The northernmost municipality in Kosovo – Leposavić, has a long-standing problem with the disposal of municipal waste. Although municipal authorities have been announcing the construction of a landfill for years, or have been finding temporary solutions, they failed to solve the problem. Meanwhile, there are more and more illegal dumps in the area around Leposavić.
By: Filip Radojević
The path to the Monastery of St. Petka, not far from Leposavić, in the early spring reminds us of a path that leads over a garbage dump. Every year, same story. During the autumn and winter, loads of rubbish are collected and thrown here by negligent locals, and when the spring comes, nuns do not have other option but to ask for help from volunteers to clear the way to this holy place.
This year, the action was attended by a dozen young people, and, for the first time, in among the volunteer garbage collectors there was one Russian girl. She is a journalist by profession. She graduated from the state university in St. Petersburg and is a former correspondent of Moscow’s television “First Channel” from this city.
Yuliya Mikhanova Đerković moved to Leposavić a year ago. She says she does not find it difficult to roll up her sleeves and fill her bag, because she learned at her little age to take care of nature.
“I came to help a bit, because we often used to do the same in Russia. We gathered to collect garbage, clean the territory around a school, or a sacred place, that is very important. We have been taught to do so from the early age. Every spring and every autumn we went out and collected garbage around the school, for example. When you pick up bags, bottles, you will not throw them away after that,” says Yuliya.
In the wider area around Leposavić, dozens of illegal, “wild” dumps were registered, behind almost every village. This region needs many Yuliyas, i.e. locals aware that environmental pollution does not solve any problems.
Leposavić still does not have a sanitary landfill that would be regulated according to municipal standards. There are many problems in the field of ecology that have been pushed under the carpet for years, i.e. to be more precise, thrown on the ground. But first things first.
Instead of a nicely organized landfill, Leposavić actually has yet another garbage dump, the size of about two soccer fields. A location called “Polje” (meaning field), where trucks of a local utility company unload tons of garbage on a daily basis, is located right next to the Ibar river. This landfill was created seven years ago by filling a pond that was left behind after the exploitation of gravel.
In the first year of functioning of this landfill, experts were conducting tests, i.e., microbiological contamination of water was determined. The pollution was observed in the Ibar river above the landfill (upstream), then in the gravel layer at a depth of 6m, the underground water in front of the landfill, the water in the landfill, the underground water behind the landfill used by the locals for irrigation of crops, and water in the Ibar river downstream.
One of the experts who worked on the study is also a Professor of the Faculty of Medicine in Mitrovica, Aleksandar Ćorac. He says that the results that they found then were terrifying.
“In the landfill, the total bacterial content was over 200,000 in 1ml of water, and the water used as a sample was black. Downstream, although the water was much clearer, the sample of bacteria was 160,000 bacteria in 1ml of water. Before the disposal of waste at the site where the landfill is currently in use, there used to be 800 bacteria,” this expert says.
He also reminds that the entire region has problems with the disposal of waste and decades of pollution, because, apart from the municipal, there is also the problem of solving industrial waste that is being created during lead and zinc processing.
In the immediate vicinity of the landfill “Polje”, there are also estates of local villagers. Professor of the Faculty of Agriculture, Aleksandar Djikić, introduces us to the consequences that can arise when using such water.
“By using water from the Ibar river for crop irrigation, many chemicals, primarily non-degradable ones, come to plants, which ultimately affects the quality of crops. But also, one day when one will have to respect the standards, one will not be able to sell that product,” emphasizes Djikić.
Surface water can be cleaned and surface waters can be purified in certain processes with a certain amount of resources, and this could be a solvable problem in future.
However, according to Jelena Djokić, Professor at the Faculty of Technology, pollution of groundwater would pose an unsolvable problem, since groundwater cannot be purified anymore. In that case, there would be major consequences for health of the population, because all the wells in the area would be polluted.
And depending on how large that groundwater pool is and how far it might be reaching, the region would be affected within a few kilometers. The picture below shows a wild dumpsite located in a stream just a few meters from the water source used by locals for drinking.
Almost every village has a wild dump, and they are most commonly located along the Ibar river or in a stream. Apart from the negligent locals, who are the main culprits for the emergence of these dumps, the local self-government is also responsible. Due to the lack of containers or adequately organized place where waste would be disposed of, villagers were forced to dispose of the waste at places not intended for it. This creates an enormous damage to the environment and human health.
One landfill for 4 municipalities
Leposavić is not the only municipality that has a problem with the disposal of waste, all four municipalities in the North of Kosovo have it. This issue was dealt with last year at the Institute for Territorial and Economic Development (InTER). Jovana Jakovljević, a Researcher at InTER, says that environmental protection and waste management are not topics that municipalities are eager to engage with.
“The problem with the municipalities in the North of Kosovo is that their utility companies do not have enough capacities for operation, and the equipment used is inadequate. Waste is mostly being collected in urban areas of municipalities. Data indicate that they cover the territory of their municipalities in the collection of waste in about 80%, while the problem occurs in villages and rural areas where waste is not collected systematically – there are no regular visits of waste collecting vehicles,” says Jovana Jakovljević.
In Kosovo, there is a trend of increasing the amount of waste per capita, in 2008 – 0.5 kg of waste per capita, while in 2013 the average was about 0.9 kg of waste per capita.
“In the municipalities of North Mitrovica and Zvečan, the situation was significantly worsened by the closure of the Balaban landfill in 2012, after which the municipality of North Mitrovica did not have any more places to dispose of waste, and now waste is being disposed of in the Zubin Potok municipality, where there is one operational landfill in Lučka Reka. However, it definitely does not meet the required standards because there is no drainage system,” they say in InTER.
In order to solve this problem in the long run, the European Union in 2014 supported the project of building a regional landfill, which would be located between Zvečan and Leposavić – the so-called “Savina Stena” (Sava’s rock).
According to local media, the project was due to be completed in September 2018, but due to certain problems, the deadline for the completion of works was changed. It is planned that the landfill surface will be 300x100m, plus auxiliary facilities, and the capacity – about 720,000 m3.
The value of the project is just over 5 million euros, and is fully funded by the European Union in Kosovo. The regional landfill will function under the Kosovo legislation. It is planned that in the first two years the landfill management will be run by a team selected by the European Commission, and then the management of the landfill will be taken over by the municipality of Zvečan.
At the landfill, about 80 people should be employed, who will work on sorting waste and perform other works at the landfill. All four municipalities in the north of Kosovo are signatories for the use of a regional landfill.
However, according to the analysis done by InTER, the functioning and sustainability of this landfill is questionable. To make the business in this sector successful and profitable, it is necessary to collect a certain amount of waste that will be further processed and sold for recycling purposes.
Taking into account the situation in the North of Kosovo in this aspect, there is a problem of sustainability and functioning of the “Savina Stena” landfill. The amount of waste collected in three northern municipalities (Leposavić, Zvečan and North Mitrovica) is not sufficient for this landfill to be economically viable.
To achieve this, it is necessary that a regional landfill “accepts” waste of at least 200,000 inhabitants. However, the number of inhabitants in the three listed municipalities does not exceed 50,000.
Although the ecological component is fulfilled through the project of building a regional landfill, InTER emphasizes a question of how the economic component will be satisfied after the end of the EU funding.
Among other things, the project documentation was not available to the public, so it is not known how further funding and functioning of the landfill is foreseen. There are only indications that financial support could be provided in the form of subsidies by local or central authorities in Kosovo, which in terms of sustainability does not constitute a long-term solution.
The following problem is reflected in the functioning of public utility companies in northern Kosovo, especially their status after the construction of the regional landfill. The Kosovo system does not recognize public utility companies registered in the system of the Republic of Serbia, so it is necessary to decide on how these companies, which are currently competent in the field of waste collection in the north of Kosovo, will operate.
Hence, the key issue is how these two systems will be harmonized. It should be noted that these companies do not only provide utility waste collection services, but also water supply, public cleanliness and public greenery services.
At the local level, the Public Utility Company and local self-government have the greatest responsibility for solving the problem of waste disposal, but also other environmental problems.
Director of the Public Utility Company “24 November” Dragan Barać did not want to talk about these important topics, so the public remained short of answers to numerous questions. Among other things, those are questions about the capacity of the utility company, why there are not enough waste containers, why is emptying these containers not regular, etc.
Former director of this utility company, Goran Lazović, says that the biggest problem when it comes to waste disposal are wild dumps. “Each of our larger villages has its own local dump, and this is a problem for us while fulfilling our obligations to the citizens.”
He believes that the construction of a new landfill would only partially solve the problem of wild dumps. “The habit of our citizens is that garbage is still deposited by the river and on some free surfaces.”
As for the landfill in Leposavić, according to the former director, it is planned for it to be there temporarily. “Either we can collect garbage and dispose of it at these temporary locations, or simply not carry out that part of our everyday job, and that is to get the garbage out of the city,” says the former director of the PUC.
From the Department for Environmental Issues of the Leposavić municipality, they say that they have been trying to solve the problem of pollution systematically for years, but that the problem is actually much larger and covers the entire Serbia.
“The Municipal Assembly of Leposavić emphasizes the education of citizens in the field of environmental protection. And it seems to me that people are increasingly talking about it and are paying more attention. We still have big problems with wild dumps. This is not only the problem of our environment, but throughout the entire Serbia, however, we are trying to solve these problems systematically,” says Zorica Timotijević from the Ecology Department of Leposavić Municipality.
In the past period, several public cleaning campaigns were organized in Leposavić, with the aim of raising awareness about the preservation of the environment and a healthy lifestyle.
The local self-government was the organizer of one of the recent actions. On this occasion, the Mayor of Leposavić, Zoran Todić, in a short statement for the media reminded of the problem of the local landfill.
“You know very well that we do not have an adequate waste disposal site in Leposavić municipality. The construction of a regional landfill in the municipality of Zvečan at the Savina Stena is at the final stage and this very year this landfill will be operational, so that we also have adequate conditions for the disposal of waste,” the Mayor said.
Survey with citizens
In order to get acquainted with the situation in the field, we surveyed 40 citizens of Leposavić municipality. When asked where waste is most often disposed of, the largest number of respondents replied that garbage is being thrown on wild dumps, which best illustrates the magnitude of this problem.
Wild dumps and even river flows are listed as waste disposal sites. Care for environmental protection, habits and the preservation of health of family members are the main reasons, say participants of the survey, which influence their decision where to dispose of waste. In the field of waste collection and disposal, three groups of problems are seen by the respondents:
- the absence of an efficient waste disposal system,
- citizens’ attitudes and awareness of waste disposal,
- the situation of the utility companies.
However, they stated the lack of waste containers and their irregular discharge as the main problems. The mentioned problems, according to the respondents, should be solved by local utility companies and local self-government.
Participants of the research showed that they are half satisfied with the quality of waste collection (To the question Are you satisfied with the quality of waste collection? 50% of respondents said they were satisfied).
From this we can conclude that if there was a well-defined strategy on waste disposal, citizens would adhere to that, and, therefore, their environment would be cleaner and healthier.
It is important to note that the citizens of Leposavić municipality do not pay for the services of the Public Utility Company. This situation arose after the 1999 war conflicts.
From this company, they repeatedly appealed to citizens to settle their obligations regularly, as this would contribute to better and more efficient work of utility services.
The funds from the collection of their would be used by this company for purchasing containers that are missing (the citizens stated that this was one of the main problems) and new vehicles for their discharge.
Between desires and possibilities
In the opinion of many of our interlocutors, in order to solve the waste disposal problem in Leposavić, among other things, it is necessary to increase investments of the local self-government, and then also the investments of central authorities and donors in projects in the field of solving the problem of municipal waste and illegal landfills, especially in rural areas.
The municipality should also adopt an environmental strategy, defining what its environmental priorities are and how to implement them. Considering the number of wild dumps, it is also necessary to raise the awareness of the population, as well as their education about the harmfulness of inadequate waste disposal. In addition to the local government, which should take number of actions (there are already a few going on) or organize a manifestation that should encourage citizens to preserve their environment, the main role is also played by the media, especially local ones.
By showing promotional videos or educational programs in the field of ecology, they could contribute to raising awareness among ordinary people about the importance of environmental protection. Of course, regular payment of utility services would certainly change the picture on the ground.
And so we are going back to the beginning of our story. These days, the path leading to St. Petka Monastery seems completely different from the period several months ago. Recently, a waste container was installed, and now there is no reason for the locals or visitors to the monastery to throw garbage by the road. The new regional landfill is yet to start working, and there will be place for discharging these containers.
This article was created under the project “Development of Investigative Journalism for Journalists Reporting in Serbian Language in Kosovo” implemented by CBS and InTER. This grant is financed by the project ‘Support to the Civil Society in Kosovo’, funded by the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and managed by the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF). The content and recommendations made do not represent the official position of the Government of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Kosovo Foundation for Civil Society (KCSF). The article is the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent the views of CBS and InTER.