Feeling the heat of deadlines, gov’t to bring in legislation on landfill planning

The government said yesterday it will introduce legislation to overcome the problem of perennial squabbles among local authorities over where waste landfills should be located. «We can wait no longer for the various bodies to agree. Consensus is an inescapable consideration but decisions must be made. We have exhausted all possibilities and we are now resolved to implement planning on a regional basis,» Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou told a conference yesterday on «Recycling and Utilization of Solid Waste.» Noting the need for greater environmental awareness and protection, she said, «On spaceship Earth, there are no passengers, everyone is the crew.» She said the issue was not just a matter of complying with European Union directives, but that it was also of direct concern to public health and tourism. Priority will be given to Attica – whose only landfill in Ano Liosia had to be shut this week following a landslide – and the big urban centers, so that alternative waste management systems will be functioning properly during next year’s Olympic Games. Papandreou said Greece produces 4.2 million tons of solid waste annually, only 55 percent of which goes to officially designated landfills. «We are targeting the elimination of all illegal landfills by 2007,» she said. The region of Western Macedonia has been an exemplary exception and will be used as a model. More measures will address the involvement of private enterprise, which will contribute know-how and part of the funds for separating and processing organic waste in order to produce soil improvers and electric power. Further provisions target alternative management methods for packaging materials – paper, aluminum, glass and plastic – including recycling and energy production. A nationwide such program, involving private enterprise-sponsored Hellenic Recycling Utilization Company (EEAA) – founded as early as 1992 – and local government entities, was launched on March 1, in implementation of a 2001 law. According to EU Directive 94/62, Greece, Ireland and Portugal are obliged to recycle 50 percent of packaging waste materials by 2005, after obtaining extensions from the original target year of 2000. The present Greek recovery rate is now just 33 percent. A number of municipalities, most notably Maroussi, Zakynthos and Patras, are already running packaging waste recycling facilities. Papandreou earlier this week signed presidential decrees obliging manufacturers and importers of electrical and electronic appliances and vehicle tires to pay for recycling jettisoned products, on the «polluter pays» principle. Similar decrees were issued last month for cars, batteries and mineral oil. Dimitris Daskalopoulos, deputy chairman of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV), rejected identifying industry and trade alone as polluters, noting that industry has long solved the apparent dilemma between competitiveness and environmental protection by adopting, among other things, the principles of corporate social responsibility. Professor Dimitris Panayiotakopoulos said the central issue in recycling was the viability of schemes, for which no sure answers were yet available. «We need usable and reliable indices, which can only be obtained through systemic studies. These have yet to be developed. Viability does not necessarily mean economically or socially acceptable results,» he said. He said although waste management is the fourth largest industry worldwide after arms, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, accounting practices leave a lot to be desired. Philippos Kyrkitsos, chairman of the Ecological Recycling Company, said the long-term target should be to develop recycling to such a degree that landfills are no longer necessary. The sector has great potential for boosting the social economy, he said. Paris Koukoulopoulos, chairman of the Central Union of Municipalities, urged local government to get away from narrow considerations of waste management costs and be less apprehensive of adopting recycling technologies.

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