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Expert views – Waste management problem in Serbia – can the country perform better and how?

February 23, 2019 | Comments: 0Author:

Photo: BGEN
Expert views – Waste management problem in Serbia – can the country perform better and how?

Following the introductory article about the problems, challenges, and possible solutions concerning waste management in Serbia, Balkan Green Energy News brings you the first in a series of interviews with representatives of the state, the business community, the academic community, and civil society. In a dialogue with experts  dealing with the waste management topic on a daily basis, we seek to get answers to the following question: Can the country perform better on waste management and how?

In the first in the series of interviews, five of the six respondents are featured: Ivan Karić, a state secretary at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Igor Jezdimirović, president of the Environment Engineering Group, Aleksandar Jovović, a professor at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of the Belgrade University, Dejana Milinković, director of the Association of the Cement Industry of Serbia (CIS), and Suzana Obradović, secretary general of the Recyclers Association of Serbia. The sixth respondent, to provide his expert views in the interviews to follow, is Slobodan Minić, a special advisor to the Fiscal Council.

BGEN: Serbia has submitted the second draft negotiating position for Chapter 27 to the European Commission and is seeking an 11-year transitional period from the moment of accession for the waste sector. What do you think needs to be done in the period before accession?

Ivan Karić, State Secretary, the Ministry of Environmental Protection

Most of the requirements must be met prior to accession, and we expect to resolve part of the problems between 2021 and 2025. At this moment, the benchmark accession year is 2025. At the same time, it has been established that achieving full transposition of the EU acquis is one of the key challenges in the accession process and that some requirements can only be met in the long run.

Unfortunately, the bulk of municipal waste is still disposed in unsanitary landfills, while the percentage of municipal waste treatment, according to official reports, stood at 3% in 2016. The EU’s current requirement is to treat 30% of municipal waste by 2020, while the revised directive calls for 50% by 2035. At this moment, it can be said that it will be very difficult to achieve the 30% target by 2020, however, we expect to meet the 50% target by 2035. The situation is better concerning packaging waste, though targets for electrical and electronic waste and batteries have not been attained. Given the significant financial funds needed, it is necessary to define a financial plan to identify funds for the implementation of all requirements.

It will be very difficult to achieve the 30% target by 2020, however, we expect to meet the 50% target by 2035

Public-private partnership (PPP) can be a good model that should be applied in the waste sector, alongside tight control by the state and inspection services. The state cannot implement such projects on its own, mostly due to the lack of administrative and financial capacities. Informal data currently at our disposal shows a shortage of over 2,000 employees in the environmental protection sector at all levels, from local to national, needed to resolve problems and bring order to the environment sector. Another reason we need to strengthen capacities is to be able to obtain EU funds – we need to prepare good projects, but also our own portion of “green funding” under the employer pays principle, to be able to expect access to EU funds.

Dejana Milinković, Director, the Association of the Cement Industry of Serbia (CIS)

As a country with nearly 3,600 landfills (including 165 municipal and five sanitary landfills, while the rest are illegal dump sites) and the average daily generation of 0.87 kg of waste per capita, Serbia is seeking a solution to its waste problems. The first steps would need to cover reviewing and updating the current legislative framework governing waste management in Serbia, which should include:

  • The alignment of national regulations in the waste management sector with the EU acquis to drive development, investment, and employment in the sector;
  • Changes and amendments to the applicable national regulations on waste management and reuse that are not sustainable and cannot be adequately implemented;
  • The establishment of tight technical rules on waste disposal and landfill construction;
  • The introduction of drastically higher fees for the disposal of particularly industrial waste, which would enable a sustainable operation and maintenance of landfills.

The results of the implementation of regulations concerning waste management in Serbia over the past 10 years show that strengthening capacities for a consistent implementation of regulations is truly necessary, as is stronger cooperation between the public and private sectors.

Aleksandar Jovović, Professor, the University of Belgrade Faculty of Mechanical Engineering

Firstly, a new waste management strategy needs to be produced given that the existing one is outdated, the EU regulations need to be transposed, and a clear direction taken concerning the implementation of these regulations.

Concerning infrastructure, it is necessary to accelerate an increase in the percentage of treatment in waste management.

Also, in cooperation with other sectors, as well as with the environmental sector, the circular economy concept needs to be applied more – the circular economy is not a new wonder of the world, it merely represents the application of long-forgotten knowledge about the use of waste as raw materials.

BGEN: Do you think an 11-year transitional period from the moment of accession to the EU is sufficient to achieve goals, and what strategy would you use as a decision-maker or if you were a decision-maker?

Ivan Karić, State Secretary, the Ministry of Environmental Protection

When EU requirements cannot be met prior to EU accession, additional, so-called transitional periods need to be negotiated. We will provide financial reasons and expert input on why transitional periods are needed under the Directive Specific Implementation Plans (DSIPs). All DSIPs will be adopted by the Serbian government and submitted along with the negotiating position for Chapter 27. In line with new requirements under the Circular Economy Package, DSIPs for the waste sector will need to be revised in the period ahead. According to the current estimates, over EUR 8 billion in investments will be needed for the waste and water sectors, of which somewhat less than a half is the estimated investment need for the waste sector. Here it should be noted that the waste sector is commercially more attractive, while the water sector is a strategic sector whose management the state must not and does not wish to simply entrust to the private sector.

For now, we are using the EU’s pre-accession funds, and once Serbia is an EU member state, it will gain access to the EU’s cohesion and structural funds. At the moment, we expect around 50% of investment needs to be covered by the EU funds, both in the pre-accession period and following accession, and to secure about 30% from the national budget (the Green Fund, the Water Fund…) and some 20% through loans, public-private partnerships (PPP), and private and other investments.

At the moment, it appears that an 11-year transitional period would be sufficient for achieving goals

At the moment, it appears that an 11-year transitional period would be sufficient for achieving goals – the technologies are advancing and their cost is falling. Waste is a sector that can be interesting to private investors in a number of ways – for commercialization and the inclusion of the green/circular economy, which can be a source of additional revenues and new, green jobs.

Aleksandar Jovović, Professor, the University of Belgrade Faculty of Mechanical Engineering

When you say ’11 years’, anyone would say, without a second thought, that this is more than enough time. On the other hand, it has been around 15 years since the first waste management strategy was adopted, and not much headway has been made in the technological, infrastructural sense.

It has been around 15 years since the first waste management strategy was adopted, and not much headway has been made

I am not a decision-maker, and if one is not a decision-maker, it’s easy to say what one would do, but then this is probably not realistic.

Igor Jezdimirović, President, the Environment Engineering Group

The strategy that I would use in this area would be to develop a system based on knowledge and real data, one managed by expert teams that would have clear goals, as well as a division of roles and responsibilities. At the same time, the expert teams would have to be accountable if goals are not met.

Eleven years is a long period during which much can be done if there is will and knowledge.

Smart people prepare for the change ahead, while the stupid ones wait for change to hit them on the head.

 

BGEN: How important is the establishment of waste separation at source in Serbia from the perspective of the state/your industry/organization?

Ivan Karić, State Secretary, the Ministry of Environmental Protection

Establishing a system of waste separation at source seems to be the key problem at the moment, because if you sort waste at source, you will practically have clean materials you can reuse in the production process.

The waste management strategy for 2009-2019 recognizes the importance of source separation and the waste hierarchy. Changes and amendments to the Waste Management Law that took effect in March 2016 stipulate that local governments are to regulate waste sorting and separation for treatment. This was supposed to be in place within two years of the law going into effect. That period is now over, and we still have problems in the sector.

However, we expect the establishment of a sustainable system of waste separation at source, alongside changes to the Waste Management Law, to help reduce the volume of waste being landfilled over the coming period and result in waste fractions that will help improve the existing waste reuse system and help generate gains, through the valorization of separate waste fractions, rather than generate problems (growing land degradation due to the construction and expansion of landfills).

It is still expected that we will transpose most of the EU regulations by the end of 2020

Even though some laws that were envisaged to be adopted in 2018 were not passed last year over other priorities, it is still expected that we will transpose most of the EU regulations by the end of 2020. The plan is for changes to the Waste Management Law to be adopted in 2019, but I expect this to be pushed back to early 2020 due to the EU’s new package of directives introducing the green and circular economy and setting new targets. This new “green package” needs to be built into the changes to Serbia’s Waste Management Law.

Dejana Milinković, Director, the Association of the Cement Industry of Serbia (CIS)

Waste separation at source is crucial for waste management procedures down the stream – if there is no source separation, the high level of moisture content in organic waste (food waste) transfers to all other waste components, especially paper and cardboard, which together make up the next most significant municipal waste fraction. Mixed in this way, this waste mass can hardly be reused for any purpose – it certainly cannot be used in cement kilns.

A direct consequence of a poorly developed primary waste selection system in Serbia is an insufficient amount of waste suitable for use in cement kilns. In other words, the fact that large amounts of waste may be generated does not mean that there are sufficient amounts of waste suitable for use in cement kilns.

A direct consequence of a poorly developed primary waste selection system in Serbia is an insufficient amount of waste suitable for use in cement kilns

A lack of awareness of this fact stems from unfamiliarity with the production process, which most often results in the mistaken belief that any waste can be incinerated in cement kilns. This mistaken belief is the leading reason for suspicion and resistance to the use of waste in cement kilns and the unfounded fear that it would increase pollutant emissions.

Suzana Obradović, Secretary General, the Recyclers Association of Serbia

A sustainable waste management system needs to be established in Serbia. Waste separation at source is part of this system. A new draft of the waste management strategy until 2024 – and the work on it is ongoing – envisages waste separation at households into two bins, to be followed by secondary separation at recycling centers. However, plans have been drafted before, but most local governments have not made much headway. At the same time, it is estimated that about a third of households in Serbia, mostly in rural areas, are not even covered by the municipal waste collection system – waste collection, alongside primary waste selection, should cover these areas as well to ensure waste does not end up in illegal dump sites or in nature and that it is not burned.

There is a very strong interest for waste sorting at households, however, this cannot function without a system in place

Daily inquiries the Association receives from citizens and tenant councils show a very strong interest for waste sorting at households, however, this cannot function without a system in place. People who have recycling yards or metal, plastic, paper, glass, and textile bins in their vicinity write that they empty their separated waste into the appropriate bins, but wonder whether this waste is indeed recycled. Once an orderly waste management system is in place along with fines for improper waste disposal, I believe the joint work of institutions, the media, and civil society organizations to educate the population will quickly bring about good results.

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