Ferrino and EOCA (European Outdoor Conservation Association) support "Plastic Free Rila", a project born to protect the mountain enviroment of Mount Rila (Bulgaria).

The day after The European parliament has voted to ban single-use plastic cutlery, cotton buds, straws and stirrers as part of a sweeping law against plastic waste that despoils beaches and pollutes oceans, Ferrino and EOCA ask everyone to support a concrete action to raise awareness of the negative effect of plastic waste on both nature and human health, by VOTING FOR "PLASTIC FREE RILA" HERE. 

About the project

Rila is the sixth highest mountain in Europe, its mountain range encompassing Rila National Park and Rila Monastery Nature Park.
Abundant in glacial lakes and hot springs, these parks attract many visitors, resulting in large amounts of rubbish spoiling the mountain landscapes and posing a threat to wildlife.
This project will focus on packaging and single use items which represent the largest proportion of plastic waste generated, working with outdoor enthusiasts to raise awareness of the negative effect of plastic waste on both nature and human health.  
It will also work with individual mountain huts situated in the parks, most of which use a huge amount of single use plastics, due to ease or lack of washing up facilities and, despite being illegal, burn, bury or simply dump some of it. 5 events will clean up at least 300k of trail and 100,000m2 around at least 10 huts.  It will also work with 17 huts to assess and reduce their use of plastic, and create an art installation and a social media campaign to raise awareness on plastic waste generation across Bulgaria.
We have met the team of Ecosystemeurope, the Bulgarian association that promotes the project.

How the Rila Plastic Free project was born? Why is it so important for you?
Our small team unites people who love nature and try to spend as much time as possible outside in the mountains, hiking, biking, snowshoeing or skiing. Each of us is deeply connected with nature and that is why we care about nature. In the last years we discovered that even if not so significant in amount the plastic waste represents a big threat for our mountains, and especially to Rila being one of the most visited mountains in Bulgaria.

Different reasons are contributing to massive use of single use plastic items in the mountains:
• It is much easier for the huts to sell food and drinks in plastic items
• Some of the huts lack proper washing facilities, especially during
the winter time, when the mountain is covered with snow, and the water pipes are frozen
• The people working in the huts are not aware of the negative impact of the plastic thrown in the nature or burned in the fire inside of the hut
• Tourist are not aware of the huge environmental impact they are creating by using plenty of plastic items in the mountains. The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, depends for drinking water on the clear water of Rila Mountain, called by the ancient Thracian the ‘mountains of water’. Contaminating the lakes and springs in Rila with plastic  particles means contaminating the drinking water for 1,5 million people.

As a result, most of the huts in Rila Mountain try to cope with the plastic waste generated, and sometimes this waste ends up burned, berried or just thrown away. And each of those ways can harm potentially our health through micro particles entering the water of the Rila Mountain or by creating dioxins and furans in the burning
process (PCDFs and PCDDs).

We believe our project can change this, through big online campaigns and working with different target groups we hope to achieve Plastic Free Rila.

Tell us about your association, projects and mission...
Ecosystem Europe Association is registered in late 2013 as an NGO in the most economically disadvantaged region in Bulgaria – the Northwest, with network of professionals and partners throughout the country.

Even if we relatively recently registered the association, our team has long and profound experience in the sphere of nature protection, sustainable development and responsible tourism. Our experts have been involved in various projects and initiative, gaining essential experience in working with business and academia, which gives
Ecosystem Europe the opportunity to actively motivate a change in traditional educational paradigms and understanding of sustainable development. A much-needed driver for a transition to a circular economy.

In the last five years Ecosystem Europe Association is actively working for supporting responsible tourism, and we were part of several small and big projects aiming to raise awareness in the sector, to facilitate sharing of sustainable best practices and use of green technologies. In some of those projects we were working with 
schools and educational institutions in others directly with representatives of the tourism sector.

Organization’s main purposes are;
1. to inspire change into society towards low carbon/circular/blue economy and sustainable development;
2. to create an appropriate environment for reaching balance between nature, economy and society
3. to build knowledge and abilities in young people for successful development, to motivate them to think about their future and prepare them to meet the challenges of tomorrow

What about the concrete development of the project? 
One of the main activities under the project proposal envisages voluntary cleaning of the territory of Rila National Park and Rila Monastery Nature Park. Five separate three days events will be organised in order to remove the waste, left by the tourists or local people.
The cleaning actions will mainly happen during the summer weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). The events will be organised online via the social media communication. Different areas will be cleaned in different periods. Depending on the quality of the collected waste it will be sent for direct recycling (clean plastic only) or for incineration (dirty plastic waste). What is left will go to the to the respective municipalities’ designated landfills.

Except those five big cleaning events, we will contact local hiking travel agencies and tourism clubs and with their support we hope to cover most of the hiking trails on the territory of Rila Mountain. Trying to attract public attention and raise awareness on the problem with plastic we plan produce temporary art installation made out of
the collected waste in the region of Malyovitsa. The installation is aimed to sensibilize visitors on the amount of plastic waste in mountains. Hopefully, this installation is going to attract also media’s interests such as magazines, bloggers and why not television, so our message will have the possibility to reach a large number of people, not only visitors to the hut or outdoor enthusiasts. 
In parallel we also plan to work individually with all huts in Rila Mountain and provide them with information for the damage plastic causes and especially about plastic alternatives, so that the use of plastic is avoided as much as possible in the future and the ecosystem bears no further damages due to plastic waste pollution.

In brief we expect from the project to perform the following activities:
• Several organized cleaning events on the territory of Rila Mountain
• Big online campaign for sharing information on negative impact of the plastic and raising awareness among tourists and visitors, providing know-how people can contribute to decrease the amount of single use plastic
• Workshops with huts and mountain hotels, aiming to change their attitude towards single use plastic

Photo credits: Dimitar Aleksov