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.

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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 

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