BELGRADE (Reuters) - Workers handling rat-infested garbage on the outskirts of Belgrade face a double health hazard: from the trash itself and a nearby stream of raw sewage gushing into a canal on its way to the river Danube.
The dump, that covers around 2 square kilometers (500 acres) outside the capital city, symbolizes the challenge Serbia faces to bring its environmental procedures and greenhouse gas emissions to the standards required if it is to join the European Union, a task estimated to cost around 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
Serbia, which plans to join the EU by 2025, processes less than 10 percent of its waste water. The two largest cities, Belgrade and Novi Sad, dump raw sewage directly into the Danube and Sava rivers and the country has countless unregulated landfills.
But the problem also offers economic opportunities.
“In municipal and toxic waste processing we may see investments of around 2 billion euros and ... around 5 billion euros in waste water processing,” environment minister Goran Trivan told Reuters.
Investments so far had been slow, he said, but with improved legislation, “the doors for investments are wide open,” Trivan said, adding:
“We would have to construct over 300 systems for waste water processing.”
Serbia says it will not meet EU environmental and climate change demands by the target date and has proposed an 11-year transition period from when it joins the bloc.
Neighboring Croatia, which joined in 2013, has already asked the EU to extend its deadline to 2025.
Last year, the government’s fiscal advisory body said Serbia should invest 1.3 percent of GDP to tackle environmental problems, up from 0.7 percent. Most other countries in central and eastern Europe spend around 2 percent of GDP on the environment.
The EU’s medium-term goals are to recycle 50 percent of municipal waste by 2020 and around 65 percent by 2035, sending less than 10 percent to landfill.
Serbia recycles only around 3 percent of its municipal waste and up to 40 percent of packaging, far from the 65 percent required by the EU by 2025, said Kristina Cvejanov, the director of Belgrade’s EkoStarPak waste management company.
“There’s a lack of knowledge, motivation, finances, but also an unregulated market,” she said.
“Local utility companies and municipalities mainly do not suffer repercussions ... when they violate laws about waste management.”
Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy