Rubbish Redux: Svaneti

Well do I remember the first time an article of mine got the front page photograph of GT. It was one of the earlier ones, and my subject was the disgraceful state of garbage processing (or lack thereof) in Svaneti. I called it “Trashing Svaneti” and went for shock value with an unmistakable shot of Mestia’s watchtowers in the background, while in the foreground a stream choked with refuse tried its best to flow.

There are now small dumpsters in Mestia, of the kind used widely elsewhere in Georgia; and even a truck specially fitted to pick them up, tip them up and drive their contents to the dump site. I confess that I don’t know where this is yet, but I do hope to find out.

Meanwhile, in Etseri, along with many other local villages and perhaps hundreds of others across the nation... Not much has changed. I can see that garbage processing is likely not the top priority here, when poverty, joblessness and more pressing infrastructural rebuilding are needing much budgetary and temporal focus. I get that, believe me.

Also, I have begun investigating how other places do small-scale garbage removal and handling, for villages or small towns, because these are the populations which concern me locally. I’ve found a long pdf from Botswana, in southern Africa on the subject and am trying to educate myself now. Because some Canadian friends of mine who have visited, and some local friends, and I too, all think that it’s time.

Eliminate sites in or outside the community where garbage can’t be sent, for reasons of proximity to the population, wrong slope and/or drainage, danger to water supplies, and so on. What’s left is the places from which to choose the best for the dump site.

Does the garbage need to be sorted, so that that which can’t be dumped at all, especially dangerous or ground-polluting liquids or bio-hazardous materials, is removed from local consideration?

Can the site be protected from access by animals? (Much, but not all, invitingly-smelling garbage, the kitchen scraps, ends up as livestock food.) Dogs shouldn’t be rummaging through the dump and dragging off favourite items...

Can people be persuaded to put out their garbage for collection? Can a vehicle and driver be found and funded, and then persuaded, to do the collection as a necessary part of village life? I remember, back in 1992, living in Austria and being impressed with the eight or nine categories of garbage one had to sort, or it wouldn’t be taken at all!

Can we also clean up the piles of diapers, plastic and glass bottles, metal scraps, the odd destroyed car and other delights which grace our streams and fields and roads? Can there be the carrot of garbage removal and the stick of fines declared and imposed for future illegal dumping? I’ve more than once collected a bag of candy wrappers which made a trail from our house/shop to the school, and ceremoniously dumped them on the school steps. Then I waited for the scandalous news to make its way to the Director, and boldly declared what I’d done, to be as confrontational and outrageous as possible. She got the point and didn’t fire me. But even if the children can learn not to dump the smallest scrap as a default action, where will the dumpster contents be dumped?

I actually have hope. I need to meet the village mayor and talk to him, get more local people on board, make this ours and not just mine, the crazy foreigner’s; help us own it and be responsible for it, hopefully get a volunteer team over from among my friends to help with the initial collection.

The tourists are sick enough of gorgeous Svaneti’s ruination by its people’s garbage. They still come, but leave with very mixed feelings. It’s time to show them that we don’t need to wait for outside help to clear this thing up; we (I’m one of “us”) can take it on and Just Do It. We don’t need to pass the buck!

Tony Hanmer runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1200 members, at .

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

03 September 2015 21:44