Solid waste management in Serbia

EnergyTechnical ArticlesSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 3/2022 • 05.10.2022


Serbia’s waste management system is based on waste collecting, transporting and landfilling, and is generally evaluated as inadequate, particularly in rural areas. Collection is poorly organized and the landfills are not subject to controls. By EU comparison, organic waste as a proportion of total residual waste is high and the recycling rate is very low. 


As yet, the population shows little awareness of environmental issues. As cited in a market survey by Flanders Investment and Trade, according to ASWA (Association of Serbian Waste Utility Companies) Serbia is currently recycling between 5 and 8% of municipal solid waste. Novi Sad and Cacak are the most active cities in recycling (around 10%), but the biggest problem is that numerous towns and municipalities do not recycle waste at all. Serbia is seeking EU membership and by 2030 the country plans to achieve the recycling target of 50%of total municipal solid waste.



A total of 2 130 00 t of municipal waste is generated annually in Serbia, while industrial waste amounts to 6 124 981 t per year. The institutional framework in the field of waste management is created by the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The Environmental Protection Agency forms a part of the Ministry. The responsibility of the Ministry of Environmental Protection is also the issuing of waste management permits. According to the latest data, waste management companies have issued 1973 permits for the collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of waste.

The biggest number of companies in Serbia deal only with the collection, transport and storage of waste, and over 1500 permits were issued for the performance of these activities. However, only on 80% of the territory of Serbia organized collection of municipal waste is carried out, which indicates that the companies in Serbia that have permission for collection, transport and storage of waste are directed towards the collection of waste which can be valorized on a commercial basis namely recyclable waste (metal, plastic, paper, rubber, waste vehicles).

According to local authorities’ data, public utility companies organize waste disposal to 120 landfills that were not built according to standards and which need to be closed and sanitized. When it comes to waste treatment, 680 companies have a license to do carry out these activities. As far as special waste streams are concerned, the largest number of companies deals with the treatment of waste tires (24% of operators) and electrical and electronic waste (23% of operators). The smallest number of companies deals with asbestos-containing wastes (2,3%), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – (2,3%), fluorescent bulbs (2,3%), waste vehicles (1,6%) and waste containing heavy metals (1,1%).


Municipal waste

The collection rate of organised municipal waste collection amounts to 60% in the Republic of Serbia. Collection is organized primarily in urban areas, whereas rural areas are significantly less covered. Most of local self-government units have the machinery and vehicles for waste collection, however there is a lack of appropriate equipment since different types of vehicles are used for collection: from waste collection vehicles with a press for waste compaction and car-lifters for big containers, up to regular trucks and tractors with trailers. Such an incoherent system cannot function adequately and the change of such condition in the direction of applying modern sanitary and safe ways for handling waste cannot be expected without significant assets. The only economically feasible solution is the creation of regional waste management centres where the waste collected from several municipalities will be treated (separation of recyclable waste) and the rest of it will be disposed of at the regional landfills, as defined in the 2003 National Waste Management Strategy. These regions will implement the principles of integrated waste management system for a longer period of time. There is no systematically organised separate collection, sorting and recycling of waste in the Republic of Serbia. The current degree of recycling i.e. waste utilization is not sufficient. Although the primary recycling in Serbia has been set forth under the law and envisages separation of paper, glass and metal in specially labelled containers, recycling is not functioning in practice.

In an effort to show a responsible approach to environmental protection but also to the circular economy and green transition Serbia has already closed the old landfill Vinca near its capital Belgrade and opened a landfill for disposal and recycling of construction waste.

The Belgrade landfill reached the ecological black list because more than five billion cubic metres of methane were emitted into the atmosphere over the last 45 years. The project of arranging the sanitary landfill is the largest environmental project in Serbia, which is being done through a public partnership with Beo Cista Energija, a consortium formed by French utility company Suez, Japanese conglomerate Itochu and pan-European equity fund Marguerite Fund, through the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and founded especially for that purpose.

Next is the construction of a waste-to-energy plant for the incineration of municipal waste, which will be completed in November 2022. After the completion Belgrade will have 10% of total thermal energy and 5% of electricity from waste. The last project is the construction of a wastewater treatment plant.


Hazardous waste

In Serbia there is no location for hazardous waste disposal. In general, there are no authorised facilities for thermal and physical-chemical treatment of hazardous waste. In the recent period hazardous waste solidification and bioremediation processes have been applied. There is no permanent hazardous waste storage area on the territory of the Republic of Serbia. In such circumstances, hazardous waste producers store it temporarily in their own locations.
Most commonly exported are PCBs, pharmaceutical waste, waste paint and varnish, oil and oil emulsions waste, chemical industry waste, slag, as well as specific types of hazardous waste, characteristic of certain technological processes. The Republic of Serbia is a member of the Basel Convention and transboundary movement is performed in accordance with the adopted principles.

According to the National Waste Management Strategy, it is estimated that the amount of hazardous waste generated in the Republic of Serbia, originating from all plants, including plants that are required to obtain an integrated permit, is about 100 000 t per year, while the historical pollution is also about 100 000 t.



Options for the treatment and disposal of e-waste in Serbia are: depositing, recycling and re-use. The most common method is still depositing due to the fact that e-waste is disposed of as a part of the unclassified flow of municipal waste.

The request for re-utilization and recycling of e-waste in Serbia is in accordance with the EU Directive and defined by regulations. The targets for re-use and utilization are in the range of 70% - 80%, while for recycling of components, materials and materials of e-equipment waste the range is 50% to 75%.

In the Republic of Serbia there are four operators that organize collection and recycling. The recycling process in all four plants is mostly based on the sorting of waste by classes of e-equipment and the separation of components and parts that can be manually separated. After separation of the fractions, components such as motherboards, cathode ray tubes, processors, hard drives, and similar types of waste, are sent abroad for further processing. On the other hand, mechanical processes that involve size reduction (primary shredding of equipment and additional grinding by mills) and then separation of ferrous metals (iron, steel, nickel, etc.) by using a magnetic separator and non-metal parts in the e-waste by using eddy current separators (copper, aluminium, plastic, glass, etc.), are generally not represented.

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