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Capital’s inhabitants give only a partial thumbs-up to new underground waste containers, which many see as a good idea that’s been badly executed.
The woman carrying a garbage bag approaches one of Belgrade’s newest additions – an underground bin. Unable to squeeze her family’s trash through what seems like too small a hole - and ignoring the sticker on the side of container that reads, “Dumping trash next to the container is prohibited,” - she leaves her bag beside the new container.
“You can only dump small bags here, as nothing bigger can go through the hole,” she complains. “I can’t say that this was a clever invention.”
She is not the only one to complain about the city’s latest innovation in the field of waste disposal.
Many people believe that although underground waste containers in theory are cleaner and more practical than the old, above-ground bins, the newcomers clearly have their shortcomings.
In response to such complaints, Gradska cistoca, the city’s public utility company, told BIRN that the underground containers were installed with a view to improving the city’s overall hygiene.
The containers were chosen on the basis of the experience of other European cities, where they had turned out to be “the best solution to improve hygiene and to collect waste,” the company said.
The city decided to install underground garbage bins back in 2009. Since then, about 2,000 have been put in place around town. Belgrade plans to install another 4,000 by the end of 2013.
The first tranche of 2,000 cost about €7 million.
Blok, a Belgrade-based company, had no previous experience in this field.
Blagojevica, a firm from Mladenovac, did have some experience. But its founder, Zivko Radojicic, was the owner of several previously bankrupted companies.
Most people in Belgrade appreciate the fact that the new containers save space and are less malodorous. At the same time, many say the containers should have been designed more carefully.
“This was good idea, but it’s been poorly implemented. You cannot dump anything larger than a small bag and the bags often get stuck in the hole,” Marko, a bartender, says.
Some say the new containers don’t meet the hygienic bar, either. “They’re better than the old containers, but they should have chosen containers that can be opened by foot, as the shutters are often dirty and it’s greasy to touch them with your bare hand,” Andrea, a pensioner, complains.
The new underground waste containers also do not contain any potential for recycling, as they are not designed for the separation of the contents into recyclable components.
Katarina Pavlovic, from Serbian Green Youth, an NGO, says that although the new containers do have advantages compared to the old, above-ground containers, they don’t resolve the root problems involved in waste collection.
“We still have an issue with waste management,” she says.
“If there is no system to allow the separation of waste and recycling, if non-recyclable and recyclable waste ends up in the same container, there are no systematic differences between the underground and above-ground containers,” she maintains.
“Thus, despite all the new investment, recycling has remained an unresolved issue,” Pavlovic continues.
Another problem with the 7-million-euro-worth investment is that the containers are permeable, although they supposed to be waterproof.
“In some locations, the water leaks in when it’s raining,” one Gradska cistoca staffer admitted.
He added that, when it rains, the Gradska cistoca teams that empty the containers need assistance from another team, which pumps water from the containers into a tank.
“In these situations, it takes much more time to empty the container,” the same worker added.
City cleaners say it is yet to be seen how the containers will withstand prolonged wet weather, as most of them were only put in place in the spring and summer, when it was dry.
Gradska cistoca declined to answer any further questions from BIRN regarding this and other quality-control issues, as did representatives of the consortium hired to produce and deliver containers.
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