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12 Jan 13

Turning your old pickle jar into light

Elisabeth Gowing

In Kosovo there is no company collecting or recycling glass.

So when I finish the contents of any pot of honey, ajvar, or pasta sauce it lands with a heavy thud into my bin, and an even more sickening thud when it hits the landfill where it will sit for the next millennium and more.

Nor does there seem to be any interest from drinks manufacturers here in putting a deposit on their bottles to encourage return to stores and reuse. One owner of a drinks company here whom I spoke to said that the challenge to this solution is posed by the shops that would have to have space and systems for collecting sticky boxes of used bottles.

It’s a reasonable point, but a challenge that has been overcome in many countries and since it’s been calculated that the average European household throws away 330 glass jars or bottles each year, the lack of return or recycling opportunities looks set to lead to the Kosovan countryside bristling with dangerous shards of discarded glass containers.

Of course the price isn’t paid only in increased landfill, but in the energy expended in making glass from “scratch.” Last year in the UK, glass bottle and jar recycling is estimated to have saved 385,000 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions, equivalent to taking more than 120,000 cars off the road.

Of course, recycling does use some energy but less than is needed to melt down the original raw materials. Recycled glass can also be used to make fibreglass which is then in turn used for energy-saving insulation.

I’ve also just learned that glass can be recycled to make something called “glasphalt” for road surfacing, and I dream of a day when the National Highway stretches from Morina to Merdare in a glittering green ribbon.

However, given that there is not currently the infrastructure for any of this in Kosovo, it’s difficult to know what to do as an individual wanting to recycle your glass.

Since becoming a beekeeper I have been hoarding jars to package my own honey but the bees can’t keep up with all the jars thrown away in Kosovo, and I’ve been hoping for some solution more broadly applicable.

Now our organization is starting a re-use project which will turn old jars into hand-decorated candle holders. The project will work with women from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community in Fushe Kosove, to whom all the profits will go.

We plan that the first candle holders will be available by the end of this month, in time to be bought as Christmas and New Year gifts.

Of  course we’ll need help, so if  you are a hoarder of jars (400ml or less; no lids needed) or think you  could begin to save them up for us, then this could be a way to recycle your glass at the same time as offering support for women working their way out of  poverty.

Likewise, if you are interested in volunteering with us to work on the designs or production of the decorated jars, spending a session a week messing around with glass paint at our centre just outside Prishtina in the company of some great local women of vision and initiative, then get in touch!

Or maybe you or your organization will be holding a Christmas market or handcrafts fair in the next few months or could think of other ways to offer a sales point for our candle holders. With an old pickle jar you can light up lots of people’s lives, and we would love to hear from you!

Elizabeth Gowing is a founder of The Ideas Partnership, a Kosovan NGO working on educational, cultural and environmental projects and support to the community in Fushe Kosove. She is also the author of the recently published, “Travels in Blood and Honey: Becoming a Beekeeper in Kosovo.” She can be reached on [email protected]

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