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UNDA Project 1819AE: Serbia - Waste management

Belgrade fortress

Since 2015, Serbia has implemented all the recommendations on waste management suggested by the third Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of SerbiaHowever, some issues such as awareness raising regarding waste management and the separation of waste are persisting challenges. Moreover, the COVID-19 virus and ensuing pandemic has led to a massive amount of medical, hazardous and non-reusable waste, which is often unseparated from municipal waste in Serbia. In recognition of these challenges, which present ongoing dangers to the environment and human health, a series of guidelines, recommendations and workshops have been developed through the UNECE to assist Serbia with its waste management.

Reducing waste at the source is the most effective solution for the environment, followed reusing, recycling, or composting. Only when all these options are not possible should waste be disposed of in a landfill. However, according to the Annual Report of the Environmental Protection Agency, 2.23 million tons of municipal waste was generated in Serbia in 2018 (about 0.85 kg/day per capita), with around 1.95 million tons of waste being disposed of in landfills. Waste separation at the place of origin only exists in a small number of municipalities and there is no systematically organised separate collection for the sorting and recycling of municipal waste in Serbia. As such, the aim of one such project by the UNECE is to improve the separation of recycling waste from households at the place of origin, by procuring equipment for its separate collection and transport.

Hazardous waste and infectious medical waste were highlighted as key issues to address in Serbia. Medical waste, not only from health care facilities but also from patients’ homes are harmful and must not be disposed of with municipal waste. Such waste presents a great threat to the environment and health of people, which is why it is imperative to collect, treat and dispose of it in a proper manner. This presented a major challenge during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, since health facilities during this period were producing vast quantities of waste, with some estimates showing a 40% increase. In Serbia, this waste is still insufficiently organised and workers in the waste management sector are not trained appropriately. Guidelines were thus created to aid local self-governments, officials in the municipal administration and utilities to adapt to these new challenges. Moreover, a set of key recommendations were produced which includes: Local self-government should map waste producers including healthcare facilities with covid patients; places where waste generation has actually decreased; and places where waste is improperly disposed of; separate infections waste in households in a sealed double bag, which should be treated before disposal, and bags for infectious waste should be distributed to households, especially informal settlements; and promote waste reduction; protect workers who handle waste; communicate regularly and involve citizens and stakeholders in activities; accelerate procurement procedures for protective equipment and collection containers; apply national and international guidelines for health care and medical waste; develop contingency scenarios and plans.

Treating hazardous waste from households appropriately is just as important as infectious waste from medical facilities, and arguably presents more of a challenge to address, despite its small contribution to the overall amount of mixed municipal waste. With this issue being amplified by COVID-19, it is even more necessary to promote the proper separation and collection of hazardous waste from households, which should include the training of employees in utility companies handling hazardous waste, and also informing the public about these risks to ensure proper handling and separation. A number of activities to achieve this goal was planned over the span of 12 months, and utility companies and local self-governments will carry out of an assessment of the equipment they need to properly collect and transport hazardous waste.

Finally, guidelines were also developed by the UNECE to develop Waste Management Plans for local self-government and to monitor the state and quality of the environment through local registers of pollution sources. There is a legal obligation to develop regional and local waste management plans in Serbia and, whilst these have been generated for the past decade, it will be necessary to develop the new generation of regional and local plans which must account for the numerous changes over time. The primary goal of local pollution registers is to systematically monitor activities that may have a negative impact on the environment. By gathering and monitoring this information, authorities can then make informed decisions to implement policies and identify priorities for the prevention of pollution.

With the support of the UNECE, a thorough examination has been carried out for waste management in Serbia, which has led to the development of comprehensive guidelines and recommendations on how to improve pertinent aspects of waste management.