Carrot and stick method of funding and fines shape government choices over garbage; despite fierce reactions, consensus is quietly in the making

Eighty-eight million euros, a case pending in the European Court, two community directives, 27 illegal garbage dumps and the looming demise of the Ano Liosia landfill (by the beginning of 2005 at the latest) are the context in which government choices have to be made and in which the competent minister, Vasso Papandreou, of environment and public works, will have to provide a solution to the issue of waste management. Within the next three months, the funding of waste management facilities from the Cohesion Fund, to the tune of 88 million euros, must be approved. The money must be absorbed by the end of 2006, otherwise, it is reckoned it will be lost to Greece for good. Also within the next few months, Greece will be up before the European Court, first of all because of the large, unmanaged garbage dump in Paeania in eastern Attica. For the country to have any hope of avoiding a judgment against it and further fines, it must be ready to present a serious and convincing proposal for future waste management, and, it follows, the cessation of the dump’s operation. Reducing volume Greece’s obligations toward the European Union mean it must greatly reduce the volume of organic waste as well as recycle a significant proportion of packaging materials in accordance with a timetable set by community directives. Specifically, this provides for the recovery of at least 25 percent of packaging materials by the year 2005. By 2010, this should have increased to 50 percent, and certainly 15 percent of packaging materials by weight. By 2006, organic waste, largely food scraps bound for burial at landfill sites, must amount to no more than 75 percent of the equivalent amount produced in 1995 – which in Attica alone comes to 840,000 tons. By 2009, this must have been reduced to 560,000 tons and by 2016, to 392,000 tons. To the above reasons for haste must be added the 27 unmanaged garbage dumps, which receive 170,000 tons of waste per year. And if none of these reasons prove sufficiently persuasive, a catalyst for developments is the fact that by the end of 2004, and at the latest by 2005, there will be no waste management site left since the landfill at Ano Liosia will have reached capacity. These factors limit the government’s options. And despite the road blockades and fierce reactions from some municipalities, there seems to be a quiet groundswell of support for the proposed solutions, on both a political and local administrative level. Quiet support Already the amendment submitted by Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) Minister Vasso Papandreou has been passed by the competent parliamentary committee, with the support of the honorary president of New Democracy, Constantinos Karamanlis, and despite the strident rhetoric of the opposition party. The latter actually asked for the withdrawal of the amendment and demanded that the opposition MPs of Attica vote against it. But Mayor of Athens Dora Bakoyianni, also of New Democracy, while giving vent to sharp criticism of the government’s handling of the issue which has reached the present near impasse, nevertheless showed herself clearly in favor of the amendment. However, in local administration as well, reactions – after the amendment was submitted – were confined to the affected areas of northeastern Attica. Other municipalities are making efforts to restrict the negative impact on areas that will finally be chosen and to increase the benefits. Common ground Municipalities of southeastern Attica seem to be searching for common ground in a debate that rests on the proposal that they manage their own waste with techniques of their own choosing. Western Attica appears to have realized the need to contribute to solving the problem of waste management, but wants something in exchange that will improve life in the environmentally damaged area. While surprises cannot be ruled out, Parliament is expected to pass the amendment proposed by the YPEHODE minister this week. Directly afterward, the municipalities involved will be called upon to conduct environmental, technical and economic studies to facilitate decisions on the final landfill and waste management sites. Due to probable reluctance on the part of municipalities to undertake the studies, the Attica regional authorities will carry them out. The studies should be completed by the end of July, so that the procedures for obtaining financing for the works from the Cohesion Fund can be set in motion. The projects will be put up for international tender before the work can begin.

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