Plastic waste in Serbia – goals met, situation worsening

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Plastic waste in Serbia is a major environmental problem that is being solved by rewriting and partially applying outdated European laws. Soon, there will be no trees in Serbia without a hanging bag, or pieces of land, rivers and streams without bottles and other pieces of plastic waste.

Sustainable use of limited natural resources and waste management in Serbia are far from satisfactory, and the country lags significantly behind the standards of developed countries. The existence of low awareness of the problems brought by excessive use of plastic and inadequate management of plastic waste is especially emphasized.

Although there are laws that are in some important parts in line with EU directives, it cannot be said that there is adequate management of plastic waste. Also, the implementation of the principles of circular economy is at the beginning. It is commendable, however, that Serbia, as the first country in the Western Balkans region, received a Roadmap for the circular economy. This document recognized plastics and packaging as one of the four priority sectors in which there is huge potential for the transition from a linear (take-make-use-dispose) to a circular economy.

The law is well… copied

The packaging waste management is regulated by the Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste. This document is in principle harmonized with the EU Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste (Directive 94/62 / EC), but not with the new supplementary directives covering this area ((EU) 2015/720 and (EU) 2018/852). According to this law, all entities that are the first in the chain to place more than 1000 kg of packaging on the market of the Republic of Serbia, whether as manufacturers, importers, packers, fillers or suppliers, are obliged to act in accordance with it. Companies can transfer the obligation to manage packaging waste to official operators or manage it independently, whereby they must obtain a permit from the Ministry on the basis of a defined detailed waste management plan.

One of the basic principles of this law is “prevention, ie reduction of the generation of packaging and packaging waste, as well as their harmfulness to the environment”. It also states the principles of “reuse of packaging, recycling and other forms of reuse and reduction of final disposal of packaging waste.” [1] Article 44 of the law even describes a “deposit system”, which states that “the Government may establish a deposit system for a single-use packaging if that is necessary to achieve national objectives. “[2] This article of the law has been encouraging, but for now, the introduction of a deposit system for the return of packaging in Serbia comes down to feasibility studies. Also, the general impression is that there is not enough will on the part of the law makers, but also on the part of the private sector, which must play a leading role in the implementation, to implement this system and thus significantly improve the collection of plastic and other packaging.

In addition, at the end of 2014, the Government of the Republic of Serbia defined the national goals for packaging waste management for the period 2015-2019. years. The objectives are presented in the following table.

Targets for the share of recycling of plastic packaging waste in Serbia for the period 2015-2019

Goals met – the situation is getting worse

Regarding the realization of goals, according to the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency, in 2018 the amount of packaging placed (paper and cardboard, plastic, glass, metal, wood, other) on the market by legal entities or entrepreneurs who have their obligations to manage this transferred to 6 authorized operators for packaging waste management amounted to 356,423 tons. The share of plastic in the total amount of packaged packaging was 92,019 tons (26%).

Regarding the quantities of packaging waste taken over by the mentioned operators, a total of 200,857 tons were taken over, of which 41,722 tons were plastics. Of this collected amount of plastic, 29,821 tons were recycled, which is about 32% of the total plastic packaging placed on the market. [3]

The total official quantity of packaging placed on the Serbian market356.423 tIncludes plastic, wood, paper & cardboard,
metal, glass and other
The share of plastic packaging in the total mass of placed packaging92.019 t (26%)Includes PET and other plastic bottles, strech foil, etc.
The amount of plastic collected after use41.722 t (45%)Plastic waste is collected by 6 official operators: Sekopak, Ekostar Pak, Delta Pak, Ceneks, Tehno Eko Pak, Ekopak Sistem
The amount of recycled plastic29.821 t
Percentage of recycling of collected plastic packaging compared to total amount of placed plastic packaging32,4%
Overview of the situation in the management and recycling of plastic packaging waste in Serbia in 2018

It is concluded that the defined goal for 2018 (21%) for the recycling of plastic packaging waste has been met (even exceeded). However, there would be more room for joy if the goals were more ambitious. Also, we should not ignore the fact that as much as 65% of the placed quantity does not end up in controlled conditions with the waste operator, but probably in the municipal waste, but also on the street, in the river or stream.

Therefore, these official data do not reflect the real picture of plastic recycling in Serbia. First of all, let me remind you that we are only talking about packaging plastic waste here. So, the statistics do not include many other types of disposable plastics (e.g. fast food boxes, plastic trays, utensils, cups … all these items create a huge environmental problem). Also, the statistics include only the quantity reported as placing on the market and those managed by 6 official operators. The report of the Serbian Environmental Protection Agency states that 257 companies did not transfer this obligation to the operators. The question is whether these 257 companies are the final number and whether there are still many who do not report the placement of plastic packaging on the market, in order to avoid paying the fee for managing this waste stream.

Finally, plastic waste is collected by informal waste collectors and they play a great role in plastic waste separation. However, data on the quantities of plastic collected in this way do not exist, so it is impossible to have an insight into the real share of plastic packaging recycling in Serbia.


[1] Law on packaging and packaging waste, “Sl. glasnik RS”, br. 36/2009 i 95/2018 – dr. zakon, Article 4.

[2] Ibid, Article 44.

[3] Serbian Environmental Protection Agency, Izveštaj o upravljanju ambalažom i ambalažnim otpadom u 2018. godini,  Belgrade, 2019.

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