How far can a civil society organization, a multinational company and a governmental institution get if they join forces?

Zero Waste Tisza River

In 2019, Coca-Cola Hungary decided in favour of supporting the efforts at cleaning the Tisza River. For long they had regarded reducing, collecting and recycling packaging materials as a matter of great concern. The Zero Waste Tisza project presented an opportunity to expand their participation and to spread their activities to other areas. The project was funded by the primary international philanthropic arm of the company: the Coca-Cola Foundation.

The Foundation has been operating since 1984 and has returned more than 1 billion dollars to communities all over the world in the meantime. As a result of an open call, the evaluation board decided to grant the proposal by filmjungle.eu Society, organizer of the Plastic Cup. Thus Coca-Cola Hungary is implementing the two-year programme until the summer of 2021 together with filmjungle.eu Society with the financial support of the Foundation in value of 250,000 dollars (73 million forints). The Plastic Cup – aiming at cleaning the Tisza from waste since it was first organized in 2013 – always worked closely with the water authorities of the region. The Plastic Pirates received the most help from the Upper-Tisza Regional Water Directorate, but in the last years many common projects were carried out with the Middle Tisza District Water Directorate and the North-Hungarian Water Directorate, as well. The financial support offered by the Coca Cola Foundation provides opportunity for the Plastic Pirates and the experts of the water authorities to organize those common actions more often and at even more locations. The goal is to free the river of at least 80 tonnes of plastic as part of the project.

Why does a civil society organization join forces with a multinational company?

For the common goal. Consumer society and the big companies serving it play an important role in raising the environmental problems plaguing the Earth. Scientists and researchers of different fields recognized and described the dangers threatening the ecological systems and also the survival of the human race. However, scientific results can only reach the general public if the reports written in technical terms are reworded in an easily understandable form. Filmjungle.eu Society has been working on that since 1996. They explain in their educational documentaries what factors endanger the survival of certain species, the ecological balance of a habitat, and what can be done to solve the problem. It has been proven many times that if the message is clear, many people are able and ready to change their attitude. The world-wide plastic pollution is a good example of that. There are more and more attempts to tackle the situation. Volunteers clean the rivers and seas, CSOs call attention to the problem, and even the UN has created a fund to support this purpose. The consumers’ habits are also changing, although slowly, and there is an increasing number of large companies that attempt to indemnify the environment in which they operate. Considering the extent of plastic pollution, none of the parties believe that they would be able to solve the problem alone. There is a chance to change the situation with cooperation, and the team of Plastic Cup and Coca-Cola Hungary can jointly achieve more.

How much money are we talking about, in how long time will it be spent and on what?

The funding equals to more than 70 million forints at central exchange rate, and it will cover the expanses of three main activities. The first one is collecting plastic waste. Under the coordination of the Tisza Plastic Cup and the General Water Directorate, the regional water directorates will organize large-scale clean-up events within the borders of Hungary at different locations including flood-plains, open water surfaces and tidal forests. Half of the fund will be used for that goal. The second task is research. Volunteers, researchers and water management experts will follow the flow of the plastic flood in the Tisza with GPS transmitters, and map the most severely contaminated areas. The third task is to discover and improve new and innovative ways to upcycle the collected waste in compliance with the “with waste against waste” principle of the Plastic Cup. Those three main activities will be furthered and completed with awareness raising, as part of which exhibitions and professional meetings will be organized, and the production of documentaries, short movies and online videos will continue.

It is nice that they are going to clean a part of the Tisza, but will it not get contaminated again?

2019 is a turning point in the fight against the plastic pollution of the river. Firstly, the waste collecting ship of the Plastic Cup, M.V. PETényi has been working on the open waters since spring. Secondly, the Upper-Tisza Regional Water Directorate will carry out concerted actions to completely close the waterways with locks and thus impede the contamination from reaching the lower sections of the water. Thirdly, the clean-up of the sources of the pollution has also started. Many professional round table talks, consultations and inter-governmental meetings are being organized. As a result, implementation of waste management systems seems to be on the way in the countries at the upper sections of the Tisza, which could put an end to the flow of plastic floods in the future.

How can the results of the project be tracked?

The participating experts and organizations introduced the project to the media and the general public at a press conference in the middle of July, 2019. The location of the event spoke for itself. The building of the water management authorities towered above the Tisza Dam in Kisköre, and from that vantage point the fluvial plastic waste that had accumulated in front of the dam could clearly be seen. Both the volunteers of the Plastic Cup and the experts of water management will be working on eliminating the waste, and the Plastic Pirates will now be able to cover a part of the remediation expenses with the help of the Zero Waste Tisza project, owing to Coca-Cola. Those interested in the next steps of the project can find more information on the social media accounts of the Plastic Cup.

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