Talking Trash: The Man in Kazakhstan Revolutionizing Recycling

Meet Vladislav Golyarko, a dynamic social entrepreneur hailing from Aksukent, a small city in southern Kazakhstan. While his connection with Utah Global Diplomacy began in August 2023 with a US State Department visit to Utah focused on rural development, his work in developing his community goes back much further. After living near a growing landfill in his town for years, Vladislav attempted to have the city remedy the problem, but his efforts went nowhere. Facing a wall of post-Soviet municipal bureaucracy, he took matters into his own hands and ended up with a transformative project that’s cleaning the community and building economic prosperity around him. 

After his first attempts to work with his municipality were rebuffed, Vladislav founded a non-profit, Generation, in 2018 to change the way his community thinks of waste. Its first initiative, Eco Cashback, aims to turn waste into a profitable business by reducing the amount of recyclable waste going to the landfill and giving back to the community. To do so, Eco Cashback collects sorted, recyclable waste from residents in and around Aksukent and delivers them to materials companies to be transformed or re-used. The profit from the venture goes back to the people or apartment blocks contributing to improve the buildings and residents’ quality of life. 


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During Eco Cashback’s initial inception, Vladislav took the responsibility of placing and monitoring waste receptacles outside of residential blocks. He would then negotiate with a middleman to pick up the sorted waste and sell it. After his middleman moved away, however, Vladislav had two choices: let the project fade away, or take a risk and go all in. 


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He now runs a full-scale operation, including collecting from the private sector - including small and medium-sized businesses, apartments blocks, and the local government. Eco Cashback has its own facilities, vehicles, and drivers to pick up waste for recycling and repurposing - they also operate a barter store, where nothing is for sale but one can go and trade raw materials for other items that are available. After starting on foot and making contacts through personal conversations, Vladislav went on to develop an app to connect individuals with recyclable waste with entrepreneurs and business owners looking for raw material. Additionally, Eco Cashback operates on a “green budget.” After receiving a small amount of grant money to cover start-up costs, the initiative now operates profitably off of the revenue it collects from connecting residents to recycling centers. 

While Vladislav was in Utah, Utah Global Diplomacy arranged visits with the Utah Office of Tourism, the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity, World Trade Center Utah, and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. Through these visits with some of Utah’s most knowledgeable economic development institutions, he realized Eco Cashback needed a comprehensive strategic plan. 

The economic and cultural climate of starting a non-profit in Kazakhstan isn’t easy. Vladislav has worked tirelessly to change minds and expectations regarding his effort, convincing conservative villagers that when Eco Cashback succeeds, they make money and live in a better environment. He’s also had to deal with levels of authoritarian government, facing corruption and bureaucracy as Eco Cashback expands. 

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Turning trash into opportunity may not be an easy job, and it probably won't ever be the most glamorous. For Vladislav, though, every challenge he faces motivates him to solve new problems. Every person he talks with, and every business that he contracts with, is the face of a new movement - one he hopes will expand across the entirety of Kazakhstan. Since coming to Utah, he already has grown his plans to expand into Kazakhstan’s third-largest city of Shymkent and implement his business strategy of starting small and making people's lives better. With pragmatic know-how and new connections, Vladislav is demonstrating the power of social entrepreneurship and the importance of citizen diplomacy - and proving that bettering our communities starts with a vision and continues with help from every one of us.  

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