Recycling and environmental protection in Serbia are always in focus, but it seems that a lot is yet to be done in these areas. According to Jelena Kiš, Sustainability and Regulatory Affairs Manager in Ball Packaging Europe, when we talk about the industry and national objectives, the situation is actually quite good and represents a result of long-term efforts.
A system of prolonged accountability of producers has been introduced in Serbia, where the industry via national operators fulfills its recycling-related obligations. What are the results of this system and does the industry meet objectives defined by the law?
Since the introduction of this system in 2010, the industry managed to accomplish defined objectives. As the leading national operator, Sekopak has so far invested RSD405mn, or EUR3.3mn, in this system. In the past seven years, the system operators and their partners have collected and submitted for recycling 800 thousand tonnes of packaging waste. In 2017, the operators recycled 50 percent of marketed packaging. It is an excellent result because the European Union expects us to recycle that much at the point of association. The fact that the neighboring countries, such as Bulgaria and Romania, had a transitional period of 8 to 10 years for complying with the Directive from the moment they joined the EU best confirms how good these results are. At this point, Serbia is in a much more favorable position and I believe that in 2019 we will attain the objective of 60 percent, even before opening Chapter 27. On the other hand, a new EU set on circular economy is in front of us, including somewhat more ambitious plans for reducing packaging waste, so we have to work on adjusting and improving the system.
Is it possible to enhance the existing model and what should be done additionally in the years ahead?
Bearing in mind that the key issue is that it is estimated that only 30 percent of collected packaging waste comes from the communal sector, i.e. from collecting in households, it is necessary to promptly start collecting packaging waste from citizens. In order to accomplish cooperation with municipalities and utility companies collecting waste, the industry in the system of prolonged accountability should be enabled to ensure predictable investments in this area. Which is not the case now. More specifically, the industry is interested in supporting projects and local self-governments, but it is necessary to provide guarantees that the systems will be durable, safe and that recycling will be executed upon the existing model.
There are 6 national operators in Serbia. What is the situation like in this market segment?
Since 2009, competition among national packaging waste operators has been allowed in Serbia. Although there are still countries with only one operator, such as France and Spain, the model with several operators is present in a range of other countries. Austria is also a good example, as immediately after the introduction of competition in 2014, it also established an institution, a neutral government body enabling fair competition for operators, optimal solutions for packaging waste management, establishment of contact with municipalities and, for instance, an electronic database for commercial waste. Such a solution would be good for Serbia as well.
AmCham has recently organized a conference in regard to further improvement of the environmental protection system, which you moderated in one part. What are the strongest impressions from this event?
It is the willingness of the Ministry of Environmental Protection to view the overall situation in this area and open communication with the industry on potential models of solutions, particularly as it is the part of the business sector that has experience at multiple markets in the EU countries and elsewhere in the world. Resulting from that experience, the messages and the conclusions are very concise and clearly directed and therefore we expect the continuation of cooperation in the aim of enhancing the existing system.
It was noted that it was necessary to urgently introduce recycling objectives for local self-governments and stricter measures for unfulfilling obligations related to primary selection. However, it is a fact that local self-governments often do not have funds to act in this area. In your opinion, what is the solution to this issue?
Local self-governments are legally bound to organize waste selection. A real situation is completely different because there is no suitable mechanism for implementing this provision, which is undefined, and local self-government units encounter a range of obstacles in execution. First of all, local self-governments face a lack of machines and investments. Also, it is necessary to empower employees additionally educate the population. The solution is certainly the introduction of a mechanism enabling connecting with the industry and ensuring safe investments in primary selection. It is necessary to increase investments and find a solution within the existing regulatory framework, in cooperation with the national operators, municipalities and the industry.
It is important, however to note that many EU countries encountered such challenges so there are numerous examples of good practice. On the other hand, the price of collecting waste from households is exceptionally low, while most funds in this sector come from the business sector. Many companies have plans for reducing waste disposal and zero waste, but they are charged with a fee for waste collection per square meter just like those who do not have waste for recycling, and that is definitely not an incentive for reducing waste production.
Upon his appointment, Minister of Environmental Protection Goran Trivan estimated that around EUR15mn was required for the regulation of the environmental protection system, and that amount is so high that is almost discouraging… however, both individuals and companies can do a lot in this area. What is your message to our readers, how can they contribute to the environmental impact reduction on a daily basis?
Investments in the environmental protection sector are necessary and everyone is aware of that – the state, the industry and the population. It is fact that a lot has to be done but also that we can improve the situation on a personal level. First of all, each of us can support and participate in the existing recycling programs. For instance, the Recan Foundation can include every company, residential building tenants’ board, school or kindergarten in the program of collecting 100% recyclable cans. Also, via the Every Can Counts program we have enabled people to get organized and informed on the way of contributing to can recycling. At the same time, at most festivals and events there are activations where packaging is recycled, all you have to do is look for such stands. Furthermore, a decision to use eco-bags and materials is always a step forward in preserving our living environment.
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