Bulgarian Nature Lovers Clear Mountains of Tourist Trash

The annual summer clean-up of Bulgaria's mountain tops, organised by the environmental organization Friends of the Earth – Bulgaria, attracts dozens of nature lovers who want to keep these precious sites pristine.

Bulgaria has a lot to boast about in terms of mountains, with no less than eight peaks over 2,000 meters high. The Pirin, Rila, Vitosha and Balkan mountains are popular destinations for weekend tourism and multi-day hikes, with hundreds of mountain lodges hosting travelers from near and far.

However, where there are people, there is also trash. Human negligence, old dumps from the times when green norms were not the norm and construction materials spoil the otherwise pristine setting above the clouds.

Tons of trash. Photo: Za Zemiata.

This is why one of the oldest environmental organisations in the country – Za Zemiata, or For the Earth/Friends of the Earth – Bulgaria – organize an annual week-long clean-up at the end of summer in the most polluted parts of the highlands.

This year, like the year before, they are in the Pirin Natural Park and UNESCO site, one of the highest and most difficult to traverse ranges in the country.

Blast from the past. Photo: Za Zemiata.

The trash has made its way up to its highest parts.

Hundreds of plastic wrappings from currently available products and antique socialist-era food cans and bottles are layered on one another in the dumps of the mountain lodges, alongside various strange objects.

It is not only cleaning – volunteers cook their own meals during the trips. Picture: Za Zemiata.

“We found a bathtub at about 1,200 meters. Somebody must have head a high-altitude bath”, says Darita Zarichinova, one of the organisers of this year’s clean-up and part of the Za Zemiata team.

She adds that the 60 volunteers, who will become about a 100 by the end of the week of lodge-hopping, had already gathered 1,300 kg of trash in the first four days. Since 1999, volunteers have taken over 110 tons of trash down the mountains in the country.

Photo: Za Zemiata.

Each year, between 50 and 150 people take part in the cleaning spree, or in part of it. Zarichinova says they not only collect, but also sort the garbage, and take it down with the help of the mountain park authorities.

“They are understaffed and cannot always take action when somebody makes a mess,” the activist says.

Photo: Za Zemiata.

Among the most common items of trash found on hiking routes are wet wipes that are not bio-degradable, Zarichinova adds.

She thinks that an even bigger problem than throwing trash is burning it. “One-time use plastic cups and plates are popular in the lodges and they are burned in the stoves, becoming a toxic dust that spreads around the mountains,” Zarichinova warns.

Photo: Za Zemiata.

Despite the difficulties, hundreds of people remain loyal to the cause, attracting new and new volunteers each year.

Read more:

The Awe-Inspiring Balkan Mountainscape

Eco-Rally Alerts EU Ministers to Bulgarian Park ‘Threat’

Bulgarian National Park Eco-Protests Spread Across Europe