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.

pink-tp

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 

Housing as a basic human right

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”[1]

“By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums.”[2]

How far are we today from making this demands come true or are these only dead letters?

World population is increasing day by day, just as the number of city population and the number of people who can not afford appropriate housing for themselves. At the moment, over 900 million people are living in slums, in conditions undignified for a human life. Making the dream to

ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services come true seems further away than ever before.  

Most housing problems originate from housing commodification and placing them on the market, where the prices of the real estate are increasing thanks to the financial scheming, despite the constant construction. The price of a square meter is going up and the flats are becoming unavailable for the majority.

I will use as an example of my home town (Jagodina, Serbia) where in the years between 1971 and 2002 the numbers of housing units and households in the very city were approximately the same, as Table 1 shows. There were very few empty or emptied flats, until the number of flats drastically increased in the years between 2002 and 2011, which was not matched with the increasing number of households. Although the statistics initially seems encouraging and seems to suggest that the construction is effective, the background of the data is quite different.

Out of 17.488 currently existing flats in the city, 4.000 are empty and over 2.100 are used on the basis of various leases, renting, family relations and so on. The great number of empty, mostly newly built flats, can statistically support the fact that it is safer to invest in construction, even if those flats cannot be sold at the moment.

Year 1971 1981 1991 2002 2011
Population 27658 35488 37560 35589 37282
Households 8948 11676 12768 12987 13844
Flats 8281 11067 13203 13695 17488

Tabela 1. Uporedni pregled broja stanovnika, domaćinstava i stanova Jagodina[3]

And while a smaller number of individuals owns a large number of real estate, ordinary people can only dream of buying a flat, since the average salary is 35.000 RSD (300 euros) and the price of a square meter is around 600 euros. We should also bear in mind that average market basket is larger than the average salary. In the end, the question is: for whom are those new flats being built for, if the majority of the population cannot afford them?

At the moment, the share of public flats in the total number of housing units in city is around 0,6%[4] . It is among the lowest in Serbia and very small even in comparison to western countries, since it is so popular to compare with them these days. The share of public flats in the total number is 10 per cent in England and the Netherlands, and a French law states that at least 20 percent of flats should be social housing. Social housing is still desirable and attractive for living in these countries.

In order to reach the goal set at the beginning of the text, a new mass investment in the public and social housing for everyone is necessary, especially for those who cannot afford housing in the current market game.

 

/Predrag Momcilovic

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

[1]    .The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, chapter 1.

[2]    .Sustainable development goals, Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

[3]    .Republic statistical office Serbia, http://www.stat.gov.rs/

[4]    .Republic statistical office Serbia, http://www.stat.gov.rs/

Greenwashing – Paint it Green

In my hometown there is an old company which is somehow still working. The company has a wall which separates the factory grounds from the street and which turned out to be quite suitable for street art. As the number of factory workers went down and the labour rights of those still working decreased, the company owner decided to paint that wall in bright colors. The practice for the people to leave their creative messages on the wall still remains. But what also remains is the practice of painting the wall into brighter and more cheerful colures after each new graffiti and each new layoff, although everything else is falling apart. This absurd case got me thinking if it is enough to just paint it all into lively colors and pretend everything is alright, while expecting the problems to disappear on their own.

With the rise of awareness and care for the environment, it has become popular for companies and sometimes even entire countries to, just like this company is painting its walls into bright colors, paint their image into something reminiscent of green and sustainability. Greenwashing – a term which has become commonly used in the situations where eco-friendly aspects of a product, politics or companies’ goal are pointed out through marketing manipulations. In practice it looks like this: the companies spend far more resources on appearing green than actually making their business sustainable.

¨Green is the new red¨ is a saying gaining popularity. This title has been well accepted by the big companies, so the focus on social responsibility is being increasingly shift towards nature, all with the aim of increasing profit. The examples of greenwashing can be seen everywhere, starting from the attempts to make the users see a product as eco-friendly by changing the visual identity of that product. Forest and flowery designs can so often be found on the packages of very harmful chemical products. McDonalds had a Europe campaign in 2009 when they changed the logo from yellow-red to yellow-green, without changing anything in their politics and the way the company works. In Serbia there are also ˝green¨ petrol stations which have no proof of sustainability nor any other sign of being different from the remaining stations apart from that ¨green¨ label which merely serves to decoy the users.

As usual, Coca Cola set high standards when it comes to ¨green¨ marketing. It recently became possible in some countries to buy Coke in green package, the only actual difference being a little less sugar and calories. Bottles made of eco materials are also a part of eco campaign, but as it turns out, the company has no proof to support their claim that the bottles don’t affect the environment and reduce carbon footprint.  Another seemingly useful campaign conducted by Coca Cola and some ecological organisations was the restoration of wetlands and flooded areas along Danube as well as preservation of freshwater resources. Maybe this campaign would seem appealing if we didn’t know the ways this type of production excessively exploits drinking water springs which were until yesterday public good and property of all citizens. A more striking example comes from India, where fizzy beverages factories excessively used drinking water sources, thus leading the local residents to the brink of starvation since there is  insufficient water to irrigate the crops. And then some other ¨experts¨ recommended to the same residents to solve their problem by acquiring Monsanto GMO seeds which demands less water.

By seeing what lies behind brightly painted walls and by merely busting greenwashing myths, we can make the first step towards a more sustainable society which is in accordance with the nature.

/Predrag Momcilovic

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