Until recently, it took almost four hours by car on small and busy roads to get from Serbia’s capital Belgrade to Kraljevo in the central part of the country.

But things are changing for the better in the Balkan state and so is Serbia’s road system. Thanks to the newly opened Milos The Great Highway, which connects Belgrade with ČaČak just north of Kraljevo, travel time for the 200 kilometre trip through vast and spectacular mountain scenery has now been cut by half. Kraljevo is home to Steel Impex, which operates a major ferrous scrapyard at an industrial site on the outskirts of the town.

I am welcomed there by Maja Muškinja, the company’s logistics manager. ‘The new highway makes life a lot easier for all of us here,’ she says with a big smile. ‘It not
only saves me time personally but more importantly, it saves time for our trucks that are on the road 24/7 collecting materials.’

FRONTRUNNER POSITION

Steel Impex claims to be at the forefront of Serbia’s recycling scene. Having started in 2008 on the remains of a former state-owned yard, the company today processes more than 100 000 tonnes of ferrous scrap per year. Ten years on, according to
Muškinja, Steel Impex controls 40% of Serbia’s total steel scrap flows. Steel Impex’s head office is in the north of the country, near Novi Sad, on the banks of the River Danube, where it also operates a second facility and collection/transfer centre. Although this yard is growing and processing evermore scrap year-on-year, Kraljevo is the main facility, handling the lion’s share
(more than 60 000 tonnes in 2019) of the total ferrous scrap input. ‘It is here that we have most of our heavy equipment, including a big Lindemann shredder and a shear,’ explains Muškinja while guiding me around the 60 000 m² yard and facility.

PLASTIC FLAKES FOR ISTANBUL

Ferrous scrap has made Steel Impex the mature company it is today. But the share of other commodities traded is growing and may increasingly dictate future business success. The Kraljevo operation houses a modern e-scrap recycling division in which electronics are dismantled and cables stripped. There is also a hall dedicated to the sorting and cleaning of plastic bottles
that features a modern washing line. Bags filled with clean flakes, around 70 tonnes per month, are shipped by truck to PET producers in Istanbul, Turkey.

BUY LOW, SELL HIGH

This morning, the expansive site looks clean and relatively empty. There are just two piles of ferrous scrap measuring 15 metres wide and ten metres high.

That’s the lot.

‘You should have seen this place three weeks ago, it was the complete opposite,’ says Muškinja.

‘We were loaded and there was scrap everywhere: at least 6 000 tonnes, which we were lucky to sell at a good pre-agreed price at a time when markets were already collapsing. Now we have space to build up the scrap stocks again, which we buy low and will hopefully sell high by the time demand grows and markets climb back up.’

DEMOLITION AND ELV SCRAP PARADISE

Steel Impex sources materials from all over Serbia. The Kraljevo site collects from the central and western parts of the country, mainly ferrous but also some non-ferrous (200 tonnes per year to end users in Germany) and other commodities including e-scrap, tyres and a fast-growing amount of plastics. The 4 800 m² facility in Novi Sad collects and sorts steel scrap (more than 30 000 tonnes in 2018) from the Vojvodina area, Serbia’s northern region and the country’s economic heartland which includes the greater Belgrade area with a population close to two million.

Much of the ferrous materials are collected from demolition works at industrial sites across the country. But a scrap source offering huge potential is the thousands of end-of-life vehicles waiting to be scrapped. Driving the country’s secondary roads, you pass countless hundreds of wrecked car sites.

‘Sooner or later these vehicles need to be scrapped,’ Muškinja agrees. ‘Obviously, we would be more than happy to take on this task.’

SUPPLYING STEEL MILLS AT HOME AND ABROAD

For the outsider, Kraljevo may seem a rather remote recycling outpost. But if you look closely at the map of the Balkans, you will notice the city’s strategic central position with proper road, water and railway connections to the north (Belgrade, Hungary), east (Romania and Turkey), and southwest (Montenegro and Albania).

No wonder the company supplies steel mills both at home and in neighbouring countries. One third goes to the HBIS steel plant (better known as Železara Smederevo) near Belgrade, one third is shipped to the world’s biggest steel scrap consumer Turkey
and the final third ends up in the smelter of the Elbasan steel mill in Albania.

NON-STOP TO ELBASAN

The Kraljevo facility has one big advantage – direct access onto the railway. ‘Up to 15 wagons can be loaded right here where we stand’, says Muškinja. Trains loaded with scrap go directly to end-users. ‘There is a direct train which leaves our site, passes through Montenegro, and goes further south to the steel mills in Elbasan, Albania, a journey of more than 500 kilometres.
As well as rail transport, the company uses the River Danube and its ‘wellequipped’ truck fleet for shipments to and from its operations.

BUDAPEST, VIENNA AND BEYOND

Steel Impex has come a long way. The company has grown step-by-step by making strategic decisions combined with solid investments. Between 2010 and 2018, a total of EUR 10 million was pumped into recycling equipment, yard and facility upgrades and the construction of a transfer station at the port of Novi Sad. The company is ambitiously targeting further growth both at home in Serbia and abroad. Recently, operations have been expanded to Budapest in Hungary, under the name Greenland International. Local investment in equipment and vehicle fleet will be EUR 1 million. In addition, in October 2019, Steel Impex became a member of Black Gold Holding. Headquartered in Vienna, Austria and with a trade office in Dubai, UAE, Black Gold Holding
consists of three subsidiaries of which Steel Impex is one. A fourth daughter firm will be added by the end of 2019. Black Gold specialises in scrap commodity trade, waste management, recycling, landfill and real estate. ‘Our target is to reach zero waste by
adopting the circular economy model,’ says Muškinja.

OPEN FOR MORE BUSINESS

Meanwhile, Steel Impex is involved in the start-up of a multi-million-Euro municipal waste recycling facility near Novi Sad which is due to open its doors by the middle of 2020. Besides membership in Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce, it is also a member of EuRIC, the European recycling industries’ umbrella organisation.
In November 2019, Steel Impex became a gold member the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR). Maja Muškinja and her colleagues are on a mission to make the company and the brand bigger. They frequently attend conferences and trade shows actively promoting Steel Impex as a reliable business partner. ‘Obviously, it is our ambition to grow not only at home in Serbia but certainly also
abroad.’

WE DO FERROUS…. AND A LOT MORE

Steel Impex’s Kraljevo facility
*Surface – 60 000m²
*Scrap volumes handled in 2019:
Ferrous – 70 000 tonnes
Non-ferrous – 200 tonnes
Plastics – 500 tonnes
Electronics – 40 tonnes
Tyres – 110 tonnes
Batteries – 20 tonnes