Less is More

Japan-funded project promotes 3R waste management strategies in Western Balkans

February 4, 2015
NOT THE BEST SOLUTION: An outdoor waste disposal site in BiH contaminates an otherwise beautiful natural environment. Photos by Tamas Kallay

Waste is an acute environmental problem for many river basins in Europe's Western Balkan region. In an effort to help address this problem, the REC is running the project "Support to Local Municipalities in the Western Balkan Region in the Implementation of Integrated Solid Waste Management and the 3R Concept" (3R in the Western Balkans). The overall objective is to provide help in mainstreaming integrated and sustainable waste management strategies, such as integrated solid waste management (ISWM) and the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle). Funding for project activities worth EUR 32,131 comes from the Embassy of Japan in Hungary.

Project activities are implemented in cooperation with the Drina River Committee (DRC), which was formed in 2004 by municipalities in the Drina watershed area with assistance from the REC and other international donors. The DRC, which has the endorsement of the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, facilitated cross-border and regional aspects of integrated solid waste management under the framework of sustainable consumption and production policies.

Two main outcomes of the "3R in the Western Balkans" project, which started on June 2, 2014, and closes on March 16, 2015, are the study "Supporting the Implementation of the 3R Concept in the Drina River Basin: Recommendations for Local Waste Management Practices"; and the two-day regional capacity-building workshop and stakeholder consultation that took place on November 26-27, 2014, in Sarajevo.

Study recommendations

The study, published in February 2015 and co-authored by Danko Aleksic, Tamas Kallay and Peter Szuppinger, is based on a status assessment revealing that "municipal waste collection is insufficient in most municipalities in the region, waste facilities are mostly outdated and not complying with EU standards, [and] considerable quantities of waste are being dumped illegally." In order to address these issues, the study presents a number of draft recommendations, which include the 3Rs as well as the application of a strategic planning approach towards integrated waste management.

An integrated approach

The application of an effective ISWM strategy involves focusing on both analytics ('finding the dots') and synthesis ('connecting the dots'). This includes several components: clear leadership and a good understanding of the problems at hand; systematic analysis and data collection in terms of waste stream volume and composition; a participatory stakeholder process; the identification of key problems and their subsequent transformation into priority objectives; the conceptualisation of alternative scenarios; a thorough economic assessment of those alternative scenarios; and the creation of a platform for the exchange of information with other muncipalities.

R1: Reducing waste

The project survey shows that the majority of households in the region are charged for waste management services based on the size of their property, and that only a handful are charged based on the number of bins or containers collected. The latter system, known variously as 'pay-as-you-throw' (PAYT) or 'unit pricing', should be more widely introduced in the region, as it provides a monetary incentive to reduce the amount of waste produced.

There are several PAYT schemes to choose from, including 'full-unit pricing', 'partial-unit pricing' and 'variable-rate pricing'. "Under a pay-as-you-throw scheme," the study explains, "some or all of the costs of waste management can be removed from property tax bills, and waste management services are then treated like other utilities such as water or electricity that are charged by unit of consumption. [...] Waste collection costs are distributed more fairly among the population, and in proportion to the amount of waste each user generates." The study concludes that municipalities in the Drina River basin can introduce PAYT schemes "in parallel with the establishment of regional waste disposal systems".

Other recommended waste reduction initiatives include: 'no advertisement' stickers for mailboxes, indicating that a resident does not wish to receive unaddressed advertisements, leaflets and/or flyers; offering to charities 'expired' food products that are still suitable for consumption; and any product-service system (PSS) that shifts the focus from selling products to selling a utility or service.

R2: Reusing waste

Many people dispose of goods that other people could still get considerable use from. The purpose of a reuse centre is to facilitate the redistribution of unwanted yet perfectly usable materials and equipment. A wide range of entities can take advantage of reuse centres, including businesses, non-profits, schools and community groups, by acting as donors, sellers, recipients or buyers. Such actions not only promote the general benefits of reuse, but divert waste from landfills and fulfil a social need by providing usable items to organisations and inviduals at affordable prices or free of charge.

The study recommends that local authorties get involved by endorsing online portals that promote the exchange of products such as construction materials, wooden pallets, electronic equipment, paper, plastic and furniture that would otherwise be thrown away. Also, authorities can help families with babies to reduce their household waste by up to 50 percent by promoting the use of washable, reusable nappies.

Another effective component within the reuse strategy is for municipalities to introduce repair facilities - including those for repairing clothing. This not only extends product lifecycles, but can provide employment in the form of repair services. Finally, the amalgam of possible reuse-oriented services and programmes can be formally integrated in any number of ways into an 'informal' waste market to maximise the collection of materials and the use of available services.

R3: Recycling waste

Most people are, by now, familiar with the concept of recycling, if not the practice. The fact of the matter is that a good local recycling programme offers several economic benefits. "Recycling can reduce solid waste collection, transportation and disposal costs; generate revenues from the sale of recyclable materials; create jobs; and provide eligibility for funds," the study explains. "In addition, recycling helps to preserve environmental quality, saves landfill space, preserves resources, conserves energy, reduces air pollution and saves water."

Many different wastes are recyclable and worth collecting separately; the most viable of these are paper, plastics (mainly PET), aluminium cans and glass. These materials are recycled principally for reuse. On the other hand, some hazardous materials (e.g. batteries, electronic waste, ash, toners and cartridges), while not often collected for reuse, can be disposed of more safely, thus reducing their potential to harm public health and the environment.

THE ROAD AHEAD: The Drina River basin could benefit from developing a regional recycling strategy.

In the absence of regional recycling facilities, a system can be set up at local or municipal level, taking into account current waste streams; the market for materials; and the collection method. All of these factors must be integrated if a recycling system is to work effectively at any level, and it is important to remember that bottom-up intiatives can help a local recycling system grow into a regional one. This will not only lead to a greater volume of recycled materials, but will also provide greater marketing leverage while lowering equipment, labour and administrative costs.

Another important form of recycling is composting, a form of disposal in which waste decomposes naturally under oxygen-rich conditions. Schools, households and businesses can have their organic waste transported to a community composting facility, but backyard composting is also a popular practice with considerable benefits.

"Local authorities can actively support household composting by organising trainings for residents on composting practices," the study recommends. "Those who complete the course can transfer their knowledge to their friends and neighbours. Also, volunteers can be appointed to advise people on composting issues and help promote the need for waste reduction."

Capacity-building workshop and stakeholder consultation

On November 26-27, 2014, the city of Sarajevo hosted a regional capacity-building workshop and stakeholder consultation, organised under the "3R in the Western Balkans" project. Focusing on ISWM and 3R, the workshop was designed to assist municipal representatives of the DRC, while also providing a setting for a stakeholder forum for a wider target group, including professionals from relevant municipalities, industry representatives, and officials from government ministries and agencies.

On day one, the draft text of the study was presented to workshop participants, with a special emphasis on potential measures to support advanced waste management practices in the target region. Participants were invited to discuss ways to improve the draft document, and this input was incorporated into a new version that was finalised in February 2015. You may read the full text of the study here.

Day two's stakeholder consultation included presentations from national representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro, followed by presentations on 3R initiatives already in place in Hungary and Poland. The two-day event ended with a roundtable discussion on future steps towards achieving sustainable waste management practices in the region. Click on the links below to see individual presentations from the workshop and stakeholder consultation.