Why Has the Project of Recycling Machines, Popular Among Citizens, Failed in Belgrade? – All Would-Be Eco Heroes Are Gone

Source: eKapija Monday, 04.03.2024. 14:20
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The notification about the cessation of the operations on a recycling machine in the Cvetni Trg location (Photo: Milutin Labudović)The notification about the cessation of the operations on a recycling machine in the Cvetni Trg location
Announced with a lot of enthusiasm and very loudly, as a revolutionary project, the recycling machines in Belgrade are history after less than three years – they went quietly and unceremoniously. Almost unnoticeably.

Of the 25 recycling machines in which the people of Belgrade could throw their cans, plastic and glass bottles, as well as cardboard packaging, while getting a credit for a phone, a bus fare, or choosing to donate the money for humanitarian purposes, not one is operational any longer.

Now there are notifications on them, saying that “the recycling machine is not operational, due to the termination of the contract with the company which used to empty it.” Next to them are cardboard boxes full of bottles and cans, proving that the citizens would like to recycle, but they have nowhere to do it.

What has in fact happened? How has the project thanks to which over 8 million packaging units have been recycled so far failed? Have the citizens proven to be more responsible than the companies?

The operator for the management of packaging and packaging waste Sekopak, which was in charge of recycling, says for eKapija that the project ended in December last year. The producer of the recycling machines, Suprabit, on the other hand, is not giving up and hopes that somebody else will come along, willing to empty the machines. They also add – everybody’s talking about ecology, but there is no real desire for change in the industry.

The recycling machines are still in Belgrade, but not operational (Photo: Milutin Labudović)The recycling machines are still in Belgrade, but not operational


What’s the problem?

It all began in April 2021 with great enthusiasm, when Globaltel, in cooperation with its partners, installed the first recycling machine in Kneza Mihaila Street. The other recycling machines were shortly installed in Belgrade, and as announced at the time, Serbia had become the first country in the world to create a mechanism for getting certain benefits for separating four types of packaging waste (PET bottles, cans, glass bottles, used cardboard packaging), by implementing a network of recycling machines.

While the project was operational, the citizens could follow how much packaging had been collected on the Reciklomat website. The number, unfortunately, stopped at the impressive 8,421,442 packaging units that the citizens of Belgrade had thrown in to be recycled.

Suprabit, which produced the recycling machines, reveals for eKapija that it is more than satisfied with the success of the project, although they earned nothing from it.

We only had costs and if we are talking about our interest in the whole project, it was to show that it can function. All the hardware and software of the recycling machines was local and we constantly upgraded it and it worked very well – they say at Suprabit.

The recycling machine in Kralja Aleksandra Blvd (Photo: Milutin Labudović)The recycling machine in Kralja Aleksandra Blvd


That’s the way it worked until June last year, when Globaltel announced that, due to the change of the operator of the collection of public transport fares, the citizens would no longer be able to top up their public transport cards, due to which the number of the recycling machines would be reduced from 25 to 10.

– Still, even with those changes, all the users of the recycling machines will still be able to dispose of packaging waste in ten recycling machines throughout our capital city. Instead of using the system of topping up the Belgrade public transport cards as before, the system enables all the environmentally aware citizens to still realize some of the previously introduced advantages – benefits within the GLOBALTEL mobile telephony system and humanitarian donations – the company said in a press release.

However, this reason is not exactly clear considering the official data listed on the Reciklomat website. Of a total of RSD 49,886,604, through recycling, the citizens donated RSD 1,667,821, realized public transport rides worth a total of RSD 11,568,153, whereas three times as much was spent on the topping up of cards within the Globaltel system, RSD 36,650,630, which indicates that the citizens were more motivated to use the telephony services than transport services in exchange for recycling. It is therefore not clear how the change of the operator of the collection of public transport fares had an impact on the reduction of the number of recycling machines.

Telekom, which bought Globaltel last year, did not resolve this dilemma for us, but they said that Globaltel users could still top up their cards at the still operational recycling machines.

– The recycling machines are not owned by Globaltel, but another company, so we have no information about the number and the status of those devices. However, Globaltel users can top up their cards at the recycling machines which are still operational – Telekom told eKapija.

Sekopak: Project completed, we thank the people of Belgrade

It is still not clear which recycling machines these are, since the Reciklomat website says that neither of the ten recycling machines is operational. Those that eKapija’s reporters visited in the capital city have notifications on them, saying “the recycling machine is not operational, due to the termination of the contract with the company which used to empty it.”
(Photo: Milutin Labudović)

When asked whether it is true that they have terminated the agreement and why, Sekopak explains that, in the past three years, they have been a partner on several projects which concern smart recycling, with the aim of testing how citizens react to this type of separating packaging waste, what the challenges are and what the potential ways to upgrade the system are.

– The recycling machine project in Belgrade ended in December 2023, and all the acquired experiences will be an integral part of Sekopak’s proposition toward the Ministry of Environmental Protection, within the process of improving the system for the primary selection of packaging waste and the announced amendments to the Law on Packaging and Packaging Waste – they say at Sekopak and add that such projects are important for the creation of a quality regulatory framework and that they are glad that they are able to contribute, as the operator of the system: – The idea of each project is for the advantages and the solutions to the flaws to grow into a system, because each project, by its very nature, is time-limited. Sekopak is not the owner of the machines, so their future use does not depend on us.


That the interest of the citizens of Belgrade was great is also shown by the fact that, in some locations, the recycling machines were emptied several times a day, as they told us at Sekopak. When asked whether the citizens used the recycling machines properly, the company says:

– It took time for the citizens to get used to this manner of disposing of packaging waste. Initially, we truly saw everything in the recycling machines, from fruit, plastic bags, sneakers, to a broom handle. We would like to use this opportunity to thank the citizens of Belgrade who took part in this project – Sekopak says.

Recycling machines as a way of drawing attention

When asked under which conditions they would be part of a similar project again, Sekopak notes that, in cooperation with public utility enterprises, they have installed recycling machines in Kragujevac, Nis, Arandjelovac, and they will soon be installed in Novi Sad as well.

– We believe that it is very important for the citizens of Serbia to properly separate packaging waste, to make it their everyday habit. The benefits which can be realized by using the recycling machines are only a small incentive, a way of drawing attention; to see waste as a resource which is a secondary raw material – they say at Sekopak.

The company announces that, in this year, it will continue setting up the infrastructure for the separation of packaging waste, to the end of upgrading the primary selection in cities throughout Serbia and realizing the goals that the ministry has proscribed with the amended Decree on Determining the Plan to Reduce Packaging Waste for 2024, which introduces goals for municipal packaging waste.

The plan is to install 2,700 containers for separating all the fractions of packaging waste in 2024 – they announce at Sekopak.

The citizens of Belgrade are still throwing out packaging waste, except next to the recycling machines (Photo: Milutin Labudović)The citizens of Belgrade are still throwing out packaging waste, except next to the recycling machines


Suprabit not giving up

Unlike Sekopak, which considers this a finished project, Suprabit has not given up on it. As they say, they are trying to find a company which is ready to empty the recycling machines.

– We are not giving up. We still offer recycling machines for free. We have also created an app for collecting green points with the plan to include big companies at which the citizens could use the green points collected through recycling. We care for this project to continue, for Belgrade to be an experimental example for how a project like this can succeed – they say at Suprabit.

Still, despite not giving up, the company is open about being slightly disappointed after all.

– There was no interest in recycling machines in Serbia, aside from Belgrade and Novi Sad, where we had five recycling machines. It seems that the awareness in the region is greater. We recently sold 12 machines to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and two to Montenegro. We have the impression that there is a lot of talk about ecology here, and when something concrete needs to be done, there is no real desire for change in the industry – they conclude for eKapija.

Marija Dedic

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