Vujadin Šćekić, Director, Jugo-impex d.o.o. Niš

Waste Is A Strategic Raw Material

As a company that was founded during the time of the former Yugoslavia, 31 years ago, Niš-based Jugo-impex isn’t relinquishing its position as a leader in the sector of collecting and processing raw materials. It is also a leader in the Balkans when it comes to the recycling of electrical and electronic waste, with 10,000 to 14,000 tons recycled annually

When it comes to recycling, we must all work a lot, learn, raise the level of responsibility and professionalism in the administrative part of the country, and use regulations and standards to lay the foundations for quality and a better tomorrow, says Jugo-impex Director Vujadin Šćekić in this interview for CorD Magazine.

Your company is among the pioneers in the collecting and processing of raw materials, and in the recycling of electrical and electronic waste. Would it be correct to say that surviving and succeeding hasn’t been easy?

Our company has existed for 31 years. I founded it during the time of the former Yugoslavia. It has changed many countries, many laws and tax systems, but to this day it has the same ID number. We have been dealing with recycling since 1994, while Erecycling emerged in 2010. It is specific in that it deals exclusively with the recycling of electrical and electronic waste, and we are the leader of the Balkans in that area, handling 10,000 to 14,000 tons of electrical and electronic waste annually. We are also dealing with both new regulations and administrative problems. We have grown accustomed to having to adapt to these demands, conditions and permits.

And our parent company, Jugo-impex, is linked exclusively to the processing of non-ferrous metals. In that domain we work on products for export, working a lot with industrial waste, importing raw materials from the region and processing and marketing them on the European market.

We have between 90 and 110 employees at Jugo-impex, and between 220 and 300 in E-recycling, depending on current needs. Our workers don’t leave Jugo-impex, unless they are taking on better paid managerial positions abroad, so we have employees who’ve been with us since the company’s first day, but also those who left the company to go into retirement and who we invite – like members of our family – to all company celebrations.

Things are changing for the better from year to year. Can this process be sped up?

The economic environment is improving, investments in infrastructure are being made and new factories and plants are being opened, which naturally bring benefits to our industry. Today’s market is also much larger, so the labour market is improving. There is rising awareness of ecology, of the importance of protecting the environment in which we live, but we should be aware of the fact that we must accept and change some things, because reality will force us to look at the actual state of affairs. The Smederevo Steelworks is designed to smelt iron ore to produce steel, but it doesn’t do that. Rather it only melts secondary raw materials, because there is no iron ore. Ore minerals are a disappearing limited resource, which is why we will have to replace them with secondary raw materials and seek new bases of raw materials from recycling. Many of these items are more expensive when sourced from recycling, but you have no choice when you lack something you need. There will be no antimony in the mines in 20-25 years, so we will only be able to source it from recycling, while zinc will disappear in 40 years, and life is impossible without it.

Investing in ecology isn’t a cost, rather it is an investment in health. You know that, when you reduce pollution, you consequently reduce the long-term costs of healthcare. We must view ecology as preventive healthcare. We would like all that to change faster, for us to increase responsibility at all levels, in every segment of society. Then the results would come by themselves.

Vujadin Šćekić Jugoimpex Niš

When will we finally start treating waste as a raw material that can be processed into a marketable product?

Not all waste, as it is said, can be placed in the same basket, because there are thousands and thousands of categories – from industrial waste, via raw materials and construction waste, to household waste.

And, in legislative terms, we’ve legislatively categorised many of these types of waste where they don’t belong, which is understandable on one hand and not on the other, because if we’re striving to develop, we must liberalise internal trade and determine, as a state, what is a strategic raw material for the country.

Non-ferrous metals are a strategic raw material worldwide, even in our country, and trade in them among large companies is classed exclusively as a product, and in no way as a raw material. You can’t easily buy that kind of waste in Austria, Germany or Italy, you can only sell it. This only shows that developed countries take care of their resources, and we also need to start taking care of our own resources. We issue export licenses for many things that we have sufficient processing capacities to handle, so we export the raw material instead of exporting a product, which is not good for us. We need to introduce quotas, introduce order and establish a clear system in order for it to be known what can be exported, and to what extent.

It’s important to take a strategic approach regarding which products can be exported and which should be processed here in Serbia

We also need to open a complete investment cycle for the processing of all other waste that’s classed as hazardous. There are thousands of different types of waste that cannot be recycled and they will be used as energy sources. For example, tyres that are 20 years old cannot be recycled and must be used as an energy source. Everything that has high calorific values should be used to generate energy from waste. This is done well in our country by cement plants, which have monitors on their chimneys and take care not to pollute the air. Do we have sufficient processing capacities? When it comes to metal waste, I think there is a plenty of iron and that we still don’t have sufficient capacities for the full amount, but we certainly have the capacity for all metals, all metal raw materials, except aluminium.

There is much more aluminium waste than the two existing factories are able to process. If we had a development strategy, we could very quickly open new plants. This is achieved by granting administrative incentives or some other breaks, which would certainly pay off, because why we would pay 100 euros for the transport of a ton of aluminium to sell instead of processing it here? Finding a market for products used to be a problem, but that’s no longer the case today, with so many factories and the auto industry. That’s why it’s important for professional associations and the Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Serbia to take a strategic approach regarding which products can be exported and which should be processed here.

How important is Business Club Naissus for the economy of the city of Niš, the region of Southern Serbia and the country as a whole, but also for all businesspeople and entrepreneurs? What will it bring you?

We founded it five years ago and it has grown and strengthened, little by little, so that it today has 28-30 companies that have existed for a long time and are respected in their industries. The goal isn’t to achieve mass membership, on the contrary. The admission criteria are very serious. One must go through several levels of selection to join. The club accepts one to two new members a year, and a maximum of three. It is important for us that those are people who have behind them works, who are respected by both their buyers and suppliers, that they enjoy a good reputation among partners, that they work on creating a better economic environment and that they cooperate with the city administration… I hope that Business Club Naissus will quickly become an important partner of the local government and a driver of development, because the goal of the people gathered together in the Club is for life in our city to be better, higher quality and healthier.

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