By all means Moscow is a great place for a short visit or long term stay. In many respects Moscow ecology is no different compared to other big cities. In fact, there are world capitals much worse in ecology compared to Moscow. Ecology should not stop you from coming to Moscow. However, there are some points to be covered on the topic of Moscow ecology.
(Above picture is taken in Muzeon park in Moscow)
Air. Air pollution in Moscow is enormous (Beijing is much worse). Main source of air pollution is cars. Over a half of Moscow cars are old soviet rundown vehicles, from smaller sedans to large trucks, producing emissions not compliant with any modern day standards. Another air pollutant is industry. Although most of the large factories were moved outside Moscow, there are is bunch of power and heating plants, large oil refinery, sewage treatment plant and many smaller factories and industrial types of businesses. These are all within MKAD. On the picture below is what accumulates on a windowsill after several days of not cleaning. This is in winter, when windows are closed most of the time.
There are stories circulating about some areas in Moscow where winds blow in a certain direction, bringing fresh air from outside Moscow. All those stories are downright lies fabricated by real estate agents and developers. There are no areas with clean air in Moscow, only areas with dirtier air.
What you can do about this? Avoid living in areas of Moscow where there is industry. This mostly includes East and South-East of Moscow outside Garden Ring. Look for apartment options away from power plants, major streets and freeways. Avoid apartment buildings where car parking is in front of your windows. Greenery, reduces pollution, so look for housing options in areas with lots of large trees. Buy humidifier for your apartment and do wet cleaning regularly. Make sure apartment windows do not leak any outside air when shut. Air conditioner must be in the apartment.
Noise. “Moscow never sleeps” may be a romantic phrase people pass around, but in practical terms it means 24/7 horrendous noise pollution. If you come from a smaller, quieter place it might bother you. Moscow is crossed by a number of busy highways and freeways, large 8 to 10 lane streets and countless smaller streets. Millions of cars run all these streets and roads non stop for 24 hours a day.
In summer, situation with street noise worsens as bikers and sports car lovers roar loudly at night. Windows are open and all the noise gets into your apartment. Never ending building construction, street rebuilding, trains and all other types of city noises also make contribution to ever present background rumble.
What you can do about this? Never rent an apartment on any major street in Moscow. Look for secluded options. If you rent an apartment on busy street, bedroom windows must face backyard. Make sure windows in the apartment you are about to rent provide enough soundproofing. Consider locations off downtown. Air conditioner is a must have for any Moscow apartment.
Dirt and chemicals on streets. Lawn maintenance is something Russians are not really good at. It is difficult to spot a good, quality lawn in Russia, even in Moscow. Also, there are unpaved dirt areas, where people walk. Soil, dirt gets from parks, lawns, unpaved areas onto the paved sidewalks and streets and roads. This creates lots of dirt on streets. In the past years Moscow government undertaken a street rebuilding program, repaving streets, putting tiles on sidewalks, installing new water drains and street lights, making good quality lawns, planting lots of trees. This rebuilding affected downtown, so it now for the most part looks very nice. Street cleaning and maintenance is done regularly and streets are very clean, but not everywhere. In areas off downtown there is still old pavement and dirt on streets. When it rains or snows dirt mixes with water and makes a layer of thick sludge on Moscow streets. Not taking your shoes off in your apartment really is not an option here.
In winter street cleaners use special chemicals to melt the snow. Chemicals that look like white gravel generously (and manually) applied onto Moscow streets. These chemicals officially proclaimed harmless, in reality destroy your shoes. In spring those chemicals dry and create solid white layer on streets. If no rain, this white stuff lifts up in the air by wind and makes sort of a chemical dust storm. This white chemical dust gets into your eyes and nose, causing irritation and allergies. Streets are getting cleaning in spring to remove all residual chemicals, but in some areas cleaning can be delayed.
What you can do about this? If you do a lot of walking in winter time, have proper footwear on. Your shoes must be water proof, on a thick sole, made of material to withstand both ice and chemicals. If you have a dog, wash don’g paws after walking.
Trash. The thing about Russians is that few people accept their personal responsibility of keeping a place where they live clean. People litter mindlessly and expect someone else to clean after them. It is “normal” to see piles of garbage in parks left after picnics, street trash, overflown garbage bins and other evidence of garbage everywhere. Government takes a huge effort to clean city streets and parks from garbage. However having good citizens littering everywhere they go makes all the cleaning efforts quite inefficient. More cleaning effort is applied in Moscow downtown, so streets and parks close to Moscow center are cleaned regularly and get a lot of maintenance throughout the year. However outside of downtown or some secluded areas within Garden Ring it’s easy to spot garbage here and there. Garbage management and removal also have to be improved in many residential areas of Moscow.
What you can do about this? Not much. Perhaps try not to act like locals and do not contribute more garbage to city streets. Also, when renting an apartment make sure garbage bins are far away from your windows, so you won’t see it or smell it.
Water. Moscow River is a main water artery running through Moscow. There are smaller rivers, lakes and ponds found across Moscow. Each summer city officials publish a list of lakes and Moscow River areas safe for swimming. Despite official safety checks I would strongly advise anyone from bathing in any lakes or ponds inside Moscow.
What you can do about this? To swim or bathe in clean water you have to drive outside Moscow upstream Moscow River. There are areas for sunbathing and swimming, with infrastructure, nice and well maintained. There will be a small fee for using those areas. There are public areas with no fees, that’s further drive from Moscow and you need to know specific place to go. Ask Russians for recommendation and be aware that good places will be very crowded in summer.
Dog waste. Dogs are very popular in Russia, and there are no restrictions to have a dog (no registration, no tax). Official statistics is not available, but as I understand every second or third family in Moscow has a dog. Dogs Russian families have, vary in size, from little chihuahua to shepherds, huskies and bigger breeds. All these dogs are walked regularly and all of them poop and pee on streets and lawns and in parks and everywhere. In Russia no one removes dog waste after their pets.
What you can do about this? Watch your step and never lay on a grass in Moscow.