Vast islands of garbage cover lake, threaten to clog dam in Serbia

WATCH: Almost as far as the eye can see, garbage spreads out over Serbia's Potpecko Lake, dubbed the country's 'waste river,' lapping against the dam that crosses it. Built up over many years against a backdrop of rolling rural hills, the huge amount of plastic waste now threatens to clog up the dam's hydroelectric plant, a local activist says, and Serbian authorities have ordered an immediate clean-up.

You’ve probably heard of “garbage islands” floating in the massive Atlantic and Pacific oceans, but you’ve never seen a collection of trash — this size — on a comparatively teensy lake.

Serbia’s Potpecko Lake has received a lot of attention during the past week after shocking footage showed the water’s surface completely covered end-to-end by garbage, almost as far as the eye can see.

So where did all of this trash come from? Upstream from the lake, along the Lim river, are several landfills. Potpecko Lake is connected to the waterbody that uses the Višegrad Hydroelectric Power Plant dam, and as garbage piles up against it, locals, officials and activists alike are concerned that it could become clogged.

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Activist Sinisa Lakovic estimates the pile of waste covers some 20,000 cubic metres, with most of the garbage originating at the landfills.

“This is not a recent problem, but rather a problem of several decades, caused by the unsanitary landfills,” Sinisa, who lives in the nearby town of Priboj, told Reuters.

“This is an ecological disaster,” added local resident Marko Karadzic.

The country’s environment minister, Irena Vujovic, said a cleanup would start by Jan. 8, but as of this writing it’s unclear if the process has begun.

Authorities in Montenegro, where some of the landfills are located, had been invited to participate and “work out a long-term solution,” she told national broadcaster RTS.

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Serbia and other Balkan countries, still recovering from the wars and economic turmoil of the 1990s, have done little to tackle environmental issues, in part due to a shortage of funds.

Officials say that between 6,000 and 8,000 cubic metres of waste are pulled out of the river each year near Višegrad. Although the problem is not new, Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro have done little to address the problem even as they seek to join the European Union.

An environmental activist from the Eco Center group, Dejan Furtula, said the garbage in the nearby Drina river is a hazard for the local community because waste removed from the river is dumped on a local landfill, which is often on fire and produces toxic liquid that flows back into the river.

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“We are all in danger here, the entire ecosystem,” he said.

“Horrific and shameful,” read a headline in Serbia’s Blic daily newspaper last week, describing the Potpecko lake as a “floating landfill.”

Both the Drina and the Lim rivers are known for their emerald colour and the breathtaking scenery along their banks. Running along the border between Bosnia and Serbia, the Drina is highly popular with river rafters in the region.

If the water stays in this condition, however, it may not be popular for much longer.

With files from Reuters and The Associated Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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