Environmental Protection | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 30.04.2004
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Tomorrow Today

Environmental Protection

When Slovakia prepared for EU accession, environmental protection was not top of the list for most citizens - although some problems, like garbage, are quite pressing. A young Slovak has taken up the fight for nature.


Pioneering environmental protection in Slovakia: Daniel Lesinsky

Daniel Lesinsky frequently spends his spare time combing through the garbage tip in his home town of Zvolen in Slovakia. Today, freshly fallen snow covers the rubbish discarded by his fellow Slovaks.

There’s little to see of the house waste, junk and builder’s rubble lying all over the site. "Unfortunately, my compatriots are not very interested in environmental protection. After so many years of enduring an inefficient economy during the Communist period, they consider their personal prosperity to be far more important", Daniel says.

29 year-old Lesinsky studied environmental technology. He’s not really supposed to be at the garbage dump, but the operators have been allowing the engineer to wander over the landfill site for some time now. Lesinsky’s main concern is plastic waste. This takes centuries to rot down, and emits noxious substances as it does so.

He says he first became annoyed about the quantities of plastic waste when a child, roaming the countryside. This anger developed into a desire to do something about it. Lesinsky is now involved in environmental protection groups as well as trying to invent new, alternative products.

Lesinsky is carrying out research into biodegradable plastics, extracted from natural products such as animal skins, which are usually discarded as waste after slaughter. The young scientist told us that bio-plastics would break down naturally, like food remains, whether in the ground or in water.

In order to carry out his research into bio-plastic, Lesinsky regularly has to leave home in the centre of Slovakia, passing the old Soviet-style apartments on the edge of town as he goes to the station. This time he’s off to Tulln, near Vienna. As he sets off for Austria, he tells us that he’s getting used to all this travelling.

The journey takes about five hours. His goal: Tulln university, one of the major centres for environmental technology in Europe. Lesinsky is a regular visitor here, and an Austrian friend hails him by name in English as he makes his way to the Institute for Environmental Technology to meet Dr. Johann Fritz.

After catching up on the latest news, the pair devote themselves to Daniel’s research project. Six test tubes containing water mixed with soil are rotating evenly. The test tubes also contain small pieces of bio-plastic. Daniel explains that they are performing an accelerated test to see whether plastic really can be broken down biologically. He’s unable to carry out these tests at the university in Zvolen, because they don’t have the necessary laboratory equipment.

One day, he hopes that his bio-plastic will replace packaging and disposable plastic cutlery, thus avoiding problematic plastic waste. But there’s a long way to go. Lesinsky explains that they’ve discovered that the polyvinyl alcohol contained in bio-plastic cannot be classified as biodegradable material. This is because only 30 percent of the material is broken down naturally within three months, but the technical standard requires a minimum breakdown of 90 percent.

Lesinsky is not discouraged by this setback. His involvement in environmental affairs is not restricted to technology. The following day, he sets off for his old school. After lessons, he meets a small group of children aged between 7 and 15 to talk about environmental protection. It’s a time for fun as Daniel draws footprints of woodland animals on the board and the children compete to guess which animals made the prints.

Lesinsky hopes that later on, the children will avoid producing plastic waste, because they have learnt the importance of our natural environment. He believes that this is the best form of environmental protection.