Drive to end illegal trash dumps

A new chapter in Greece’s checkered history of waste management opened yesterday as a multi-million-euro plan to quickly close most of the estimated 2,600 illegal landfill sites dotted around the country was unveiled yesterday by Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias. Souflias set out a time frame for local authorities that would see the process of closing or restoring to their original state 2,031 illegal dumps kick into action virtually immediately. There are currently 1,453 active illegal landfills in Greece and 1,173 dumps that are inactive, according to ministry figures. Souflias gave local authorities until the end of June to decide which, if any, of the dumps would remain open temporarily and then issue all the necessary paperwork to close the rest down. His aim is to shut all the country’s illegal landfills by 2008. The dumps that are not currently being used will be covered with earth and returned to their natural state, Souflias said. The entire project will cost 400 million euros. Under the plan, trash will be taken to one of the 39 legal landfills around Greece. Funds have already been earmarked to build another 55 in the near future as well as 48 garbage relay stations. In December, the EU approved 200 million euros in funds for the construction of three new landfill sites around Athens – at Skalistiri in Fyli, Mavro Vouno in Grammatiko, and Keratea, west of Athens. The money will also be used in the construction of four relay stations, from which trucks will cart away the capital’s 6,000-ton daily trash output. Residents living near the capital’s main dump at Ano Liosia blocked the entrance to the site for several hours yesterday, demanding its closure. Authorities aim to close it within the next 12 months, once the other sites are ready, and Souflias provided reassurances yesterday that the other sites would go ahead, despite complaints from local authorities and residents. One of the main concerns over illegal dumps is that they are an obvious health hazard, especially as over 10 percent of them are located within 100 meters of rivers or streambeds. Last month, the European Commission sent Greece a final warning, the last before taking it to court, over its failure to clean up the now-defunct Kouroupitos illegal dump near Hania, Crete, as it was harming the environment. The government has already been fined almost 5 million euros for the site after Greece became the first member state, in 2000, to be fined by the European Court of Justice for persistently ignoring EU legislation and operating the dump. However, unchecked landfills also pose a safety problem, as the burning of trash or the dumping of flammable materials sometimes prove to be the source of forest fires, particularly during the warm summer months. Some 640 landfills are located on the borders of wooded areas and the Public Works Ministry has classified 168 of them as «highly dangerous.»