Framed by rolling hills and farmhouses, the emerald waters of Potpecko lake were once a picturesque fishing spot in western Serbia.
But recently, the odor itself was enough to turn away visitors from a tank filled with a vast mass of garbage– one of several enormous build-ups in the area that have brought the Balkans’ garbage crisis into plain view.
” It’s very awful,” sighed Milomir Mijovic, a 34-year-old who lives nearby, as he stood near the coast of the lake whose waters were concealed underneath an 8,000 cubic metre spread of plastic bottles, styrofoam and other detritus, frozen together with sticks and mud.
Potpecko is covered by 8,000 cubic metres of waste AFP/ Vladimir Zivojinovic
” I have seven children and I am unfortunate not to be able to take them fishing, or come here in summer season to the beach,” he stated.
The Western Balkans are house to some of Europe’s wildest rivers and most beautiful systems of nature.
However stopping working waste management systems across the region are threatening the environment and public health.
Heavy rains in January highlighted the long-running issue after floods swept trash from roadsides and other unlawful dumps into rivers.
Cleaning up the clumps of trash has actually become a regular activity for dam operators AFP/ Vladimir Zivojinovic
The trash accumulated at hydro-power dams, such as in Potpecko which is part of the Lim river that flows down from Montenegro, in addition to at a dam in the beautiful Drina river in eastern Bosnia.
Clearing such trash clumps has actually become a regular activity for dam operators, though the current masses were bigger than regular.
” We can’t fix this problem, we can only repair it– we get the garbage that the municipalities leave on the banks,” stated Tomislav Popovic, who operates at the power plant on the Drina, where items varying from television sets to an old football were conjoined together in the island of garbage.
Waste management is kept back by low budgets and outdated infrastructure AFP/ Robert ATANASOVSKI
” We have even seen pictures of bulldozers pushing garbage right into the river,” he informed AFP, including that the dam collects some 8,000 cubic metres of waste each year.
Across the region, reliable waste management is held back by low spending plans, out-of-date facilities and a lack of urgency among officials and parts of the public.
Prohibited dumps prevail across the region AFP/ Robert ATANASOVSKI
Recycling is minimal in the majority of states, while illegal dumpsites are a common eyesore along rural roads and on the outskirts of towns and cities.
In North Macedonia, scenic mountain views are often ruined by plastic bags captured on tree limbs or loads of roadside garbage, ranging from developing materials to discarded sofas and washing machines.
Illegal dumps likewise surround the capital Skopje.
Just 5 kilometres (three miles) northwest of the city centre is a wasteland full of tubs, fabrics, plastic packaging and vehicle parts.
The region’s spectacular landscape has actually been ruined by the waste dumping AFP/ ELVIS BARUKCIC
In the Vardarishte area to the east, a once-official landfill that was closed 26 years ago is now an unlawful dump that stretches some 170,000 square metres (42 acres). It sits less than one kilometre away from urban neighbourhoods.
Fires from the site pump contribute to Skopje’s smog, sending up toxic fumes as residents burn things like cables to extract and offer the copper inside.
” The negative impact of these unlawful land fills is substantial,” stated Dejan Dimitrovski, a 45-year-old council member in Skopje’s Gazi Baba municipality.
An ecological activist, Dimitrovski helped expose a scandal in 2019 after he shot a company failing to appropriately treat medical waste– including syringes and vials of blood– before dumping it into Skopje’s official landfill.
It is the only land fill in the country to meet the EU’s minimum requirements.
In another current video revealed to AFP, he challenged a man who attempted to toss large of bags of trash outside his cars and truck.
It is as if North Macedonia “constructed ourselves a house, but did not develop a toilet for that apartment”, he said of the country’s insufficient waste management.
The circumstance is similarly dire in Kosovo, where just half the 1.8 million population is covered by waste-collection services.
A recent federal government report discovered the circumstance was worsening, with the variety of prohibited dumps increasing 60 percent from 2017 to 2019.
While waste collection is more extensive in Serbia, among the region’s frontrunners seeking EU membership, inadequate sorting makes landfills sites of risk.
In dumps around the nation, “heavy metals and other polluting aspects are launched directly into the environment, water and air and in this way threaten us,” stated Igor Jezdimirovic, who leads the Serbian NGO Environmental Protection Engineers.
The main location of Belgrade’s garbage for the past 40 years, the Vinca garbage dump has actually gotten notoriety as Europe’s largest unmanaged open dump.
Lying on the city’s borders, the site is only now being upgraded in a project funded in part by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Without continual public pressure, Jezdimirovic expects the authorities to keep sweeping waste management concerns under the rug.
” Those in power just hope that the problems will not surface during their terms of workplace and, in the long run, they do not discover it in their interest to handle the issue.”