Waste is one of the main environmental challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Even though public service delivery has expanded over the last decade, further developments are needed. In addition, the interlinkages between the waste management sector and social equity must be recognized and considered in waste policy. The Environmental Strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH ESAP 2030+) aims to bring about change in the sector.

Key issues regarding waste management include high operational costs, insufficient waste collection, very low waste separation, waste disposal at illegal landfills and low levels of public awareness. The BiH ESAP 2030+ project seeks to address these pressing issues that would allow the existing waste management system to be upgraded. In order to ensure a comprehensive solution, the relationships between gender equality, social equity and poverty (GESEP) and waste management in BiH must be taken into consideration.

Sarajevo landfill, Bosnia and Herzegovina Photo credit: Jasmin Agovic

Rural vs urban areas

Currently, people living in rural areas are more likely to lack access to waste collection services in BiH. Around 77% of residents in rural and urban areas have access to waste collection services, but coverage in rural areas is much lower than in urban ones. As a result, households in rural areas without waste collection services are forced to organize their own waste collection and transport, which often means disposing of the waste at illegal dumpsites. There are about 2300 illegal dumpsites across BiH and approximately a quarter of disposed waste in BiH ends up on these illegal sites. Further improving service coverage, especially to marginalized areas, is thus crucial to improving the environment in BiH.

Illegal dumpsite, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo credit: Jasmin Agovic

Challenges and opportunities for the Roma community

Changes in waste management are of particular relevance for Roma communities in BiH. Because they often populate informal settlements, Roma households are more likely to lack access to waste collection services because they do not have legal registration for their shelters. They are also more likely to live close to landfills and poor sewage systems, which can present a significant threat to their health, especially for children. Moreover, because they lack economic opportunities due to discrimination and social exclusion, many Roma work in the informal sector, especially garbage picking and selling. This means that they are also at risk from medical waste that has not been properly disposed, a key concern in the context of Covid-19. It also means that the closure of municipal dumpsites – as waste policies in BiH have favoured regional or multi-municipal landfills over municipal ones – threatens the livelihood of Roma waste pickers.

It is thus important to improve social inclusion in new waste management systems and make formal employment opportunities in the waste management sector available to those who are most affected by the change. If the landfills close, some Roma waste pickers have expressed their willingness to take on official recycling or similar jobs if they were given fixed wages and regular working conditions.

Workers at a recycling plant. Photo credit: Halfpoint Images/GettyImages

Gender implications

Social inclusion regarding gender and age differences are also important to consider when tackling waste management challenges. Generally, women are more likely to reduce waste and sort recyclable waste at home and appear to be slightly more inclined than men to take certain steps to decrease their household waste, such as avoiding over-packaged goods, drinking tap water instead of buying bottled water and donating or selling items for reuse. A study on attitudes towards food waste in BiH has shown that women tend to experience more guilt when discarding food and are more likely to plan food purchases to avoid waste.

Woman organizes garbage containers for recycling. Photo credit: Anton Petrus/GettyImages

When designing awareness campaigns about reducing waste and recycling, it is important to recognize and challenge traditional gender roles. As there is a risk of designing recycling strategies targeting only women and relieving other stakeholders from their responsibilities, addressing other audiences is an important goal to achieve. In addition, social inclusiveness should be considered even when designing waste bins, paper and bottle banks in recycling facilities so that they avoid creating barriers for disabled and elderly persons to use them.

More information:

Find out more about waste management and social equity in the discussion brief “Waste management in Bosnia and Herzegovina:  a gender equality, social equity and poverty reduction lens”

A broader introduction to the interlinkages between GESEP and different BiH environmental issues is available in this Q&A on the topic.