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Bojana Perić, General Manager Of Ekostar Pak

Can A Circular Economy Exist Without Primary Selection?

We sought an answer to this question, but also the question of which direction it would be desirable for changes in our area to progress, from Bojana Perić, the general manager of Ekostar Pak, one of the leading operators in the system of managing packaging waste

The primary objective is to replace the current “take – make – use – discard” system with a future model of the circular economy, in order for us to reduce the amount of waste dumped in landfill sites. In other words, when we talk about the integrating of economic interests and the system of waste management we are actually talking about the circular economy concept.

How does the system of managing packaging waste function on our market?

The system of packaging waste management in Serbia is based on the extended responsibility of the producer. It implies that the producer is responsible for a product’s entire life cycle, and thus also that product’s packaging. They can take care of the packaging independently, within the legal framework, or transfer their obligation for the packaging placed on the market to an authorised operator in the system.

The System Operator takes on the obligation on behalf of companies that place packaging on the Serbian market, organising the collection, reuse and recycling of packaging waste. This ensures the fulfilment of the prescribed national goals. That goal increases every year. The general goal for this year is 62% of the total quantity of packaging. As such, it is an encouraging fact that 1,935 companies transferred their obligation to System Operators in 2019.

How are the results of the current system and where do you see the biggest challenges confronting the invigorating of the circular economy concept in the packaging waste management segment?

According to the latest report of the Environmental Protection Agency, system operators achieved a recovery rate of 61.9%, or a recycling rate of 59.2%, take care of 228,546 tons of packaging waste through their system. This result has been rated as very good in our area. Significant results have been achieved in the system employed to date, in terms of the collection of packaging waste that’s generated by industrial and commercial activities.

A segment where it is necessary to make significant steps to advance the system is primary selection, through cooperation with units of local self-government. We are witnesses to the existence of good projects for waste separation that we have launched.

However, the statistic showing that only 28% of municipal packaging waste has been included in the system indicates that we must take more decisive action, make more serious decisions and launch significant investments. We are often contacted by citizens who ask us where and how they can recycle their waste. Unfortunately, this question doesn’t have a simple answer today. A strategic solution to this serious problem is expected to start primarily in larger cities, such as Belgrade and Novi Sad…

The best advancement comes when synergy exists between the economy and the state, and it is on this basis that I see a systemic solution as a common model between the System Operator and units of local self-government entrusted with the collection of municipal packaging waste

In your opinion, what might a solution leading to change in the current linear economy look like?

The best advancement comes when synergy exists between the economy and the state, and it is on this basis that I see a systemic solution as a common model between the System Operator and units of local selfgovernment entrusted with the collection of municipal packaging waste. System Operators are there to invest in the installing of adequate infrastructure when it comes to primary selection and secondary waste separation. It is desirable for the support of units of local self-government to come through a system of collecting separated amounts of packaging waste and increasing the quantities that are recycled through joint work.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2019 report on waste management, a total of 2.35 million tons of municipal waste was generated. The percentage of packaging waste in total municipal waste is estimated at around 14-20%, which represents an average of 400,000 tons of waste or, to categorise it better, resources that we can use. On the other hand, informal collectors are responsible for the collecting of most secondary raw materials from households.

Between 35,000 and 50,000 people work as informal waste collectors. Under the model for building an efficient system for the primary collection of packaging waste, additional collecting and recycling jobs could be created, thus creating the possibility to integrate informal collectors into the formal collection system.

A large number of cities/municipalities in our country have their own dumps – landfill sites. These are mainly dumps that are envisaged for remediation and closure, in accordance with the Waste Management Strategy, because the capacity of existing landfills has been reached in most municipalities. Most of them fail to satisfy even the minimum technical standards.

A total of 2,305 illegal landfill sites have also been recorded. Another worrying fact is that waste is often – in over 90% of cases – re-deposited in the same location following the cleaning of an illegal landfill site. These facts are serious indicators that we must focus on the development of primary selection as soon as possible.

Just as extended responsibility provides the basis for a circular economy, so the introduction of the circular economy concept cannot be imagined without the establishing of sustainable primary selection

I would also highlight the misinterpreting of the deposit system as representing an alternative to primary waste selection. The deposit system implies an additional payment for packaging when buying drinks, with a refund paid when that packaging is returned to the point of sale of said packaging. I would like to emphasise that primary waste selection is the first essential step. The deposit system represents a form of upgrading primary waste selection and only comes after the establishment of a serious primary selection system.

The package of directives for the circular economy was adopted in 2018. The redefined goals state that it is necessary to reuse or recycle 55% of municipal waste by 2025, 60% by 2030 and 65% by 2035. By the specified year, the total amount of municipal waste disposed of in landfill sites must be reduced to 10%, or less, of the total amount of generated municipal waste. On the basis of this, amendments to the legal framework are required, with the clear prescribing of obligations for everyone in the chain of responsibility for the establishing of primary selection. It is essential to the development of the circular economy concept to establish a sustainable system that will function in its entirety, which can only be done with the support of the relevant ministries.

I believe that the establishing of partnerships between the System Operator and units of local self-government would create a certain path to a circular economy. Just as extended responsibility provides the basis for a circular economy, so the introduction of the circular economy concept cannot be imagined without the establishing of sustainable primary selection. And that brings us back to the question from the beginning of this interview. To the best of my knowledge, there is no alternative to primary selection when it comes to the establishing of a sustainable system of packaging waste management.

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