As of December 1, Alonnisos is abolishing the use of plastic bags. The ambitious project is backed by the entire island, which in the last few years has made major leaps forward on issues concerning environmental protection. If it succeeds, the Greek island will become the country’s first area to implement such a pivotal change in daily consumption habits.
Protected by the European Union’s Natura program and located in the heart of the National Marine Park of the Northern Sporades, Alonnisos hopes to earn the title of the country’s “greenest” island.
“People here have had environmental concerns for a number of years, regardless of laws and prohibitions,” said Alonnisos Mayor Petros Vafinis. “There is an eco conscience, which the older generation might have referred to in another way, but essentially, it exists.”
Vafinis sounded enthusiastic with regard to the island’s recent environmental achievements. “When we started the recycling program in 2012, I did not expect people, especially older citizens, to participate in the effort. Grandmothers are now first in line at the recycling bins. I’m very pleased with the progress made.”
And now the island has declared war on plastic bags.
“Last year I took part in a conference about recycling on islands. The issue of plastic bags was raised by some scientists and what I heard had an effect on me. It’s a material which takes 400 to 500 years to disappear and is very damaging to both land and sea. We discussed it at the municipal council and decided to go ahead with the idea, with the help of two nongovernment organizations, the Hellenic Society for the Study and Protection of the Monk Seal (MOm) and the Mediterranean SOS Network.”
Two meetings with the island’s entrepreneurs followed. “We decided to begin the abolition of plastic bags on December 1. Professionals have stopped ordering new shipments and, as a replacement, started putting orders for tissue paper bags and multiple-use plastic ones which they will charge for. Eighty percent of clothes stores are already using paper bags instead. Even outlets selling souvenirs agreed to place orders for paper bags, despite the added expense,” added Vafinis. “The Mediterranean SOS Network and MOm will donate 2,000 tissue paper bags and distribute fliers in order to raise awareness and inform all of the island’s residents. A campaign targeting visitors will get under way in the summer.”
“Alonnisos is a small island with tremendous environmental value and a very positive stance when it comes to environmentally friendly practices,” noted Natalia Roumelioti, coastal zone management projects coordinator at the Mediterranean SOS Network. The organization is taking part in Debag, a campaign aimed at raising awareness with regard to limiting the use of plastic bags around sea areas, which began in early September with European Union funding. “Reducing the use of plastic bags is important for the environment, it’s easy and, as of recently, an obligation following new EU legislation. This might sound somewhat ambitious, but I think Alonissos will succeed.”
“I’m very optimistic,” Vafinis added. "Though we don’t expect plastic bags to completely disappear by December 31, we hope to succeed by the end of next year,” he added.
In May last year, the European Parliament ratified a directive limiting the use of “thin” plastic bags (of the supermarket variety) based on a specific timetable. Member-states are called upon to limit consumption to 90 bags per person per year by the end of 2019 and to 40 bags by 2025 – it is estimated that about 242 plastic bags are used per person every year in Greece. Alternatively, EU countries are called upon to ensure that there will be a charge introduced for plastic bags by the end of 2018.