Recycling in Serbia: the case of pink toilet paper

On which level are recycling policies in Serbia and has there been any progress in the past few years? These questions are very nicely presented by a commercial for toilet paper. While a family is walking and shopping around a big supermarket, a girl brings a toilet paper which she likes and which is, surprisingly, pink (stereotyping of colours). In that moment the know-it-all father appears on the scene, and explains that this toilet paper is not actually pink, but painted pink by some evil men so they could conceal the fact it was made of recycled paper. After a few seconds of observation, the father remarks how recycled paper is gross and then comes to the final conclusion that white toilet paper is the only kind made of pure cellulose.


Photo: Jitter Buffer

This advertisement, apart from bringing up some false pieces of information, has totally anti-emancipatory character. It is true that many types of toilet paper made of recycled paper are being painted and that it is hard to make it totally white, but it is the colour itself that is the core problem here. Colours may lead to various health problems, but the paper is totally safe to use and does much less harm to the environment than a new toilet paper made of pure cellulose. It is a lie that shining white paper can be the only toilet paper made of freshly cut trees, because with the technology progress and a sufficient amount of bleach all shit can attain the whiteness of snow.

Another thing about this commercial is even more problematic. It stands clearly for anti-recycling and presents recycling as something bad and dirty. Serbia is already at the bottom of the scale of European countries when it comes to the percentage of recycled waste. Right now, only 6% of waste is being recycled, and only in certain parts of the country. Paper recycling centres in this country, which number is far from sufficient, are attacked by this commercial.

It is clear at a first glance that this commercial is just following the trodden path that the Serbian state has created in terms of recycling policies. It is also clear that the state has no long-term sustainable waste management policy and it is known that 97 % of all waste ends up in landfills (a large part of this ends up on illegal dumps). Previously, there have been attempts to create an illusion that something is being done in the field of waste management and recycling with actions such as “Let’s clean Serbia!”, which was a huge failure, and which was only done once a year trying to have an influence on the consequences of the problem. Projects for recycling islands and individual sorting of waste in households were also a failure. Locations of recycling islands were too distant and very rare, especially in the suburbs, while the individual waste sorting process was inefficient and complex for most people. Those who had been trying, in spite of all these challenges, were confounded at the end, when same truck came to collect all of the previously sorted materials.

And while in other countries waste is seen as an important resource which can be used for the production of energy and recycling of useful materials, in Serbia it is seen as an extra cost that should be avoided. The difference between western European countries and Serbia is seen in the number of employees in the recycling industry, which is greater in the former than in the latter. Here, the authorities even prevent Roma people persistently from collecting materials, even though they are the greatest recyclers and collectors of secondary raw materials. This is usually done by forced evictions from the city centre, which also means displacing them from their place of work, given that the majority of secondary raw materials is located in the city centre. Another method is the use of new underground containers, which are designed in a way that ensures that no one can reach them to pull out some useful materials. And it is superfluous to speak of the health and social welfare of these people, since they are non-existent.

And while the European Union has high demands in terms of ecology and environmental protection, which is evident in Chapter 27 of the Association Agreement, Serbia is far below these demands and the the field of ecology has got the lowest mark. In order to achieve any improvement in this field it is necessary to change the state policies towards a realization that investment in environmental protection is not an expense but rather an investment in the future and not because of the accession to the European Union but for ourselves and our health.

In some future commercial it would be good to show a father explaining to his daughter how many trees and other plants and animals were killed for the sake of getting a clean white toilet paper and whether it was worth not-recycling.

/Predrag Momcilovic

Project manager at Serbian Green Youth, research associate at Belgrade University, Serbia 

Partnerships for a sustainable development

In order to understand the Green movement in Eastern Europe one must look at it from a wider perspective. The democratic systems in the region’s countries have been taking constant turns in the last couple of decades, and their governments have been gradually, but surely reducing public liberties.  Continued use of nationalism and hatred are heating up an already turbulent political situation portrayed in corruption and non-transparent governing. Disappearing welfare states, strong patriarchal norms, corrupted political systems and media censorship are common issues affecting these countries. The accumulated effect of all of these makes engagement in Green politics either through the civil society or through a political party very difficult, and sometimes even dangerous.

Although some of the first Green parties in Europe date back to the ’70s, Green ideology in its wide understanding only began to take roots in Eastern Europe much later. Even though the term “Green” came to be used in a political sense, the “old” Green parties in reality did not stand for these values. Therefore the second generation of greens, apart from the fight with the governments and imposed traditional values, have been fighting to reclaim the term in their countries and associate it with its core values – environmental consciousness, democracy, social justice, gender equality, non-violence and  solidarity.

However, the Green agenda has been taken up by youth initiatives throughout Eastern Europe – from Georgia to Croatia, from Albania to Belarus. Some of them are growing from scratch, while some are originating from the mother parties. As a regionally established network – CDN has become (with the support of Green Forum and FYEG) the reference point for Green politics in Eastern Europe. It is supporting the structural growth of new generations of Greens, while also aiming to bridge the gap between the regional division of East and West within the Green family.

It is not a surprise that the doors to national stakeholders in Eastern Europe open much easier for an international green organisation than for the local young greens. What this means in practice is that young greens trigger an action in their countries and the Network provides support for them, by establishing connections with green politicians, MEPs, local politicians and journalists from other (Eastern) European countries, therefore working on gaining the support of the entirety of Europe for the issue. A wide range of issues are crucial for these young activists and politicians, starting from climate change and de-growth to freedom of speech and propaganda, from gender equality and online security to sustainable cities and commons. The exchange and cooperation in these fields are crucial for showing to the public, the members and other political actors, that Green politics are far more than just environmental consciousness, by putting emphasis on solidarity and support.

/Katarina Pavlovic

Project coordinator of Cooperation and Development Network of Eastern Europe

For more info about CDN please visit CDN website

Concerning the referendum in Hungary

In a referendum recently a majority of Hungarians voted against the EU decision on quota resettlement of migrants. The low participation in the referendum, though, makes the result less credible. And even if a majority of all Hungarians would have voted no, it is doubtful what difference the result would have made for the relations between Hungary and the rest of the EU. As the Swedish Minister for Justice and Migration, Morgan Johansson, put it: “If you are a member of an organisation you have to stick to the statutes of that organisation”.

But the referendum in Hungary nevertheless highlights how big a mountain we in Europe have to climb before we can say that we handle migration in a responsible and constructive manner.

In my view the debate on migration has for too long been dominated by the people who, by ideological reasons, don’t want immigrants crossing their countries borders all together. The rest of us have more or less been on the defence. Partly of tactical reasons; adopting a language similar to that of right wing extremist parties has been seen as a strategy to attract the voters of these parties.

I believe this strategy is wrong. Instead I think the right wing rhetoric should be confronted with the opposite to closed borders and separation of people. Acknowledging that there is costs and challenges associated with immigration, we nevertheless should stress the long term economic upsides for a society of more people in working age, the historic gains open societies have seen, and most of all stand up for the intrinsic values of respecting people’s diversity.

But such a strategy also needs to have an answer to the question that right wing extremists thrive on; what happens to the welfare state when immigration numbers reaches hundreds of thousands per year?

One part, and the most important part, of that answer is how fast the newcomers can be involved in the work force. I don’t believe in lowering wages as an incentive for employers to employ low skilled workers as a solution. That only widens the income gap. But a way forward could be reforms that create more opportunities for jobs that doesn’t require high skills. Looking from a Swedish perspective, an example of that is the governments’ proposal to lower tax rates on repairs. In Sweden a more efficient and rapid validation of the skills people bring with them would also benefit both them and the labour market.

Another part is the more intangible discussion about embracing commonly shared values. In this, right wing extremists focus on assimilation; people who come here must wholeheartedly embrace the lifestyle and values of the majority society. For us greens this shouldn’t be an acceptable approach. Instead we should look for integration; welcome the newcomers with an open mind and curiosity about the culture, ideas and traditions they bring. On the other hand, the majority society must also be able to demand a willingness of all people to take part of the society and adapt to values broadly shared within it.

It is impossible to suggest in detail how this should be enacted. Instead integration must be pursued through an ever ongoing public debate, where on the one hand you will have the written law that of course applies equally to everyone, but on the other you have issues like the veil; as long as it is worn by a woman of free will it should not be anyone’s concern how she dresses. Even if it may seem odd in the eyes of the majority society.

Today it seems to me that the assimilation agenda is becoming more and more mainstream within media and political parties. We greens should resist this and instead persist in defending open, diverse societies and the two-way directed integration process as the method of keeping these societies together.

/Lars-Olof Karlsson

Chairperson Green Forum