Where do used batteries and light bulbs from Serbia go?

Burned-out light bulbs and spent batteries in Serbia most often end up in trash cans, and then in landfills, where they can end up in the food chain through the soil and groundwater. Less than 10% of batteries and light bulbs are adequately disposed, so most of this hazardous waste ends up in nature where it releases lead, cadmium, mercury and other highly toxic materials.

The only recycling center for light bulbs in Serbia of the company Božić i sinovi processes up to 100 tons per year, or only 5% of the quantities placed on the market. On the other hand, we do not have a facility for processing batteries. Estimates are that every citizen consumes one kilogram of batteries per year, while, for example, in 2020, only 17 tons went to Germany, where we only send them, for recycling.

The main reasons for this balance are the lack of a developed and sustainable collection network, subsidies, adequate legal regulations and quality inspection supervision. In order to change that, NALED and German Development Cooperation, in partnership with the companies Božić i sinovi, E-reciklaža and the Association of Recyclers of Serbia, launched the project "Increasing the recycling rate of batteries and light bulbs".

- The solution for better management of batteries is the introduction of incentives for the establishment of a collection system and the provision of special containers, as well as for the export of this waste, because setting up a recycling facility at this time would be unprofitable, and four euros per kilogram of batteries are needed to collect and treat them properly. When it comes to light bulbs, the state has introduced incentives, but it is necessary to expand the collection network to local governments and enable the import of waste light bulbs from the region in order to make better use of the capacities of the existing recycling center, which can process up to 25 million light bulbs per year - explains Sanela Veljkovski. Project Manager of the German Organization for International Cooperation (GIZ).

According to her, in the circular economy, every waste is actually a resource for further production, but this concept has not yet taken root in our country. Both batteries and light bulbs would be treated more successfully if there was a more developed collection system for citizens in retail stores, educational and public institutions. That is why the partners in the project launched pilot actions and set up disposal containers at seven locations in the institutions of the City of Kragujevac, the Belgrade municipality of Stari Grad, as well as at 13 faculties of the University of Belgrade. The aim is to demonstrate how a sustainable collection model could work in practice, as well as to increase the recycling rate of batteries and light bulbs in these environments by 20%.

As a reminder, Serbia has not yet closed chapter 27 - Environment and climate change, as part of which an assessment of the costs of organizing the recycling system was made. Investments for compliance with the directive on batteries and accumulators would amount to around 3.5 million euros, while for the directive on electrical and electronic waste, which includes light bulbs, it would be necessary to allocate around 25 million euros. The effects of these investments would be multi-faceted, from preserving a healthy environment and health to strengthening the circular economy.

The state is thinking about solving the problem and it can be seen from the Waste Management Program in Serbia for the period 2022-2031, which plans to establish 169 recycling yards for the separate collection of hazardous waste from households, which will be operational by the end of 2028. Depending on the population density, it is planned to establish one or more yards in each municipality, where citizens would bring waste that must not be placed in bins, including used batteries and light bulbs.

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