Regional landfill in Sveti Nikole: why should it be European, when it can be illegal

We have been waiting for the construction of the multi-functional regional landfill for waste management for ten years now. This landfill is multiple times more environmentally friendly than the current solution with dozens of illegal and non-standard dumps that pollute the waters, soil, and air


Sixteen non-standard municipal landfills and dozens of illegal dumps full of all sorts of waste, without a fence or protection, scattered almost near every inhabited area, in the rivers, beside agricultural plots, roads, or forests, is the truthful image of the Eastern and North-Eastern region of Macedonia, but also of the entire country. These two regions are the first that have the chance to change the situation around and, at least, to resemble the image of a European country when it comes to waste management. That will happen, of course, provided the implementation of the first regional landfill with European standards starts in the country. The landfill should be built in the zone of the villages Meckuevci–Arbasanci in the Municipality Sveti Nikole.

The project for building a waste management and treatment center in Sveti Nikole was initiated some time ago and was expected to be completed up to now. Nevertheless, ten years after the launch of the process, the construction is still tentative. The influence of politics and centers of power that promote different interests are ubiquitous, strongly confusing the population. Spreading anti-European propaganda and disinformation has been a constant part of every step of the development of the project funded by the European Union, and the response of the institutions responsible for its implementation to these attacks is almost non-existent.

The town of Sveti Nikole | Photo: Meta.mk

That contributes to the fact that the resistance of the citizens, especially those from Sveti Nikole, towards this important project remains almost the same. Regardless of the enormous significance, the construction of the first landfill with European standards has been stalled on many grounds and the publication of the bid for a contractor has also been postponed many times. That doesn’t benefit the country, especially considering that the funds provided by the European Union, mostly in the form of grants, won’t be available indefinitely.

If the project is not implemented on time, the funds will be de-committed

The EU Delegation in Skopje explains that the project is managed by the beneficiary country which means that procurement and contracting procedures are undertaken by accredited national institutions, the Ministry for Environment and Physical Planning and the Central Financing and Contracting Sector within the Finance Ministry, while the EU is only supervising before publication. The Delegation emphasizes that the publication of the bid relies heavily on the timely delivery and quality of the tender dossier.

“This investment project is financed with EU funds committed within the framework of the Multi-annual Environment and Climate Action Programme (2014-2020). If these large projects are not implemented promptly, the EU funds are decommissioned from the given Programme due to the implementation deadlines defined. Apart from the environmental benefits, prompt implementation of the project within the deadlines specified are also significant”, stressed the EU Delegation.

One of the non-standard landfills near Sveti Nikole, where waste is regularly burned | Photo: Meta.mk

In the Eastern region alone, there are eleven municipal dumps and 71 illegal junkyards lacking environmental and health protection standards. In the North-Eastern region, there are five municipal and 36 illegal dumps according to the data of the Environment Ministry. There is no data on the ramifications of the decade-long waste piling for the soil and ground waters. The potential for measurement remains uncertain, but the severity of the situation is anticipated. Additionally, ongoing fires, exacerbated by the dumps, are further deteriorating air quality.

To date, 18 municipalities in these regions are working on closing down more than a hundred non-standard dumps. The junkyards hold approximately 3.000 cubic metres of waste which will be moved to some of the other landfills. Those with up to 10.000 cubic meters of waste are to be closed without a biogas collection system, while the bigger landfills will be closed with a biogas collection system.

The 10 million Euro project was launched in 2021 and consists of two phases including waste removal, installing fences and channels for atmospheric waters on site, establishing a system for monitoring ground waters, and site supervision to avoid new waste piling.

As part of this project, the municipal non-standard landfill in Sveti Nikole will have to be closed down, located several kilometers from the town, on the hill, and open with no fence or protection. The accumulated waste is easily accessible to both animals and people, posing a significant contamination risk. Despite posing significant health risks, vines are cultivated adjacent to the landfill. As is the case with many landfills in the country, this one in Sveti Nikole was on fire recently.

Vines near a non-standard landfill near St. Nicholas | Photo: Meta.mk

Waste management according to European standards

The new site where the regional landfill is supposed to be built is further away from Sveti Nikole, right after the village Meckuevci, which faced a declining population for quite some time, with only a few weekend houses left. The depression is several hundred meters long, and instead of open space on more than 100 sites, the waste from these two regions will be stored and treated in compliance with European standards in the same place.

According to the Environmental Impact Assessment study (EIA) and the information provided by the Ministry of Environment, the regional landfill will consist of systems for collection and primary selection of waste, transportation, loading stations, secondary selection of waste, and generation of raw materials for recyclers, extraction of materials and depositing the waste that cannot be further re-used commercially as raw-material.

In addition, a grid for extracting biogas from the landfill for further energy use is also provided. That would complete a cycle for laying down the foundations of the circular waste economy in this region. Part of the work of the waste management center is the construction and management of a sanitary landfill for municipal waste.

Ana Karanfilova-Maznevska, head of the Sector for Waste Management in the Ministry of Environment, says that the ramifications of the current waste treatment are disastrous. She is convinced that the postponement of the construction and the big resistance of the local population of Sveti Nikole and some of the public is due to the lack of awareness about the importance of this project that will bring about both environmental and economic benefits, above all, to the municipality and its inhabitants, as well as to both regions.

The location where the regional landfill was supposed to be built until now | Photo: Meta.mk

“The implementation of this project will open sustainable jobs, mostly for the Municipality Sveti Nikole. In fact, the new jobs will require persons with or without skills for, initial mechanical sorting, then for the facility for mechanical and biological treatment, row-composting, collection and transportation of waste, local facilities for waste management also in the central landfill. The indirect benefit and effect of the project is also significant for the Municipality Sveti Nikole because it creates indirect employment opportunities in activities such as recycling, maintenance, supply of goods and services etc.”, says Karanfilova-Maznevska.

The center would serve approximately 370,000 people who generate about 112,094 tons of waste of per year. Households would have two bins, for recycling waste and for combined waste. The gardening waste will be collected separately and taken for composting. The system will consist of six local waste management facilities in Berovo, Makedonska Kamenica, Vinica, Stip, Rankovce, and Kumanovo, and a central facility in Sveti Nikole.

The local facilities will have loading stations, and the one in Kumanovo will have the biggest capacity of 52,000 tons of waste per year, while the smallest facility will be that in Berovo with a capacity of 4,200 tons per year, including small composting units to collect garden waste. Special vehicles will transport the garden waste to the plants to be crushed and treated from 8 to 20 weeks before the final product is packed into bags. The local plants will have a place to collect mixed or special waste from citizens such as construction debris and rubble, bulky waste such as mattresses, furniture, carpets, etc., metal items, scrap metal, radiators, etc., municipal hazardous waste such as paints, medicines, cleaning agents, etc. and electric and electronic waste. The metal, plastic, paper, carton, and glass will be classified and sorted, while mixed waste will compacted and transported to the central waste management facility in Meckuevci.

Sign in the area of village Meckuevci | Photo: Meta.mk

The main site will feature a waste treatment facility comprising mechanical pre-treatment, shredding, processing, and screening of non-ferrous metals, wet fraction composting, refining, and ripening, with a capacity of 75,100 tons per year. Additionally, there will be a recycling plant for sorting paper, plastic, glass, and metal waste, with a capacity of 25,600 tons per year, along with a small composting plant capable of handling 630 tons annually. Furthermore, a new regional sanitary landfill will be established with a total capacity of 646,000 cubic meters or an annual capacity of 47,100 tons of waste.

The landfill will be outfitted with a gas collection system compliant with Macedonian and EU standards. It will feature a thermal destructor with a closed-type burner, with a discharge collection system via pipes. Additionally, on-site treatment will occur at the central station for wastewater treatment before discharge.

Per the project’s feasibility study, the current carbon dioxide emissions from the open dumps in the regions are estimated to be approximately 85,118 tons per year. If nothing changes, that quantity will increase to 98,390 tons by 2045. In contrast, the flow of greenhouse gases in the new landfill will be from 2,015 to 3,933 tons in 2045.

Mayor Dejan Vladev does not give statements on the topic

Regardless of the obvious benefits of this project, the experience from the decade-long process of planning the regional landfill which cannot even come close to its finalization, showed that the involvement of the citizens is extremely important in designing the systems of waste management. Communicating with all groups of stakeholders, working with young people, and responsibly interacting with the media proved to be key factors for the success of such projects. To avoid the influence of the power centers and their interest, the public and the citizens must be able to base their opinions and decisions on credible sources.

Sveti Nikole | Photo: Meta.mk

The inhabitants of Sveti Nikole are against the regional landfill even today, and every one of them has his/her own reasons for that. The resistance is mostly due to the regional approach and the fear of taking in the waste from many municipalities to a single one. The local government is also opposing this capital project as a result of which the Ministry of Environment revoked the competencies of Mayor Dejan Vladev and the Municipality in April 2023. Vladev did not respond to the persistent inquiries of Meta.mk to explain his position regarding the postponement of the project and said that he would not give statements on the topic.

In 2020, the Councils of all municipalities from these two regions adopted decisions for establishing a public inter-regional enterprise for waste management, a process that was stalled by Sveti Nikole. Finally, in February 2021, the Council of this municipality passed the decision and the public enterprise “Echo East-North-East” was established. A month after that – in March – for the first time, a bid for selecting the contractor of the regional landfill was announced. In 2022, the Council of Sveti Nikole demanded a referendum so that the citizens of the municipality could express their (dis)agreement with the construction of the regional landfill. Last October, after revoking the competencies of Mayor Vladev, the director of “Echo East-North-East” was appointed a representative from the local government from Kumanovo instead of Municipality Sveti Nikole.

Environmental pollution in the Eastern and Northeastern regions of the country from illegal dumping is extremely high | Photo: Meta.mk

Professor Dame Dimitrovski from the Machinery Faculty says that all successful waste management projects are directly related to broad and in-depth public involvement in project activities, starting from the youngest generations to the households and industry. He stresses that the benefits of the Eastern and North-Eastern planning regions from the construction of a regional landfill in Sveti Nikole will be big, bearing in mind the fact that modern sanitary landfills work and are built on favorable grounds, with technology and materials enabling the body of the landfill to operate without any effects, or with minor effects, on the nearby media of the environment.

“This newly established system has to substitute the current so-called landfills that I would call dumps. They are in many locations where – organized or not – waste is piled for decades. They have nothing in common with sanitary landfills or with conscientious and regular waste treatment. Not only is the entire unselected municipal waste thrown here, but the waste from these dumps directly pollutes the soil, rivers, springs, and ground waters and has an unpleasant odor for the environment. It is also often burnt, thereby polluting the wider environment”, says Dimitrovski.

He stresses that proper waste treatment is not cheap, but from a long-term perspective, it is much less expensive than non-treatment and creates dumps and unregulated landfills.

“In the dumps and junkyards used today, we can see the ugliest image of piling combined waste, while in a modern sanitary landfill, there should be a process of selection, re-use of waste as raw-material, extraction of materials and energy agents and depositing inert waste in an area that does not pollute the environment. We can take the example of some of our nearby countries, like the system in Slovenia. There, only six percent of the created waste ends up in a landfill, while the rest is re-used, recycled, composted and materials and energy agents are extracted”, explains Dimitrovski.

Environmental pollution from illegal dumps is enormous

Without the required infrastructure for waste management, as is the case in almost the entire country, with the exception of the Skopje region where the landfill “Drisla” is operational, even greater environmental pollution from inappropriate practices and illegal depositing and burning of waste in the open is an actual liability. That leads to the pollution of soil, and water springs and spoils the quality of air, which is a health risk for people. Inappropriate waste management may lead to the spreading of disease carriers such as insects and rodents, including the release of hazardous substances into the environment. This can bring about public health issues such as spreading contagious and respiratory diseases.

“Overall, constantly postponing the construction of the regional landfill may impose long-term consequences for the environment, public health, economy, and social welfare of the community. It is essential to give priority to the timely development of the infrastructure for sustainable waste management to mitigate these risks and promote a more sustainable society”, deems Blaze Josifovski, President of the civic organization “Be Green”.

On the other hand, he emphasizes that with the application of strict environmental regulations and monitoring measures, the construction of a landfill with European standards would minimize pollution and protect natural echo systems thereby preventing the contamination of soil, water, and air. These contemporary facilities also promote sustainable development by redirecting valuable material for recycling and contributing to renewed resources and a circular economy.


This article was written with the support of Journalismfund Europe


Disinformation surrounding the project of the first regional landfill: Neither medical nor hazardous waste will be incinerated in Sveti Nikole

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