European Geologist Journal 42

The Sustainable Aggregates Management and Planning Initiative in South East Europe

By Gorazd Žibret*

*Geological Survey of Slovenia,


Between 2009 and 2015 The South East Europe Transnational Cooperation Programme co-funded two international projects – the SARMa and SNAP-SEE projects. Both deal with international cooperation related to mining – more specifically, to the planning of aggregates supply. Their territorial domain was the South East Europe area. The topic of the SARMa project was sustainable aggregates resource management on three levels: at extraction site level, at national level and at transnational level. The SNAP-SEE project’s main goal was to initiate and improve aggregate planning process in South East Europe. International cooperation was among the key components within both projects. Both projects promoted international harmonisation of legislation, standards and cross-border exchange of information in order to improve planning processes and consequently improve overall resource efficiency.

Aggregates (crushed rocks, sand and gravel) are crucial for infrastructure development and construction. Aggregates are the second most needed natural resource for humankind, just after water (UNEP, 2014). They can be produced from natural sources, like extraction from gravel and sand pits, extracted from suitable geological units in quarries, or extracted below sea level. They can be also manufactured by recycling different wastes. However, the majority of aggregates we are using today come from natural sources. Within the EU only 8% of aggregates come from secondary sources, like from recycling of construction and demolition waste or from different industrial wastes (manufactured aggregates). Aggregates are used for preparing foundations for buildings and infrastructure, to produce concrete, to build roads, harbours, airports, houses, community buildings, etc. According to the UEPG estimates, the EU consumes 2.51 billion tons of aggregates annually, or almost 5 tons per year per capita. The aggregate sector directly employs over 200,000 people. Aggregates are extracted from 23,955 extraction sites, operated by 13,263 companies. In general – the more developed a country is, the more aggregates it consumes (UEPG, 2015).

Aggregates are, however, a specific commodity. They are bulky and heavy, we need them in large quantities, and long transportation of aggregates from the production site to the end-user not only drastically increases their price but is also not very environmental friendly. So aggregates must be extracted locally, and transportation routes of aggregates are usually not longer than 50 km by road. By using railways or ships, economically viable distances for the transportation of aggregates can be extended. Moreover, the EU faces greater and greater competition for the use of land, where many different sectors compete, like transportation, housing, farming, energy, industry and different protected areas (i.e. water protected areas, Natura 2000 sites, etc.).

South East Europe (SEE) is rich in suitable geological formations from which aggregates can be extracted. This area will also need to develop its infrastructure in the future. This means that aggregate consumption in the SEE area will be drastically increased in the future. However, the SEE area is characterised by having different approaches to aggregates planning, if it exists at all. Aggregates planning documents are scattered among many different legal documents, there is lack of capacity for appropriate aggregates planning at all levels, some countries are also dealing with a large share of illegal quarrying, best practices are not always followed during the extraction and land remediation stages, and there is almost no trans-border or transnational cooperation in aggregates planning in the area. All of these hinder the efficient use of resources, cause unnecessary environmental and social burdens that can lead to public opposition to quarrying, and could cause aggregates supply bottlenecks in the future.

Addressing aggregates planning issues in the SEE area

To cope with the aforementioned challenges two projects (Figure 1) were co-funded by the South East Europe Transnational Cooperation Programme between 2009 and 2015. The first one was the SARMa project – Sustainable Aggregates Resource Management (, coordinated by Dr. Slavko V. Šolar from the Geological Survey of Slovenia, and the second was the SNAP-SEE project – Sustainable Aggregates Planning in South East Europe (, coordinated by Dr. Günter Tiess from Montanuniversität Leoben (Austria) at the time of the project (now with MinPol GmbH). While the SARMa project addressed sustainable aggregates resource management and sustainable aggregates supply mix concepts and tried to promote and implement them within local, regional and national practices within the SEE area, the SNAP-SEE project aimed primarily at the implementation of the Sustainable Aggregates Planning concept. The SARMa project geographically covers 10 countries in the SEE area – Slovenia, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Albania and Croatia, while the SNAP-SEE project added Montenegro, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Turkey for a total of 14 countries. Project partnerships were composed of different types of organisations, from local, regional and national minerals planning authorities, research organisations, universities, industrial associations and non-governmental organisations. The SARMa and the SNAP-SEE project topics covered a variety of themes: efficient and low socio-environmental impact quarrying and waste management, construction and demolition waste and industrial by-products recycling, illegal quarrying, identifying best practices in the area, capacity building, improving policies and regulations affecting aggregates, implementing EU guidelines in the area, as well as promoting transnational cooperation in sustainable aggregates supply and the need for stakeholder consultations within the aggregates planning process. The transnational approach taken in both projects was to develop a common SEE approach to aggregates management and to develop a joint vision concerning best practices in aggregates planning, while promoting the need for stakeholder consultations in this process.

Figure 1. The SARMa and the SNAP-SEE logos, and the logo of the co-funding authority.

The SARMa project – international cooperation and joint recommendations for aggregates management

The research methods used in the SARMa project were legislation analysis, identifying best practices in the region and studies on the similarities and differences in aggregates planning in the SEE area. Each partner responded to a series of extensive questionnaires, targeting mining legislation, waste management, spatial planning procedures, the current state of mining, illegal mining in the country, etc. Synthesis reports were created, showing similarities and specifics for each country, and joint recommendations for aggregates planning in SEE were produced as one among many results of this international cooperation activity. These recommendations can be summarised as (Hámor, 2011):

  1. Addressing needs for aggregates planning in SEE, with aggregate plans being harmonised with spatial and local plans and available within a single document.
  2. The ownership of the minerals should remain unchanged; however, the central state shall always have the right of delegating licencing and supervision to lower administrative levels, and shall make it clear that that mining right is distinct and independent from the land ownership right where minerals are located.
  3. It does not matter whether the country applies a one-stop shop or parallel assessment in granting mining rights; however, a consultation process is needed when creating minerals planning policy, clear responsibilities should be defined and each country’s geological and mining services should be maintained.
  4. Legal exclusions from the mining licencing scheme should be kept at a minimum, because they cause disturbances on the aggregates market.
  5. A smoother and faster permitting process is required, with precise and strict definition of the intervening stakeholders, their competences and deadlines, because shorter permitting procedures discourage speculative players in the aggregates sector. Combined with time-wise progressive financial regulatory tools, this can improve accessibility to aggregates and direct unwanted land occupation towards actual production.
  6. Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment for the aggregates sector is suggested for aggregates planning, to ease the process of obtaining Environmental Impact Assessment by quarry operators, or to replace it completely.
  7. Competent authorities should learn how aggregate extraction and biodiversity goals can be achieved simultaneously, because too large a number of “no-go” zones for aggregates extraction exist in the SEE area due to biodiversity issues.
  8. If too many (more than a dozen) co-authorities are involved in the aggregates planning process, it is suggested that their role should be revised, for example, to define their legally binding consent as providers of expert opinions, and that the existence of a central, independent regular body authorised to coordinate permitting procedures must be assured.
  9. Although public participation within the aggregates planning process is set up according to the EU standards, opposing NGOs still do their job better than the typical aggregate producer. This is why it is recommended to involve local communities in a more enhanced and sophisticated way, beyond the regulatory minimum.
  10. An on-line public aggregates information centre covering primary and secondary aggregates in SEE is badly needed.
  11. There are great differences in mineral taxation and royalties in different countries, which can lead to distorted competition in cross-border regions.
  12. National, regional and local minerals plans should include secondary aggregates, to move towards a more recycling-friendly society.
  13. The availability of data related to secondary aggregates in SEE area is disappointing, and should be improved in the future.
  14. All countries should adopt a minerals policy and a common process for long-term planning.

The SARMa project was concluded with the international Sustainable Aggregates Resource Management Conference, held in September 2011 in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Figure 2; Žibret and Šolar, 2011), where participants discussed the results of the project and how they could be used to improve minerals planning policy on the EU level.

Figure 2: The SARMa conference, held in Ljubljana, Slovenia, September 2011.

The SNAP-SEE project – a joint SEE vision for better aggregates planning

Within the SARMa project it became obvious that the aggregates planning process in the SEE area needs improvement. Based on the outcomes of the SARMa project, with the inclusion of new countries and partners, a new project named the Sustainable Aggregates Planning in South East Europe (SNAP-SEE) project was submitted and accepted for co-funding. Four main challenges were addressed:

  • the lack of coordinated aggregates planning in the SEE area;
  • the lack of integrated planning for primary and secondary aggregates;
  • the lack of capacity and competences to address the preceding two problems;
  • very low stakeholder engagement.

The methodology within the SNAP-SEE project was similar to that in the SARMa project, with the addition that SNAP-SEE project partners tried to initiate the aggregates planning process by organising two stakeholder consultation events in their own countries. As a result, more than 800 participants – representatives of different stakeholders in the aggregates planning process – participated in 20 organised events (Figure 3) in 11 SEE countries. The general impression from these events was that they are extremely useful and necessary, and that it is important that different stakeholders sit around the same table and discuss issues of land use and the state of the aggregates industry and quarrying, because each one views the same problem from its own perspective.

Figure 3: Selected snapshots from stakeholders consultation events in Slovenia (upper left), Italy (upper right), Montenegro (bottom left) and Greece (bottom right).

Beside stakeholder consultations, project partners also provided data and information to carry out policy analysis for the SEE area. This is needed to properly address gaps and to construct a common vision for sustainable aggregates planning in the SEE area. This vision, as a direct result of cooperation among partners, focuses on minerals planning policy practices, mineral resources ownership, assessment type (parallel, one-stop shop), inclusion of secondary aggregates within aggregates planning policy,  and other relevant aspects (Horváth et al., 2014). It was found that not all countries in the region had adopted a minerals planning policy (Figure 4), and only a few included secondary aggregates within it. There is also the lack of an appropriate recycling policy in most countries in the area (Figure 5).

Based on the policy and multi-sectoral analysis of aggregate planning in the SEE area, and according to the results from the stakeholder consultation process, a joint vision for aggregates planning in the SEE area was prepared (Horváth et al., 2014). Snapshots from the joint vision related to national and transnational levels policies are:

  • primary and secondary aggregates are managed together;
  • planning authorities cooperate with other sectors;
  • public consultation procedure is conducted before adoption of mineral plans;
  • plans are updated regularly (every 5–10 years);
  • plans include the optimisation of transport routes according to life-cycle analysis;
  • illegal quarrying is prevented and sanctioned;
  • aggregate safeguarding areas are defined;
  • land is reclaimed after quarrying is finished;
  • aggregates planning policy is monitored regularly;
  • all SEE countries have aggregates related policies developed on a similar level;
  • aggregates are considered equal to other natural resources;
  • land use plans contains designated areas for extraction and for safeguarding the resources;
  • sustainability assessment screening  is obligatory;
  • waste management policies support aggregates recycling;
  • there are simple, fast and efficient permitting processes with clearly defined deadlines with the encouragement to adopt e-government;
  • stakeholders are involved in the permitting process;
  • landscape strategy and restoration plans are developed before mining operations begin;
  • joint legal terminology is adopted for aggregates;
  • governments use green public procurement procedures;
  • past and present aggregates extraction sites contribute to biodiversity;
  • cross-border aggregate market analysis is taken into account in the aggregates planning process;
  • financial instruments are harmonised within the SEE area;
  • there is data and aggregates planning knowledge exchange between SEE countries;
  • landfill taxation and aggregate levies are established;
  • a comprehensive and easily accessible transnational primary and secondary aggregates inventory is available, where data is standardised and harmonised;
  • joint maps of aggregate potentials are compiled in the SEE area;
  • maximum transport efficiency is targeted, including cross-border transport routes.

More information can be found within the “Aggregates planning toolbox”, containing 4 booklets describing project results and outcomes in greater detail, and a booklet containing general information about the SNAP-SEE project. The aggregate planning toolbox can be downloaded from the SNAP-SEE web page (

Figure 4: Aggregates planning policy in the SEE area (from Horváth et al., 2014). Because some countries in the SEE area have aggregate planning policy defined on regional levels, data for Italy and BA represent only the information valid for indicated regions (IT-ER – Emilia Romagna region; IT-T – Trento region; BA-H – Herzeg Bosnia canton).

Figure 5: Sustainable Development Policy, Minerals Policy, Land Use Planning Policy, Waste Management Policy, Recycling Policy, Environmental Policy and Aggregates Planning Policy in SEE area. PA: primary aggregates; SA: secondary aggregates (from Horváth et al., 2014). Regional data only: IT-ER – Italy, Emilia Romagna region; IT-T – Italy, Trento region; BA-H – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Herzeg Bosnia canton.


Both the SARMa and the SNAP-SEE projects demonstrated the stakeholders’ willingness to participate in such an international initiative related to mineral resources. Both projects helped to present the concepts of aggregates planning and supply to the relevant public authorities, the private sector and the public within the SEE area. Especially within the SNAP-SEE project, partners not only prepared reports and recommendations but also took real actions to bring SARM and SSM concepts into practice by organising stakeholder consultations. The impressions gained from these events were that they were badly needed, and such initiatives were welcomed by the majority of participants. Both project consortiums wished to continue promoting good aggregates planning practices in their national regulations, as well as beyond the SEE area. The new, on-going continuation of the SNAP-SEE project is the MINATURA 2020 project (, funded by the Horizon 2020 programme, which addresses the importance of safeguarding mineral deposits on the EU level.


The SARMa and the SNAP-SEE projects were co-funded by The South East Europe Transnational Cooperation Programme. The funding authority is not liable for any information contained in this publication. All project partners contributed to the project outcomes that are presented in this article.


Hámor, T. 2011. Recommendations for effective aggregate policy and management, covering the legal and regulatory solutions with regards to sustainable aggregates sources management, based on country studies and synthesis reports of selected South East European countries legislation. The SARMa project,

Horváth, Z., Miko, S., Sári, K., Dedić, Ž. 2014. A Vision of Best Practices for Aggregates Planning in South East Europe. The SNAPSEE Project, DOI: 10.5474/snapsee‐WP5‐EN

UEPG. 2015. UEPG Annual review 2014-2015. European Aggregates Association.

UNEP. 2014. Sand, rarer than one thinks. UNEP Global Environmental Alert Service, 15 p.

Žibret, G., Šolar, S. (eds.). 2011. Sustainable Aggregates Resource Management, Abstract and Short Paper Book. Sustainable Aggregates Resource Management International Conference Ljubljana: Geological Survey of Slovenia.. DOI:10.5474/9789616498289

This article has been published in European Geologist Journal 42 – International cooperation on raw materials.