New landfill sites are needed for Athens as current garbage dump is phased out

Three spots found at the Ano Liosia waste disposal site will, for the next three months, all being well, be able to accommodate the 5,500 tons of garbage produced daily by the city of Athens. A landslide at the current landfill earlier this month caused it to shut down for days, and trash to pile up in the capital’s streets. Specialists from the National Technical University of Athens, the Technical Chamber and the Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration, who are assisting the Union of Municipal Authorities in Attica in managing the waste, discovered that only three small sites at the Ano Liosia landfill, which has reached the end of its life cycle, could safely be used as places to dump garbage. And they will need constant observation and monitoring. This ad hoc solution will deal with Athens’s mounds of garbage until works for a second landfill, next to the present one, are completed in two months’ time. But attempts are being made to accelerate the works for the site, which is estimated by the Union of Municipal Authorities to be able to meet the city’s needs until the beginning of 2005, when four new landfills will replace it. The landslide and the garbage bottleneck that followed it were not unexpected. The vast majority of mayors of Eastern Attica have treated the whole rubbish question with a shallow-minded approach, having stubbornly refused for 15 years to allow waste treatment plants in their own back yards. This applies to the prefecture of Eastern Attica as well, which bore responsibility, in July 2001, for the non-approval of the regional plan for urban waste management in Attica put to the Attica regional council. As a result, all waste management projects were shelved for years. An auction for the second landfill site at Ano Liosia – which would otherwise be ready now – was also put off at the same time. On top of this, the Ministry of Planning and Public Works, as well as the Attica regional authority, delayed including the works in projects financed by the European Union’s Cohesion Fund, while the firms concerned raised objections after the competition for the works. But the coup de grace was delivered by the vacillations of the central government, which has abdicated its responsibility to undertake initiatives and provide effective solutions. But the manner in which the landfill is managed also contributed to the landslide of March 10. Although the report on the causes of the landslide is not yet complete, the finger has been pointed at the sludge brought from the Psyttaleia sewage treatment plant in the Saronic Gulf. The sludge that was brought there – contrary to supposed practice – was in liquid form and, coupled with the large volume of trash and the heavy rainfall of the previous months, helped to form prime landslide conditions. Sources say, however, that for the next month, the landfill will not accept Psyttaleia’s sludge. It is not yet known how the sewage treatment plant’s residue will be dealt with in future. Even the operation of the landfill is problematic, according to a document by a construction consortium (Koronis SA, Envitec SA). In a letter to the municipalities’ union, dated December 13, 2002, the consortium points out the «continuing, irregular [waste] treatment philosophy adhered to» in operating and restoring the site. Two other problems are highlighted, in two extracts from the same document: 1. «Insufficient compression of waste which can cause serious problems to the stability of the waste, resulting in uncontrolled subsidence, dangers of collapsing slopes as well as a serious loss of useful mass.» 2. «We have pointed out the great dangers of not pumping out the large amounts of gases produced, which is discernable at a great distance from the landfill site.» The letter to the union of municipalities concludes by pointing out that «the dramatic increase in the amount of waste treated daily compared to that mentioned in the tender (5,200 tons, as opposed to 3,500 tons a day)» have effectively rendered null and void the basic principles of operating a landfill.

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