Jugo Impex procures and processes raw materials, such as copper and its alloys. It also deals with the recycling of electrical and electronic waste (EE waste). The key issue that connects waste and processing is the circular economy, i.e. the control of all processes from waste to product. Recycling hazardous and non-hazardous waste generates a pure raw material, with its own value. At this level of processing, the price is linked to the global market and, depending on the demand, your profitability is lower or higher. On the other hand, if this raw material is processed and you have the final product, the price is very little exposed to changes on the global market, so profit is more stable.
Jugo-Impex was founded in 1990 and was recognized primarily for trade in non-ferrous metals. But today you are a leader in the recycling industry. How much is the capacity of this industry recognized in Serbia, and in particular the recycling of electronic waste?
– In the nineties, Serbian industry was quite strong and the consumption of semi-finished and finished products of non-ferrous metals was enormous for today’s conditions. With time, our metal processing industry went under and we turned to our own production and recycling of hazardous waste. There is a large problem of social awareness about recycling of EE waste. We are in a far-reaching transition, primarily one of awareness, and we need serious education and understanding of what waste recycling is. We are surrounded both by cheats and by people who are doing the most socially responsible work. Nobody in Serbia is guilty but ourselves and our education. If people only understood that a poorly recycled refrigerator has the same impact on the atmosphere as a car with its internal combustion engine running for a year, the recycling of EE waste would be recognized differently. But I have to say that it is becoming better by the year, and that now for the first time ever we have our Ministry, and a Minister who has spent his whole working life in the field of ecology. This gives us all the right status but demands of us real responsibility. I am convinced that as a separate Ministry, our Ministry of Environmental Protection will in two years completely change the image of our industry.
To treat the total amount of hazardous waste collected, about 3 billion dinars must be allocated from the 2018 budget
In recycling, you have developed your own network in Serbia, with more than 3,000 associates including some local governments. Are there any plans for the wider region?
– The region is a special issue, we have ambitious plans to become the Balkan’s regional recycling centre. We have a lot of opportunities and conditions for realising it, primarily because we are surrounded by small countries with a small number of inhabitants, where technologies like ours cannot justify the investment (Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Metohija, Macedonia). To succeed we have to work together with our ministry on regulating the legal framework, work in partnership with other ministries in the region to carry it out.
On one occasion, you said you had bought recycling technology in Germany, but that your experts had further adapted and innovated this technology. What are the concrete changes you made?
– We bought the German MEWA line for recycling fridges and other EE waste, and our team of engineers perfected it. Using the knowledge of experienced MIN engineers, we made new knives that last 7 times longer then those of the manufacturer, made electronic control of defects in the process and increased storage capacity for freons. All summed up, our machine is today 18% more productive.
Recycling is a rapidly growing and developing industry globally. On the other hand, you say that in Serbia it is still at a level that does not bring the necessary predictability and growth. Why is this so?
– In contrast to the rest of Europe, the Serbian eco-tax is not yet recognized as a dedicated one, so it goes to the Ministry of Finance instead of the Green Fund at the Ministry of the Environment. The Ministry of Finance deals with the overall finances of the country, so it cannot recognise us in its overall portfolio. Generally, not many people understand that recycling of EE waste is economically unjustified: input – 100 din / kg ~ output – 40 din / kg. In 100 dinars of processed hazardous waste, the raw material obtained counts for 40 dinars, whereas the difference of 60 dinars represents transport, and the disposal or destruction of hazardous waste. In the current conditions we receive an eco-tax for recycling after the work is done throughout the whole year. We work with commercial banks to finance the entire production, and you can imagine how extremely difficult such a system is, and how it leaves no room for development. Since the budget for 2018 is adopted and that the amount of 2.19 billion dinars is assigned for processing hazardous waste, the same as in 2017, members of the Association of Recyclers of Serbia have expressed concern that all the waste collected during this year will not be able to be treated, or taken care of in an appropriate way because there will not be enough money.
In negotiations at the end of 2017 in the Ministry of Environment, it was agreed that it is necessary to allocate more money for treatment of hazardous waste. Although the amount collected from eco-tax on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, 10 billion dinars, is 30% more than the previous year, the budget allocations have remained at the same level even after the founding of the Green Fund, which should not have been the case.
I can remind you that one of the key EU requirements for opening Chapter 27, that deals with the environment and climate change, is to ensure a sustainable and predictable way of financing the industry through a ‘Green Fund’ which at the republic level will be filled in a transparent way from funds collected from eco-taxes and environmental protection fees, and that they are spent in the same transparent way for the purposes for which they are intended.
The funds provided for right now are sufficient to treat only about 60% of hazardous waste that will be collected. To treat the total amount of hazardous waste collected, about 3 billion dinars must be allocated from the 2018 budget.
Now that our ministry is established, we hope that things will start moving in the right direction, i.e. that the Green Fund will come to life and that recyclers will be paid quarterly and not annually. When that happens, the recycling industry will certainly make serious investments in quality and processing. This will create a high demand for new jobs. During our time in recycling, we have come to learn about which raw materials we have and what we can separate. These are the new urban mines that in few decades will be the basic source of metals that are disappearing in existing mines. With such knowledge we are, both as an industry and as a state, responsible towards future generations to recognise and to process better quality raw materials as much as possible, and not to export them to other plants outside Serbia. If our Ministry perseveres and does what has been planned, growth in this industry will be greater than in all other industries in the country.
In technological and financial terms, our country is facing perhaps the most demanding negotiating chapter on ecology and environmental protection in negotiations with the European Union. If you can make a parallel with European standards, at what level is Serbia today compared to Europe?
– There are domestic recycling centres in Serbia that are at the top of European recycling by any standard. There is no European certificate that is not available and easily achievable if needed. In negotiations with the EU, our biggest problem is one of wastewater and gases. As the recycling industry, we are in a preventive position: the better we do and the more waste we recycle, the lower the danger of polluting soil and water with heavy metals. The recycling industry will certainly get a passing grade for its technology, and I believe that by then the system will be placed under the control of the Ministry of the Environment, and we will not have any problems there.