‘I believe and I help,’ is a simple sentiment. It may be this simplicity, its primal elements of faith and action, that gives it the power to draw people from over 100 km around into the city of Varna to engage in a communal activity: picking up litter. Traffic piles up behind an enormous open-back truck into which eager locals lob sacks stuffed with rainbows of bottle caps. Among them is the city’s Mayor, Ivan Portnih. “The main goal is collecting plastic caps and handing them over for recycling,” explains Portnih, “Hundreds of citizens of Varna are involved in the initiative.”
The local recycling centre pays per kilo of plastic collected, and the money is handed over to a good cause. “Over 176,000 kg of plastic has been handed over for recycling since 2015,” says Portnih proudly, and the funds from this “were used to purchase and donate over 20 modern medical devices to maternity, obstetrics and gynaecology and neonatology wards in two hospitals in the city.”
Hundreds of citizens of Varna are involved
A cap on litter
The annual event is a grassroots initiative organised by the charity from which the slogan takes its name, ‘I Believe and I help.’ The city lends its support in the form of the muscle of the mayor and municipal employees, who stand with other locals hefting sacks of plastic caps into the collection trucks. The city also helps by supplying plastic cap containers for collection in every office of the city hall and in other municipal buildings like kindergartens, schools and community centres.
“This initiative has become extremely popular,” according to Mayor Portnih, and with this popularity it has evolved into greater and more extravagant forms: “Volunteers have further developed their concept and organised a Recycling Festival which takes place when collected plastic cups are handed over for recycling.”
This initiative has become extremely popular
This festival leverages the popular momentum for educational purposes, in cooperation with the Technical University of Varna. PhD students engage children and families in workshops around themes such as the benefits of recycling; how paper is made, recycled and reused; and the science behind recycling glass.
The rewards are not just educational. Two special children will be singled out during the festival for their singular commitment to recycling, dubbed ‘Capman’ and ‘The Cap Princess,’ they become the ‘eco-heroes’ of the day, an honour designed to make a lasting impression on their behaviour for the rest of their lives.
A precious maxim
The spirit of citizenship which culminates with this annual event is also in evidence throughout the year in the form of the Clean Varna Mission. A group of committed locals, including “a lot of children and young people,” supplement the regular municipal waste collection and street cleaning services by bearing down on certain areas, such as beaches and woodlands to ensure that they are absolutely spick-and-span. The city encourages them, says Portnih, by recognising their efforts and providing “gloves, waste bags and support with the logistics guaranteeing adequate waste transportation.”
An opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility to protect the environment we live in
For the mayor, the importance of these initiatives are as much spiritual as they are practically, as they create “an opportunity to develop a sense of responsibility to protect the environment we live in.” The initiatives are also valuable because they create a connection between the city’s administration and its inhabitants. Being initiated and organised by the citizens of Varna, says Portnih, the events demonstrate that “the clean environment can be a result of shared responsibility and joint efforts of local authorities and citizens.”
One of the many things that this dozens-of-millennia-old Bulgarian seaside city is famous for is being the site of the oldest known objects made from gold in the world, since 3,000 gold buttons, bracelets, hammers, cows and more were discovered in an archaeological dig in the 1970s. However, modern residents have smelted something even more precious – the spirit of community that comes from a simple maxim: I believe, and I help.