waste space in Kyiv. This is a store that supplies goods to reduce waste and doubles as an educational space. Mainly, the initiative meant to promote our civic engagement, so as the online store was operational, we registered an NGO.

After that, we went to the Ukrainian Social Academy, where we got help to shape our idea. We eventually started advising businesses and mass events on how to reduce waste. And last, but not least, last autumn we finally opened the first physical zero waste store in Ukraine.

Together with our colleagues from Kharkiv and Lviv, we have registered the public association Zero Waste Alliance Ukraine. As representatives from Ukraine, we’re also part of the European organization Zero Waste Europe and the worldwide movement Break Free from Plastic.

When did you realize you were ready to dedicate your life to environmentalism?

Two years ago. I believed that I could change not just my life for the better, but also the lives of my loved ones, friends and neighbours. I realized that I could change the whole system. I was driven by the irresponsible consumption and a huge amount of garbage in Ukraine and worldwide, which affects the planet and all living organisms.

After a few bold decisions, I started to meet all the "right" people. That's how I met these strong women who wanted to make our city, country and the world a better place to live in. Over time, we realized that sorting garbage would not solve our problem, as it only addresses the consequences. So, we shifted the emphasis to educating children and adults about how to be part of a zero-waste generation by clearly understanding what responsible consumption is. 

How big is your team in Kyiv?

Currently, there are six women working at the o’Zero store, while 10 women make-up the board. We all believe that we can change the world and are working towards it every day. We are all different, but each of us has her own superpower that we apply to our project and beyond.

I’m sure when my daughter, who is six years old now, asks me what I did to keep the air and drinking water cleaner - I can say that I did my best! And I will always help her believe in herself no matter what happens.

Even though we are a small team, we continue working hard to promote a zero-waste lifestyle. Recently, we organized the first brand audit in three of Ukraine’s largest cities to identify which local brands produce eco-conscious recyclable products. We engaged more than 115 volunteers in Kyiv alone to not only collect garbage and clean the city, but also to analyze the composition of what we have collected. A large number of brands still produce non-recyclable packaging. This is one of the reasons why we are preparing for a nationwide brand audit next spring.

Why are women’s voices important in addressing this issue?

Both men and women’s voices must be heard. Earlier, we thought there were issues and eco-products that only women could talk about, such as a menstrual cup, for instance. But we’ve found this to be untrue. We are finally living in a time when men engage in a dialogue and speak freely on such topics butwe still struggle with stereotypes of what women can and cannot do. As women environmentalists, we are here to prove that women can do anything.

What would you say to people who know nothing about environmental issues?

We are all facing the question of finding quality food. And, I don’t want to sound too dramatic by saying: “We’ll all drown in trash” – no, that’s not true, but garbage will become a part of our bodies. Start by analyzing. Pay attention to the waste you produce. Divide the waste into dry and wet and analyze what you consume the most. If you mostly produce plastic waste such as cups, bottles and bags, then it might be time to buy a reusable bottle and shopping bags. Start now, and you will see how much your waste will decrease in just a month.