Why Is Croatia Silent on New European Waste Management Guidelines?

By 22 May 2017

The European Union wants its members to recycle much more waste than they currently do. Although Zagreb is known as “the capital of garbage”, the Croatian government is silent about issues it wants to negotiate.

In March, the European Parliament voted in favour of an ambitious new policy for the sorting and recycling of waste. However, the further process of political negotiations between EU member states is not proceeding smoothly. In anticipation of negotiations with the European Commission, which are expected by individual countries and the Council of the EU, only ten countries have explicitly supported the stated goals. Croatia is among the few who do not even want to state their clear position in public. So, what does Croatia want to do with its waste, asks DW on May 22, 2017.

Green Action, the most prominent Croatian non-governmental organisation for environmental civil activism, believes that such behaviour of executive power is unacceptable. “The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy clearly wants to keep its position secret,” says Marko Košak from Green Action’s Natural Resources Protection Programme, “while the changes to the EU waste management directive would have a major impact on the waste management system and the life of citizens of Croatia in the coming decade, waste disposal is a public service, the public has the right to know in which direction is the Ministry pushing the system, and that is why we will not accept claims about the alleged necessity for secrecy in the negotiations.”

Košak notes that Green Action had sent several key questions to the Ministry in April, but the answers have not yet arrived. The questions are concerned with several issues: does Croatia support the proposed targets for solid municipal waste (minimum 65 percent of waste recycled by 2030)? Does it support the compulsory separation and recycling of bio-waste, what is its attitude towards the goals for the re-use of solid municipal waste, and towards the prevention of the generation of waste? And there is also the European goal of re-using at least 10% of packaging by 2030.

The final question was concerned with the introduction of the so-called extended producer responsibilities as binding at the EU level. In the meantime, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy gave only a general statement that it “supports the principles of the circular economy.” The secrecy ahead of negotiations is explained by a dubious thesis about the exceptional sensitivity of the process. But, it should be added here that Croatia has a special place among EU members: Croatia’s capital Zagreb is the informal “European capital of garbage”, due to the worst waste separation system in the EU.

And that can hardly be acceptable for a country that bases its economy on tourism and which often does not know how to solve the growing problem of waste disposal. A good example of Croatian policies is Dubrovnik, whose authorities have recently decided to solve their waste disposal problem by transporting garbage partly to Gunja – in the most distant part of Croatia – accompanied by financial compensation, and partly by opening a new landfill of unclassified garbage near the ecologically endangered Malostonski Bay (the bay of Mali Ston).

The current government has, at least in the beginning, left the impression that it would be more serious in dealing with this problem. However, that was the result of former Minister of Environmental Protection and Energy Slaven Dobrović, whom most of the non-governmental sector considered to be the most progressive minister in recent history. But, Dobrović has recently been dismissed, along with other ministers from MOST.

“I do not know why the Ministry is silent, but I would not immediately conclude that it means there will be a slowdown in the strong political turn towards the circular economy, which we undertook while I was in the Ministry. The processes have already started and it is difficult to stop them, and therefore I do not consider that these events are some kind of a bad omen. Although, I agree with the activists who are so cautious. In the end, however, only the deeds are important, and for now we still have just words and plans, regardless of how advanced and positive they are,” says Dobrović.