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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Greening a Rooftop Environment

ST. PETERSBURG -- Imagine a city made up of thousands of self-contained environmental systems, producing the finest and most ecologically pure products, with each cell taking responsibility for its own waste and creating a few jobs to boot. Perhaps unlikely f but a pilot project in St. Petersburg has turned one block of flats into an ecological model, which, its organizers hope, will encourage others to follow suit.

The building in question, located on Pulkovskaya Ulitsa in the south of the city, is home to a highly unusual urban community. With funding from the European Union's TACIS program, a group of around 50 residents has created its own environmental cycle using literally the whole building, from top to bottom.

Starting with families sorting out the food waste from their garbage, the waste is collected and brought to the basement, where it is fed to worms to produce compost.

The compost is then taken up to the roof, which has been turned into an array of greenhouses, vegetable and flowerbeds that would make professional gardeners proud.

"We took our compost to the [St. Petersburg] Agriculture Institute for analysis, and they were amazed," said Alla Sokol, chairwoman of the Housing Cooperative Board and manager of the project, nicknamed Ekodom, or Ecohouse.

"They even told us, 'The compost doesn't have to be this rich!'" Sokol laughed. "This is an absolutely ecologically clean product. Not a speck of garbage is left."

The rooftop garden f which is high enough on the ninth floor to escape the city's smog f was started up in 1993, but the Ecohouse project as an environmental cycle began in 1998.

But while the project's leaders show off its fruits with pride, they add that an equally important aspect of the scheme is psychological: teaching city dwellers to take responsibility for their environment.

"It's also an experiment in looking after your own living space," said Valentin Yemelin, the project's director. "People like Alla [Sokol] are [examples to follow] in this respect. It's about the management of resources, and training people in running this kind of scheme is one of our most important tasks."

While the managers are reluctant to reveal the economics of the project until a financial report has been completed, they are confident that it can be financially viable for other apartment buildings.

Selling the products of the project would not generate enough capital, according to Yemelin, but with savings on the dumping and transportation of waste factored in, the package becomes sustainable.

"We don't need everyone to be torch-bearers for this way of life, but if only 10 or 12 percent of the residents in a building [there are 500 people living in the Ecohouse] take part, these projects will get off the ground."

Added to which is the fact that such a project is capable of generating employment.

"There were three men living in the building with big [rental] debts," said Sokol, "who were unable to pay them off, either because their salaries were too low or because they were unemployed. The cooperative decided to exchange the debt for work, and they prepared the basement for us, laying down concrete to seal it off from rats. It's now just as hygienic as most people's kitchens."

After the start-up costs, sales and savings have been calculated and a report on the Ecohouse completed, the organizers plan to approach the city administration for support f "maybe at the end of this year."

"We need to go with a clear economic analysis and with all the necessary documentation from health inspectors," said Sokol, "so that we talk to the authorities in the language they understand."