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Carelessness is Costly

Ecology has proven to be among the greatest challenges of Croatia’s membership in the EU, and one that this youngest member state has yet to resolve seriously

It was almost 15 years ago that a huge dump appeared suddenly in the vicinity of the village of Biljani Donji near Croatia’s fifth largest city of Zadar.

The “Black hill”, as it was dubbed by locals and environmental activists, very quickly became a potential environmental time bomb on the outskirts of this city that’s located almost in the middle of the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.

The entire case became a genuine nightmare for the Croatian authorities, which – following the country’s 2013 EU accession – faced demands from Brussels to resolve this major environmental problem urgently. However, despite the European Commission having ordered that Zagreb clean up the massive piles of waste dumped near the Dalmatian coast and restore the territory, almost nothing has been done to solve the problem.

This ultimately ended up with the Black Hill case appearing before the EU Court of Justice, twice! Initially in 2018, when the European Commission sued Croatia via that court located in Luxembourg, which culminated in mid 2019 with the passing of a verdict requiring Croatia to clean up the illegal waste dump in Ravni Kotari. Nevertheless, Croatia’s subsequent failure to do anything to implement that court decision led to a judicial second-half, with the European Commission again reporting Zagreb to the EU Court of Justice early last year.

The Black Hill problem emerged in 2010, when a Zagreb-based company was tasked with slag waste disposal and reclamation at Šibenik’s former Electrode and Ferroalloy Factory (TEF). The company extracted the metal tailings from the waste accumulated at the Šibenik plant, but not knowing what to do with the remaining waste resulted in it being “temporarily” deposited on a leased agricultural plot in Biljani Donji. Approximately 140,000 tons of slag waste was thus “taken care of”, which has been covered extensively in the Croatian media.

Next came a bureaucratic predicament when the authorities requested that the company solve the Black Hill problem. Following unsuccessful attempts to identify buyers interested in purchasing this waste, the company went bankrupt and the waste was left to fester in Biljani Donji.

The Black Hill saga is still awaiting an epilogue. Estimates suggest that reclamation of the illegal dump site alone will cost Croatian taxpayers around 20 million euros, while the state will also have to pay larger fines.

Black Hill is just one of the ecological problems confronting Croatia today. Ecology has ultimately shown itself to be among the greatest challenges for Croatia’s EU membership, which experts had warned about for years prior to accession.

In one such analysis, conducted by the Zagreb Institute for International Relations back in 2012, it was estimated that Croatia would have to invest as much as 10 billion euros in the implementing of EU environmental directives over the course of the next ten years.

It was determined in 2012 that Croatia would have to invest as much as €10 billion to implement EU environmental directives over the next ten years

Despite awareness of the need to preserve the environment having risen markedly in Croatia over recent decades, this youngest member of the Union continues to struggle to implement the environmental regulations of the EU.

In fairness, strides forward have been taken over recent years, such that citizens, for example, now have to separate their household waste. This entails houses and apartments having several obligatory waste receptacles, because discarded paper, cardboard, plastics, metals and biowaste must no longer be disposed of as “classic” waste. However, it turns out that problems emerge during the next steps, which include taking care of discarded waste and its further utilisation. In some cases, this all threatens to cause a true ecological disaster.

We were given a reminder of this with the late 2023 collapse of a huge waste mountain at Zagreb’s Jakuševec landfill, located on the southeastern periphery of the city, that left several workers injured. Zagreb’s waste management issue has been “dragging” on for years already, and we still await a solution.

Interestingly, Jakuševec isn’t the only case of this kind of problem in Croatia. There is also dispute over the Marišćina landfill in the vicinity of Rijeka and the Kaštijun dump in the Pula area. Residents of Rijeka and Pula don’t want potential ecological bombs in their immediate vicinity, while the inhabitants of surrounding local communities – as is the case in Zagreb – don’t want city waste dumped on their territory.

A problem has also arisen with regard to the management of waste from the Krško Nuclear Power Plant, which is located in Slovenia and co-owned by Croatia. In accordance with an agreement between Ljubljana and Zagreb, Croatia is obliged to handle part of the waste produced by this nuclear plant that’s located just 50 kilometres west of Zagreb.

Croatia offered to store this waste at the former Čekrezovac army barracks on Mount Trgovska Gora, near the town of Dvor. However, this plan caused concern among the local population, as well as causing problems in relations with neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, due to the planned nuclear waste disposal site being located close to its territory. Despite the Croatian authorities having claimed that storage of this waste isn’t dangerous and that they will ensure adherence to the highest standards of safety, environmental protection and human health, Sarajevo opposes the construction of this waste storage facility in the immediate vicinity of the river Una, which forms part of the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In contrast to its waste issues, Croatia has had better luck with renewable energy sources, which form one of the essential components of the EU’s “green policy”.

According to the latest Eurostat data available, 2022 saw the EU’s renewable energy sources produce 23 per cent of all energy consumed in the Union that year. Croatia is thus above the EU average in this aspect, given that renewables account for a 29 per cent share of total energy produced in the country.

Even though most of these ‘renewable’ sources relate to water, with other RES forms utilised less, the fact remains that RES use has been on the rise in Croatia in recent years. It nonetheless remains significantly less than it should and could be. It is true that today’s Croatia has very few unsightly scenes like abandoned old cars and household appliances discarded along riverbanks or in forests, yet a problem remains when it comes to the organised management of waste generated by large cities and industry, with everyone washing their hands of the issue.

Relevant laws exist, of course, but they often lack the bylaws that would enable them to be implemented in practice. It also seems that there is a lack of the genuine willingness required to solve the country’s environmental problems.

DISCORD

Although Croatian citizens today separate their household waste, problems emerge during the subsequent recycling stages, which in some cases also threaten to lead to ecological disaster.

CHALLENGE

The biggest problem is the organised management of waste generated by large cities and industry, with everyone washing their hands of the issue.

PROGRESS

Solar collectors are increasingly appearing on the roofs of houses and other buildings in Croatia, while solar and wind power plants are also being constructed.

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