Interview with Ms Aleksandra Vučinić, Head of the Department for Circular Economy and Sustainable Development of the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia

As the Head of the Department for Circular Economy and Sustainable Development, Ms Vučinić is at the Ministry of Environmental Protection responsible for coordination, planning and implementation of activities for the introduction of circular economy in planning documents focused on the achievement of sustainable development, but she is also a kind of spokesperson and advocate for these principles in everyday life. She has carefully built her career within the Ministry, carrying out key responsibilities in the Waste Management Department and the Department for Integrated Permits. Due to her long-lasting commitment to sustainable development policies, she actively participates in conferences and expert meetings in this field, as well as events aimed at raising environmental awareness and educating new generations in accordance with the principles of environmental protection

IED Sebia: Ms Vučinić, could you please share with us how the idea for organising a training course on the application of environmental regulations for students of the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy of the University of Belgrade, implemented by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, came into life, and what were the main goals of that initiative? As the initiator of this training course, what key knowledge points and skills did you want to convey to the students, and are there any plans to organise similar training courses in the future?

Aleksandra Vučinić: The Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy in Belgrade have established a long-lasting and very successful cooperation in the implementation of various activities in the area of environmental protection. One of the activities that we are very proud of is the agreement that we signed on November 3, 2023 regarding a series of lectures prepared and delivered by civil servants from the Ministry for undergraduate, master, and doctoral students of the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy. Each lecture focused on a specific thematic unit and legislative framework related to environmental protection, such as environmental impact assessment, industrial pollution, waste management, air quality, climate change, circular economy, sustainable development, and more. The training lasted for nine weeks, with one two-hour session per week, during which employees from the relevant sectors of the Ministry shared their knowledge and valuable experience in implementing the topic with the students.

The goal of our initiative is for students who will be employed in the industry as engineers after completing their studies to get to know environmental regulations so that they can effectively perform their duties at future roles. In addition to these lectures, expert visits to companies were also organised in collaboration with the faculty employees and experts from the IED Serbia project, which is being implemented at the faculty. After each lecture, students had the opportunity to ask questions and, in an open conversation with the Ministry employees, clarify any doubts and uncertainties they encountered during their studies, but also regarding their future work within companies. Such initiatives are very important for advancing cooperation between the industry and the Ministry, as well as in shaping the careers of young engineers in this field. The successful cooperation between the faculty and the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia has further emphasised the importance of involving young people in environmental protection projects and jobs

IED Serbia: What are your impressions of the recently held “Tech Case Study 2023” competition, considering you were a member of the jury? This marks your second time participating as a member of the jury for this competition, so could you please share your perspective on the overall competition and the atmosphere during the event?

Aleksandra VučinićThe “Tech Case Study” competition, initiated by students of the Faculty of Technology and Metallurgy in Belgrade, is a great initiative aimed at bringing secondary school students closer to and interested in the work of engineers. The competition has been held for five years now, and I have had the honour of being on the jury twice and getting familiar with the innovative ideas of young, educated people who, year after year, are presenting them more skilfully and with a lot of knowledge and enthusiasm. While those of us who have been working for years to improve and protect the environment never lack enthusiasm, engaging with young people in this capacity offers a unique and refreshing professional experience. The atmosphere at these competitions is always cheerful and stimulating, although the set tasks are very serious, such as finding innovative solutions aligned with the principles of circular economy in the textile industry, or proposing ways for carbon capture i.e., carbon dioxide from the air. Every time, I am delighted to see that younger generations are aware of the significance and importance of environmental protection, and after the competition is over, I am more convinced that the future of the planet, with its limited resources, is indeed in capable hands.

IED Serbia: Since you mentioned natural resources, we will take the opportunity to ask you what, in your opinion, are the main priorities in the area of circular economy that will be in the focus this year?

Aleksandra Vučinić: The priorities in the area of circular economy are set by the Circular Economy Development Programme in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2022-2024, which has been adopted by the Government of the Republic of Serbia. This year, a new Circular Economy Development Programme for the period 2025-2030 will be prepared, and it will set new goals and activities. What is ahead of us is certainly the continuation of thorough work on recognising the circular economy as the main direction of further development, as well as continuation of education, modernisation and strengthening of cooperation with the business sector and the academic community in order to create stimulating environment for the development of circular business models. To that end, it is important to continue with programmes to support innovations in production processes, because they are necessary for achieving a sustainable future. In 2020, the Ministry developed the document “Roadmap for the Circular Economy in Serbia”, which serves as a guide for transitioning to a circular economy model that, in addition to the economic dimension, also takes into account social aspects and the protection of the environment and natural resources. It is recommended that, following the example of the national document, each local self-government prepares its circular economy roadmap, because each community has its own specific circumstances and stakeholders that need to be connected. In addition, we aim to intensify efforts and further develop the strategies for the promotion of recycling and reuse of materials, especially in the industrial sector. Last but not least, we will continue to focus on education and raising public awareness of the importance of the circular economy and its potential to improve our economy and protect the environment.