During just one year of Arūnas Kundrotas’s mandate as environment minister, Lithuania succeeded in opening and closing Chapter 27. Estimates suggest that harmonising environmental standards in Serbia requires investments of €10 billion. Arūnas Kundrotas is a Team Leader Of “ENVAP3”, Swedish Support Project for the negotiating group for Chapter 27 and a Former Lithuanian Environment Minister.
Apart from financial resources, what represents the main “stumbling block” in this process?
– I actually became minister during the same month as the chapter for the environment was closed, but I was very much involved in negotiations, advising the Ministry of Environment on preparations for negotiations and developing the negotiating position, and also acting as Chief Negotiator when he needed support on environmental issues.
At that time, the then prime minister invited me to discuss the minister’s position and said ‘We took on too many obligations for the environment. It will be difficult to implement them’. I didn’t mention that I was very much involved in formulating that negotiating position.
Happily, we succeeded to implement what has been promised during negotiations”. And it is true that our environment negotiations were the shortest compared to any other new EU Member State.
When stating the figure of €10 billion for Serbia, we usually forget that part of this amount is related to investment and part is related to operational costs. Serbia now has more precise calculations and is continuing to fine-tune them. Eight directive specific implementation plans are being prepared and will provide more precise information regarding costs. But, yes, costs are high. And negotiations regarding implementation periods will be difficult. As you probably know, Serbia indicated that a period until 2041 would be needed to implement the most expensive directive on urban wastewater treatment. Let’s see how things develop.
High costs are an important issue, but there are more problems to take into account. Some of them are related to required transformations in the private sector, some relate to the required reorganisation of the public sector, some concern specific groups of people, for example, limitations on hunting species, some require a change of our behaviour, particularly in the waste management sector.
However, now is not a very good time to discuss problems. Negotiating Group 27 has started development of the negotiating position, which is planned to be approved and submitted by year’s end. Solutions must be found for all problems, though it’s better to think about the clean and healthy environment that will be achieved after the problems are solved.
On the other hand, where do you see positive progress for Serbia on that path?
– It is still difficult to express these positive results in environmental terms, but the basis for positive change is being developed. This primarily concerns the increased capability of institutions to implement environmental requirements, to manage more investment projects and to limit pollution through a more effective permitting system.
We spent a few years speaking about a large number of problematic investment projects, but now this number has been reduced to a minimum. That means the more successful implementation of projects – less waste water ending up in rivers or waste in potentially polluting landfills.
How would you assess the current level of harmonisation of Serbian regulations with those of the EU and the transposition of EU directives?
– The transposition level is rather high – certainly enough to allow the start of negotiations. But there is a job to be done as well. More than 80 national legal acts still have to be developed and adopted. That includes laws, Governmental decisions and rulebooks. Serbia took on the internal obligation to complete transposition by 2018. This means that less than two years remain until the end of the period, making this a very ambitious task.
The EU requires transposition to be completed by the date of accession, so a longer period is possible. But this is really a national decision and now institutions are following the 2018 deadline.
Waste management is cited as the biggest problem in Serbia. What percentage of municipal waste is recycled on average in EU countries; which are the leading countries and where does Serbia rank in all of that?
– Waste management is a big problem almost everywhere. The recycling level of municipal waste is very much in correlation with the price of landfilling. When you look into the recycling rate and costs of landfilling, you can easily see that the highest level of recycling – 50% and more – is achieved in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Sweden, where landfilling of untreated waste is prohibited entirely, or where the landfill tax is relatively high.
In some countries, the landfill tax alone totals more than €80 per tonne. This is several times higher than what you have to pay currently when delivering waste to a landfill site in Serbia. But that’s how the market works. You need to raise the landfilling price in order for other options – source separation and recycling or incineration – to become economically viable. Serbia is now recycling about 5%, but also people pay significantly less for the service.
In some countries, the landfill tax alone totals more than €80 per tonne. This is several times higher than what you have to pay currently when delivering waste to a landfill site in Serbia
The aim is for Serbia to recycle 50% by 2030. How realistic is that goal for Serbia, despite the world trend of total waste utilisation?
– 2030 is just an indicative date that has to be negotiated. A special plan regarding the time required to achieve this target is being developed. We will know soon if 2030 is a realistic date, but all efforts will definitely go towards increasing recycling. Serbia is intensifying steps towards that goal.
I can also mention the requirement (included in the draft National Waste Management Strategy) to initially separate waste into two fractions – dry and wet, with dry being only recyclables. Then waste separation lines are planned in each region, where the dry fraction will be separated into plastics, paper and other recyclables.
Municipalities are moving towards recycling. Bajina Bašta already recycles around 15% of its waste, Arilje around 10%. But the pace of approaching the level of 50% will also depend on household income increases. People simply couldn’t afford an immediate rise in waste management tariffs.
In your opinion, what are the most important and most effective measures for raising awareness in this sector, with the aim of developing a country in terms of waste management?
– The most important measure is to provide people with the possibility of sorting their own waste and only then organising an awareness campaign. The willingness of people to sort and separate their waste is generally underestimated, often being used as an excuse for municipalities or waste management companies to do nothing. If you provide the possibility and infrastructure – a convenient way of sorting – and show people what and how to do that without mixing again, as time to time happens, then it will not be necessary to spend too much on awareness.
Serbia has a large number of dumps, illegal waste disposal sites and landfills that do not meet the accepted standards. What is the EU’s policy on landfill dumps?
– They have to be safely closed. There are options developed for Serbia, depending on the hazards a dumpsite possesses. Very few people know, but a preliminary strategy has been developed and costs have been assessed for the closure of all dumpsites. Various options are proposed, from digging out waste and cleaning the site to appropriately covering the site and installing equipment for landfill gas collection and utilisation. Waste will only be delivered to landfill sites that comply with the requirements of the directive.
In the Screening Report, in which Serbia’s readiness to negotiate is assessed, landfilling is criticised as being one of the main waste management practises. This practice will change with increased recycling and, in some places, most probably in Belgrade, incineration.
What are the objectives set out in EU directives on waste and what steps can countries take to increase that percentage?
– There are a number of targets set in several directives in the waste sector. First of all, as you said, 50% of municipal waste should be recycled. By the end of some period, only 25% of biodegradable waste can be landfilled, compared with the negotiated base year. There are also targets for source separation into at least four fractions – plastic, paper, glass and metal. And the last target is for waste that is not recyclable and cannot be used in other useful ways to be delivered to a landfill site that is equipped according to the requirements of the directive.