A student works on turning plastic waste into objects at a school in Turkmenistan. Photo: Mahliye Kurbanova

At School Number 8 in Koytendag, Turkmenistan, a young teacher is explaining the structure of DNA and its role as a carrier of genetic information. An ordinary biology class in an ordinary Turkmen school. However, as you look closer, there’s something unusual. All the educational visual aids of the classroom are made of plastic waste.

Mahliye Kurbanova has been teaching biology - the study of life and living organisms – for three years. She focuses especially on ecology, how livings organisms interact with their environment. Through the context of science, she increases children’s knowledge and interest in learning about the environment and emphasizes their role in ecosystem restoration and environmental protection.

Together with her students Mahliye collects plastic waste from contaminated areas and turns them to DNA, human organs, amoebas, molecules, unicellular animals, vertebrates, and other illustrative material to supplement textbook learning and help students to grasp challenging scientific concepts.

Mahliye Kurbanova teaching. Photo: UNDP Turkmenistan

This hands-on experience not only helps students absorb the learning material, but also promotes behavioural change regarding rational consumption and waste management. Students understand better the purpose of reducing, reusing and recycling of plastic waste, which helps them become responsible and caring members of their communities.

“People’s habits in relation to plastic consumption and production have led to a drastic increase of plastic waste all over the world. Plastic harms our environment and poses a threat to our health,” Mahliye notes. “Engaging students in eco-friendly initiatives gives them a chance to explore their personal response to global environmental challenges.”

This is not the only eco-friendly school initiatives that Mahliye runs. “Green Belt” aims to develop an ecological culture and promote a healthy lifestyle among students and their parents. To emphasize the importance of repurposing waste Mahliye and her students give a second life to the collected plastic waste by turning them into flowers.

Mahliye Kurbanova. Photo: UNDP Turkmenistan

“We use discarded plastic bags and bottles collected from the polluted areas to create something useful and decorative,” she says.

This year, Mahliye won the “What will YOU do to stop plastic pollution?” video contest hosted by UN Agencies in Turkmenistan. The contest was part of the UN’s efforts in marking World Environment Day and the broader UNDP Turkmenistan public education campaign to encourage social change towards sustainable development. UNDP also hosted environmental educational sessions for summer camp children, teaching ecological awareness to help them to start caring for nature, water resources and flora and fauna.

Like Mahliye’s activities, children had fun while learning and developing a sense of wise consumption and rational use of resources.

Summer camp in Turkmenistan. Photo: UNDP Turkmenistan


Broader picture

Plastic pollution is an important issue in Turkmenistan. The country recognizes the importance of the protection of nature and restoration of ecosystems and the urgency of addressing climate change issues in order to achieve sustainable economic development. UNDP is supporting national partners in their efforts to tackle the challenges of plastic pollution through changes in policy mechanisms, introduction of stronger monitoring systems, innovative initiatives and changes in consumer behavior. Much of this work is done as part of the "Sustainable Cities in Turkmenistan: Integrated Green Urban Development” project.

With the help of UNDP, a large amount of plastic waste in Ashgabat, the capital, is collected, sorted and recycled. Last year, the project organized the installation of recycling containers at educational institutions, parks and other public places, leading to the collection and further recycling of more than 50 tonnes of plastic waste. Partners from the private sector process the waste, turning it into drip irrigation tubes, plant pots, paper bags and wrapping paper.

Collecting plastic waste as part of Sustainable cities project. Photo: UNDP Turkmenistan

The campaign actively involved the public in plastic waste collection by offering them tree seedlings, biohumus or animal feed in exchange for eight kg of waste. More than 27.7 tons of solid household waste was collected this year, from over 5000 sources, including construction companies, medical and military institutions, schools and universities, offices of foreign companies and diplomatic missions, the private sector and citizens.

Change starts young

Recognizing the critical importance of environmental education, UNDP Turkmenistan also introduced Climate Box – a learning toolkit providing important information on global climate change in an interesting, interactive and entertaining way. The Climate Box national version was prepared and adapted with the Ministry of Education of Turkmenistan and supported by the Russian Development Trust. More than 400 copies have been distributed to hundreds of teachers across the country.

Even before the Climate Box, Mahliye was already a young champion in promoting the ideas of rational use of natural resources, reasonable consumption and waste treatment through fun and engaging education. Mahliye inspires her students to start caring, get engaged and take an action introducing something very new for the local communities – promotion of environmental awareness and behavior change for nature.

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