Islands threatened by garbage

Garbage is dulling the crown jewels of Greece’s tourism industry, the islands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese. There are just six modern waste management plants (XYTA) in the entire southern Aegean region, but only three work. The others function at less than full speed or not at all. Existing illegal landfill sites are filling up, threatening already-vulnerable ecosystems and risking fines from the European Union. The situation is quickly reaching a breaking point, since the unification of municipalities under the Capodistria law has resulted in the closing of small dumps. Last week, Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias announced plans to build new waste management plants and close any dumps not part of a comprehensive waste management system. But experts are questioning these plans. Islands, particularly the smaller ones, are rocky and have little soil, so burying the increasing amount of waste will soon be impossible. XYTA plants usually run for between 10 and 15 years. To make better use of this time, environmental experts say island residents must reduce the volume of their garbage by composting organic waste (which will also enrich the thin soil) and recycling. Everyone has contributed to the garbage problem. The municipal governments have dragged their feet on planning for waste management and cannot decide what kind of plants they want. The state has buried the problem under a mountain of bureaucracy. And islanders have resisted actually siting a XYTA plant anywhere. The six existing plants are on the islands of Anafi, Kimolos, northern Rhodes, Tilos, Leipsoi and Kastellorizo. Leipsoi’s mayor Spyros Benetos said their plant was built two years ago but never functioned as there was no equipment. «So we are still burning our rubbish in the old dump and are trying to collect the 250,000 euros we need for the equipment,» he said. On Kastellorizo, the XYTA plant was built at least seven years ago but is still being used as an incineration site. The resulting waste is mixed with soil and rubble and tossed off a cliff. Nine other islands – Syros, Paros, Myconos, Amorgos, Folegandros, Serifos, Kythnos, Kos and Astypalaia – are currently planning their own XYTA plants. Smaller islands might have to ship their waste to larger neighboring islands. For example, the smaller Cyclades – which comprise the islands of Koufonisia, Irakleia, Schinousa and Donousa – would ship their garbage to Naxos for processing. Poor research and planning and not-in-my-backyard protests from residents have delayed waste management plans on Andros. The association of the island’s three municipalities (Andros, Ydrousa and Korthios) commissioned a study on the siting of a XYTA plant that offered an area near the town of Andros protected by the Natura accord. After the state rejected the site, the mayors turned to the alternative solution of Makrotantalo, which Ydrousa Mayor Thomas Kyriakos claims is classified as forest, although Andros Mayor Manolis Vamvoukas rejects this claim. But local residents shot down the alternative site. «Unfortunately, if no solution is found, there will be no waste management plant,» Vamvoukos said. «No one wants one near their village.» «In my opinion, as long as land use classification is not established, we won’t get anywhere,» Kyriakos said. «This is where the opposition begins.» The situation is further complicated by the fact that the island’s garbage dump at Stavropeda is on an archaeological site and likely to close, as a Council of State ruling and legal suits regarding the site have been pending since 1997. On Naxos, the landfill site sits right next to the shore and the municipal abattoirs. It is where all the island’s garbage, sewage sludge and rubble end up. «The landfill site at Seggares must be closed,» said the island’s mayor Vassilis Kokkotas. «The prefecture approved the Korfi Xydi district, but local residents have raised objections. Meanwhile there have been endless delays with the permits. It will be many months before we can apply for funding.» Lefteris Verikokos from the Naxos Environmental Movement said that 14 years ago, the island was included in a pilot European program to protect Mediterranean coastlines. «We received a deposit which was used for a study of a comprehensive waste management system,» Verikokos said. «However, the municipality never received the study and had to return the funds. Years later, the region undertook another study that came up with a site near the villages of Damarionas and Filoti, but these have large populations, meaning lots of votes. So the committee changed its mind and suggested Korfi Xydi.» Meanwhile, Rhodes has one of the two functioning XYTA plants on the islands that serves 70 percent of the population, while Paros was the first island in the Cyclades to try a recycling program. «What many mayors don’t realize is that recycling is a prerequisite for a XYTA plant to function,» said Paros Mayor Yiannis Ragousis.