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Francine Pickup, UNDP Resident Representative to Serbia

No Good Ideas to Waste

The proper recycling of bio-waste could create new products and jobs in Serbia. Local governments, public utility companies, business, civil society and research institutions are being challenged to propose, innovative ideas for reducing, reusing and recycling bio-waste

The current Covid-19 crisis presents an opportunity for Serbia to combine green transition and digital transformation and accelerate its economic recovery in a carbon-neutral and sustainable way, says Francine Pickup, UNDP Resident Representative to Serbia. With this in mind, UNDP launched the “Bio-Waste Management Challenge Call”.

What is the main idea behind the call?

– We are looking for ideas that can help reduce the amount of food and kitchen waste, and green waste from gardens and parks that currently ends up in landfills. We produce large quantities of bio-waste, but estimates suggest that in Serbia only one per cent of that is collected and processed. The rest is left to rot, emitting harmful Greenhouse Gases (GHG) that accelerate climate change.

Compared to other countries, I’ve noticed that in Serbia waste separation is not done within households. There are communal containers here and there, but they are far apart and not available in all local communities. The proper recycling of bio-waste could create new products and jobs and at the same time lower GHG emissions. For example, inedible leftovers from households and food industries can be converted into compost that improves the quality of soil or can be used to produce biogas.

To find innovative technology and business solutions that can help manage the bio-waste more efficiently, in a climate- and environment-friendly way, the UNDP launched this challenge in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and with financial support from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

This Call aims to engage local governments, public utility companies, business, civil society and research institutions to propose innovative ideas for reducing, reusing and recycling bio-waste. The best candidates will receive mentorship and guidance to develop their ideas into projects. At least five of the most successful projects will receive co-financing for their implementation. In close cooperation with the Ministry and SIDA, we will also support the development of policies and regulations governing biodegradable waste management in line with EU standards.

Why is it important for Serbia to transition to a circular economy, and what role is played by innovation in this process?

– Transition to a circular economy leads to longer-term, sustainable growth that generates jobs and boosts the local economy while protecting our health and our planet. Innovation can help transform our economy and behaviour, making them more energy-efficient, and resource-efficient. For example, by using modern waste containers with fill level sensors, cities could lower their transportation costs and their GHG emissions by only sending out waste collection vehicles when needed.

How does this initiative fit into the overall portfolio of the UNDP in Serbia?

– This initiative is part of our broader portfolio of work aimed at contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals targeting climate, sustainable consumption and production, green economic growth & innovation.

Last year we developed the first national Circular Economy Roadmap and prepared policy options for reducing the impact of single-use plastics. We also worked with youth to raise their awareness on the need to reduce, reuse and recycle.

To tackle food waste, we have partnered with Delhaize to develop an online platform for food donations. With private investors, we enabled the construction and operation of six biomass heat and power plants throughout Serbia, producing electricity in rural areas from agricultural waste.

Our ‘Climate-Smart Urban Development’ initiative has provided co-financing for 11 of the most advanced solutions for GHG emission reduction in cities, and helped the teams behind them to implement their concepts in practice. We expect these solutions to cut more than 0.5 million tonnes of CO2 for Serbia, which is equivalent to planting trees on a territory of 145 football pitches.