Belgrade’s Sea of Trash

The beginning of the week will obviously be reserved for rants on this blog.  While Belgrade does have a rich culture, amazing history and vibrant modern life, the city does have its innumerable flaws and I intend to at least mention every one.  What one cannot help but notice in Belgrade is the trash. It’s painfully evident on every street and corner, it’s insulting to locals like myself and despicable to visitors. In today’s day in age, it is nothing less than ridiculous.

Yesterday, I was walking around what happens to be one of the nicest family oriented, typical parts of Belgrade, Šumice and Denkova Bašta (“Little Woods” and “Denko’s Garden” just for the irony of it), with a visitor from Zagreb. As I was telling her a little about the two neighborhoods, I found I had to watch my step. As usual, there was trash everywhere, from empty PET and foil packages to bags of trash left blatantly on the corner. I pointed it out and emphasized what a problem this has been for decades in Belgrade. She then told be about the several ways this was being handled in Zagreb and of their, she claims, very efficient and now active recycling habits.  So there’s proof that an ex YU country with a similar economy to ours, albeit smaller, can handle the issues we can’t even seem to grasp. To make things worse, I came home after our walk and decided to search the news online for any developments in the city’s plans for this particular issue. Guess what.  I found several articles, the last one from just two days ago, on the great success of the city’s “Clean Up Belgrade” project.

To quote the article on, bearing yesterday’s date: “Serbian Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Oliver Dulić says that 20-30 per cent of illegal dumps were removed in the Let’s Clean Up Serbia campaign, Tanjug news agency reported Sunday.”

Did Tanjug just forget to mention that the contents of these illegal dumps can now be found scattered throughout Belgrade for our viewing pleasure? Every other article I found tells us of the several solutions the city has planned for this huge and ongoing problem. Some of these articles and plans date from 2007. We are well into the 3rd quarter of 2009 and, I’m sorry to say, the results aren’t there.

What I find particularly fascinating is that the recycling industry is actually quite a profitable one and this country is relatively equipped for it. Hello??? Hm… let’s see: hard times globally, jobs needed locally for both qualified and unqualified workforce, trash everywhere and an existing, very inactive, very viable industry just waiting to go. I don’t get it. What’s the city waiting for. I’m stupid. Explain it to me. In an article from 2007, B92 claims that the recycling industry in developed countries sees $160M a year and employs over 1.5M workers. I am well aware that governments deal in much bigger numbers than that, but are several million dollars of profit and hundreds of jobs chump change? Not worth the time and trouble of cleaning up the city while they’re at it? Granted the root of Belgrade’s battle with trash lies in the ill mannered ways of its citizens whose mothers obviously didn’t teach them not to litter and have respect for others who share their space. How about generating some more cash flow by passing a couple of half-ass laws and fining people for littering? There’s a novel idea!

In 2000, during their now historical battle vs Milošević for democracy, the political parties that made up “DOS” made several promises. Let’s ignore the rest of the lagging developments for a moment and concentrate on the promises made by DOS’s candidate for Mayor of Belgrade, Milan St. Protić, in an interview and on their behalf: “We can’t make any promises of large projects, although we would like that, and therefore we will concentrate on things that can be done quickly and be most useful to city’s inhabitants. Among those things is getting city transit (buses, etc.) in order, as well as parking and the rest of the city transport system, the cleanup so we don’t need do dig our way out of garbage an containers, and after that we will go step by step.” Sounds realistic enough. So why is the transportation system only barely improved and the trash still in place a full 9 years later?

My son was a nine-month-old baby when the Serbian Democrats came into power in Belgrade. My son will be 10 this December and, if nothing else, I have taught him not to throw trash anywhere other than in a designated container. I have also managed to teach him a thing or two about caring for the environment and we recycle as much as is humanly possible in this country. My son keeps asking me why there is only one container fro the collection of PET packages at his school, and why don’t we (our city) recycle paper more, and why does he always have to walk so much to the nearest trash can, and how come everyone just throws things on the floor and no one says anything, and why don’t they get someone to clean up the park in Šumice where he plays…? The questions are with much reason and they deserve an answer. Gentlemen of the government of the City of Belgrade, this is your future voter asking. Do you have any plausible answers at all for him?

11 responses to “Belgrade’s Sea of Trash

  1. “…citizens whose mothers obviously didn’t teach them…”

    So it’s just mothers’ fault? Why not fathers’, too? I suspect it’s a remnant of the patriarchal mindset in a country where mothers are still blamed for everything (and daughters are still called “son” — or “sine” — because just being female is somehow a bad thing).

  2. I especially agree about the rubbish, especially along the Sava, where I often cycle. It is simply a disgrace to the city, which surely deserves better.

    I was involved in anti-litter campaigns back home in UK, (where it is also a huge problem, especially from fast food outlets like McDonald’s). One thing I learned from that experience is that it is not enough to shame the authorities into effective clean up action – although that certainly has to be done. The REAL answer is to educate people not to throw stuff in the street or the rivers in the first place.
    Sadly, I suspect that is an even bigger mountain to climb here in Serbia.

  3. David, I couldn’t agree more. I mentioned above that I believe the terrible habits (manners) of most locals to be the core of the problem. However, I also believe that educating them not only falls under the jurisdiction, but also under the obligations of the city officials. Let’s hope someone sets an example and we see some real results soon!

  4. To begin with, I was wondering whether to even approve this comment as it is way off subject.
    As for the above quoted excerpt – it is a figure of speech and if you decide to follow my blog, or had taken the time to read any of my other entries, you would realize that I often use familiar figures of speech, word play, puns, and even vernacular terms and phrases. It is not the remnant of anything whatsoever. I am a single, working mother (female, by the way), and have seen approximately a third of the globe thus far – I don’t do remnants.
    Now to address your somewhat contradictory exaple of what represents the “remnant of the patriarchal mindset”: doesn’t calling one’s female offspring “son” actually show a parent equating a daughter with a son? As in not differentiating a female child from a male one – both are “sons”, right?
    In the future, I will kindly ask you to a) stick to the subject of the post in question and b) not insult wahtever intelligence I have by insinuating that I am a bigot (unless you have one or more valid argument to back the insinuation).
    I thank you for taking the time to read the post.

  5. “… I was wondering whether to even approve this…”
    Yeah, censorship is a great way for a new blogger to attract people to her blog. (sarcasm) Just like from the good old days of Milosevic and his Ministry of Information… You basically just confirmed what I already knew. The problem with Serbia is much greater than (physical) trash. It is mental trash. If you think that a parent is equating a daughter with a son by calling her “son”, there is obviously something wrong with you. Why aren’t parents calling their sons “daughters”? Is a child only worthy if it’s a son? Which reminds me of the movie Virdzina…. Anyway, your arrogant tone doesn’t impress me at all. I couldn’t care less if you’ve seen a third of the globe. I’ve seen a half, so what? Which, by the way, is also off topic.

  6. Oh, I see I touched a nerve…
    a) This is not a public information service but my personal blog. Censorship is my prerogative.
    b) Should you submit any more unargumented comments of this nature, they will not be approved. Might I suggest you spend the abundant free time you seem to have commenting on YouTube vids in the future?

  7. Komšinice, ja se izvinjavam što odgovaram na malo starije unose, ali tek sad sam naleteo na blog, i sviđa mi se (očigledno). 🙂

    Elem, in my own humble opinion, the “Belgrade trash problem” is largely affected by the city officials’ deviated list of priorities. We got the recycling dumpsters roughly a month ago, whilst we had the “dog poo” bins almost ten years ago. Tell me, how is dog feces more threatning than plastic?

  8. “Elem, in my own humble opinion, the ‘Belgrade trash problem’ is largely affected by the city officials’ deviated list of priorities.” Yes, yes, yes! Well put!
    While canine and feline excrement are just as dangerous (they carry dangerous bacteria and viruses, e.g. escherichia coli), plastic and other non biodegradable materials (especially when used and thrown out) also carry bacteria and viruses… and they kill our very sources of healthy food and water. Someone definitely needs to get off their ass and do something that takes very little but goes a long waz!
    A kakvo izvinjenje? Pa kamo lepe sreće kad bi svi tako čitali i staro i novo po svim blogovima. Evo, komšija, ja se sada baš šetam po tvom 🙂

  9. Uh, ovajdićeš se. 😀 Kad sutra proveriš ovde, verovatno ćeš zateći po jedan komentar na svaki post, pošto lečim nesanicu. Ali moram da te pohvalim, ovo što sam dosad pročitao me oduševilo, a mene je teško oduševiti. Samo tako nastavi…

    I’m not very worried about viruses and bacteria (grew up in Belgrade during the nineties, what can I say, used to play on a heap of used heroin syringes and dog/people shit. Kind of bulks up your immune system.:D), though they are a problem, but the “non biodegradable” part of the story is what’s concerning, in a global way (plus, beer always tastes better from a glass bottle:)).

  10. Hehe. Ja ne lečim nesanicu… već živim sa njom od 15. godine 🙂 Otud i puna glava potpuno nepotrebnih činjenica i zanimljivosti koje ću gledati i nadalje da “utopim” u ovaj i druge blogove. Drago mi je da ti je zanimljivo. A što se piva u staklenoj flaši tiče… ma uze mi reči iz usta 😀

  11. I think both dog crap and plastic bottles (the Sava riverside is a crying shame at the moment) are also symptomatic of public attitude. Every pile of crap, every plastic bottle in the river, was put there by someone who simply didn’t care about the effect on others of their actions. Same goes for parking on pavements, pedestrian crossings, etc. Why?