Illegal Waste in Kosovo

The Kosovo Waste Law No. 04/L-060 of 24 May 2012 is an example of how Kosovo’s laws lack the capacity to enforce municipal waste management, including both landfill and waste separation (European Commission 2013, p. 39). As the European Commission reported in 2014, ‘there are serious challenges to implementing] the 2012 law, since the capacity of municipalities, waste and landfill operators and overall funding for investments is still very low. There is no appropriate infrastructure for storing or treating hazardous waste. Therefore, Kosovo either exports its hazardous waste or mixes it with household waste in landfill sites’ (European Commission 2014, p. 47). The recent Kosovo Progress Report of the European Commission (2015) offers a depressing picture of the efforts to create the required infrastructure to deal with waste management in the country. Even though the government has approved secondary legislation on waste and on the list of environmental pollutants, basic waste management concepts and definitions need to be developed, including recycling and recovery.

MESP and KEPA have identified more than 400 illegal landfills, but their work did not cover the Serbian municipalities of the north (MESP and KEPA 2014, p. 59). According to the report, ‘currently in Kosovo, landfill closure would not be an alternative solution to the problem, because it would consequently create even greater illegal landfills’ (MESP and KEPA 2014, p. 30).

On the other hand, and exposing the limits of using a legal definition of environmental crime, no matter how polluting mining and industrial activities are, they cannot be considered environmental crimes if they do not breach a permit, license, or threshold establishing the nature of environmental damage that can be criminally prosecuted. However, most mining and industrial activities in Kosovo cause damage to the environment and human health to such an extent that Kosovo is considered the most polluted country in Europe (World Bank 2013). Article 349 of the Criminal Code criminalizes ‘allowing unlawful construction or unlawful operation of plants and installations that pollute the environment’. However, this provision must be further developed in order to concretize the activities and behavior that can be qualified as criminal. Moreover, it requires enforcement and the commitment of public authorities, who up to this point, have been struggling to close, modernize, and restructure obsolete and polluting plants, mines, and industrial complexes.

In Kosovo, no authorities have dealt with the management of waste or pollution produced by industrial and mining activities. Before the war, the mining sector was public, but no legal instruments were in place to develop the adoption and updating of standards of environmental protection and pollution control. This situation has led to serious air pollution, lead poisoning in the water, and uncontrolled dumpsites all over the country. The MESP and KEPA Report on the State of Waste and Chemicals (2014) presents a dramatic situation: ‘Almost every industry in the past has inherited landfills or hazardous wastes which have negative effects on the environment. Also, besides these waste disposed in landfills, especially heavy metals, substances of various aggregate forms have remained for a long time without being used in facilities, warehouses, and industrial units’ (p. 38). These problems must be solved before new companies take over the mining and industrial sectors. In this regard, MESP and KEPA have recommended that during privatization, the environmental problems inherited from the past should be addressed and the new owners should take responsibility for the rehabilitation of those sites (MESP and KEPA 2014).

Furthermore, addressing the impact of mines and power-generation facilities on air, water, and land represent the most difficult challenges of complying with EU standards. Most energy in Kosovo is supplied by old, unreliable, and inefficient coal power plants. One of them, Kosovo A, is considered to be the most polluting plant in Europe and is scheduled to be closed in 2017 (USAID Kosovo 2012; World Bank 2011). Its awful track record has led the authorities to consider resettling the villages most affected by its pollution. A Draft Law on the Environmentally Endangered Zone of Obiliq and its Surroundings was prepared by the Assembly of Kosovo in 2013 but has not yet been adopted. Article 6.2, dedicated to the adoption of measures to be taken against sources of pollution, envisages the big steps needed to be taken by authorities and companies to deal with pollution. But these measures cannot be adopted at this point due to the lack of resources and legal instruments.

The Trepca Industrial Complex consists of several mines, three ore concentrators with tailings disposal facilities, a lead smelter, a zinc smelter, and several industrial sites and auxiliary facilities (World Bank 2011, p. 49). It was once the largest industry and employer in Kosovo by far, but since 1999 most activities have stopped, and today a marginal level of mining and ore processing remains for maintenance and mine development purposes. Both the lead and zinc smelters have been fully withdrawn from operation. A report by World Bank (2013) found that the mines and concentrators had inadequate environmental controls before 1999 and that this had not changed. So most environmental problems are due to the presence of the past. Mining pollution is mostly the result of environmental emissions—dust as well as discharges to ground and surface water—from mining sites that have not been reopened or decommissioned and has little relationship with current production. Of special concern are mines’ tailing ponds and dams/ heaps, contaminated dust, erosion, and runoff, seepage, and groundwater contamination (World Bank Report 2013, p. 66).

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