Slovenia and the EU have a problem with uncollected waste

As plastic waste increases in Slovenia, the European Union, and the world, so do the difficulties in disposing of and recycling it.


© Neja Berger

Snow-covered, wet piles of waste plastic packaging are being flown around by pigeons, crows, and even seagulls when we visit Snaga, a public utility company based in Ljubljana that manages the drinking water supply, waste waters, and the waste management system, in January 2023.

The waste storage capacity is full, and so the public service provider cannot put this waste anywhere else other than the outdoors.

Jože Gregorič from Snaga estimates that, at the time of our visit in January 2023, approximately 1,500 tonnes of municipal waste in plastic packaging is needing to be picked up.

Snaga collects approximately 400 tonnes (or 33 truckloads) of packaging waste every week into its yellow bins. The collected amount must be temporarily stored, and then forwarded to the packaging-waste management system, in which the packaging is recycled, incinerated for energy use, or disposed of.

By Snaga’s estimate, the largest mass of uncollected packaging waste was at their facilities at the end of 2018 and in the first half of 2019, when more than 4,500 tonnes were waiting for collection.

The collection and removal of packaging waste, which is carried out by public service providers such as Snaga, is financed by citizens through their refuse-collection bills. From then on, the packaging-waste system should be financed by the manufacturers or those who put the packaging on the market. Manufacturers can currently choose from six packaging waste management companies that act as intermediaries to collect packaging waste from municipalities. And those companies are supposed to pick up piles of packaging, which are temporarily stored by public service providers in Slovenia, such as the piles we photographed during our visit to Snaga.

That pile is far from unique

The problem of uncollected packaging waste has been ongoing in Slovenia for no less than a decade. Thousands of tonnes of packaging have been stored in landfills across the country for so long that the waste has lost most of its potential for recycling. At the same time, these piles are both a hygiene hazard, as rats or cockroaches settle among the food remains in the packaging, and a fire hazard, due to the methane, which is produced during the decomposition of biological residues.

In 2018 and 2020, there was so much uncollected packaging waste that the state ordered the emergency removal of more than 100,000 tonnes of it through intervention laws. Taxpayers footed the bill: they paid € 16.5 million for this.

A producer-funded packaging waste management system in Slovenia was first introduced in 2000. What followed was 20 years of inadequate regulations, legal disputes between the environment ministry and companies that entered the system as intermediaries, as well as a failure to comply with the Court of Audit’s warnings. Currently the law, which is supposed to reorganise the extended producer responsibility system, is under constitutional review.

At Pod črto (‘The Bottom Line’), an investigative media outlet, we are publishing an in-depth analysis of system deficiencies in the regulation of packaging-waste management in Slovenia. This is a key problem when it comes to reducing plastic pollution, since it is plastic packaging that represents the largest share of plastic production and plastic waste.

Globally, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled

OECD data shows that 460 million tonnes of plastic were produced globally in 2019, which is 230 times more than in 1950. The latest OECD forecasts show that the amount of plastic produced and disposed of will only increase: the mass of plastic waste generated annually will triple by 2060, unless countries introduce serious changes to reverse the trend.

As the amount of plastic produced increases, so does the amount of plastic waste.

In 2019 only 9% of the 353 million tonnes of plastic waste was recycled. 50% was landfilled, 19% was incinerated, and the remaining 22% evaded waste management altogether and was disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or ended up in terrestrial or aquatic environments. As many as 77.7 million tonnes of plastic was mismanaged or uncollected in 2019 alone, leaving it to leak into the environment where it will be decomposing for hundreds of years.

Infographic: In 2019, 9% of plastic waste was recycled, 19% was incinerated, and the remaining 22% evaded waste management altogether and was disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites, burned in open pits or ended up in terrestrial or aquatic environments.

Most plastic waste is packaging waste, which also has the shortest lifespan and is mostly discarded after single use. Plastic packaging also represents the largest share of plastic in the oceans. In the European Union, plastics account for between 80 and 85% of marine litter, with single-use plastic products accounting for 50% and fishing-related products for 27% of all waste.

Infographic: Plastic packaging has the shortest lifespan, is mostly thrown away after one