Massive landfill fire in Serbia highlights urgent need for waste management investment in Western Balkans

Massive landfill fire in Serbia highlights urgent need for waste management investment in Western Balkans
Emergency crews are working round the clock to put out the landfill fire near Uzice, western Serbia. /
By bne IntelliNews May 7, 2024

Firefighters are working round the clock to put out a fire at the Duboko landfill near the town of Uzice in western Serbia, Minister of Environmental Protection Ivana Jokic announced on May 6. 

As of mid-afternoon local time, the fire had been localised, but it is expected to take several days to fully extinguish it. 

"The situation on the ground is being improved and it seems that the fire is localized, so it can't spread. It is working around the clock, crews are here constantly, soil and water are being brought, and the fire is expected to be extinguished in the coming days," said Jokic, according to a ministry post on Facebook. 

The minister added that work is underway on a project to expand and stabilise the Duboko landfill, which will include the treatment and collection of biogas that cause fires. 

"The project will make it possible that fires do not happen in the future," Jokic said.

A state of emergency was declared in Uzice after the fire broke out on May 4. 

Video footage from the site shows a dense cloud of smoke billowing out from the landfill, which is around 2 km from Uzice. 

A ministry statement said the Serbian government is “working intensively to modernise regional and recycling centres throughout Serbia as soon as possible”, with Duboko one of the priorities. 

The ministry has invested RSD96mn (€820,000) in 2021 to expand the landfill, stabilise it and prevent the occurrence of landslides. 

Serbia faces challenges typical of the Western Balkan region, where waste generation has increased sharply in recent decades, but waste management infrastructure has in general failed to keep up. 

Governments have set ambitious recycling targets modelled on those in the EU, but recycling and even waste collection rates remain relatively low compared to most European countries, and there is a widespread need to invest into new waste management capacity. 

In a major development in 2021, Europe’s largest unmanaged landfill at Vinca, near the Serbian capital Belgrade, was shut down and replaced by a new landfill, funded by international financial institutions. 

This brought to an end the constant threat to the city’s residents of air pollution from landfill fires as well as to downstream countries on the Danube from toxic liquids that leaked into the river.