Managing trash becomes a combustible issue as Greeks continue to produce more garbage

While exorbitant amounts were spent in the 1990s on planning and seeking sites for waste treatment plants in Attica, even more will be spent on adopting more effective technology for waste management in the form of thermal treatment (incineration) or aeration. Studies appear to be little more than map exercises, since even before any comprehensive recycling program can be carried out, the exact composition of the garbage has to be established. There is no point in thinking about the kind of technology to use, say the experts, when we don’t know what kind of garbage will be processed. It is easy to build factories, to spend money on buildings and equipment, but it is more difficult to mobilize people, to get them to change their habits and persuade them to sort garbage for recycling, they add. «The Environment and Public Works Ministry must shoulder the greatest share of the blame for this foot-dragging,» said Giorgos Lolos, an environmental engineer. «This sector comes under the jurisdiction of a department (albeit informal since it does not even exist in the ministry’s list of departments), which has not yet appointed a management body.» At the same time, despite the availability of considerable funds, the Greek Recycling Association (EEAA), which is charged with implementing the national recycling targets (that is, the removal of 50 percent of packaging material from landfill sites, amounting to about 700 tons a day) has not produced much work. According to one source, the funds at their disposal amount to 30 million euros, part of which was used to build to recycling plants (in Tripolis and Lamia). At a recent conference held by the Central Union of Municipalities (KEDKE), it was announced that KEDKE had a 35 percent share in EEAA, and a request was made for a contract between the ministry and these two organizations so that local government agencies could take part in the collection of packaging material within municipalities, and also to help raise public awareness. KEDKE’s president Paris Koukoulopoulos even went as far as criticizing municipalities that depended on the ministry’s initiatives, a strategy that has had disappointing results. It is true that the approach taken in the 1990s, by using waste as landfill, is being abandoned. Both national and European Union legislation clearly forbids (since 2003) the depositing of unsorted waste. That is, biodegradable material that can be organically processed is not to be thrown out, nor packaging material or toxic waste, all of which in Greece is still being dumped and buried or exported (chiefly to Britain). Greece is obliged to move ahead with recycling, for at the end of this year the country will be evaluated on the percentage of its waste that is recycled on a daily basis. Otherwise, stiff fines will be paid. Although recycling is still in an embryonic stage here and the Council of State is expected to rule by the end of 2007 on the sites for three waste treatment plants in Attica, regional planning for 2006 calls for the introduction of thermal processing for waste. «The plan is extremely vague,» said Alexandros Economopoulos, professor of waste management at the University of Crete. «While it favors thermal processing (a form of incineration), there are no studies indicating which particular method is most appropriate.» Economopoulos believes that despite this trend at the level of regional planning, works are under way (in Keratea and Grammatiko) for drying plants, which do not require prior recycling. While the experts seem to be in favor of thermal processing, there is another major problem requiring immediate attention: responsibility for waste treatment plants, both existing ones and those still to be built. «The further we move away from the dumping and covering of garbage and move toward multiple technologies, there is usually a corresponding decrease in the state’s ability to manage them,» Lolos said. «Local and state government bodies are clearly incapable of implementing European Union directives regarding new technologies. The Ano Liosia recycling plant is a case in point, as is the Kalamata recycling plant that closed shortly after it opened because of a series of mistakes. It appears that a new institutional model is needed for management.» Things will become even more difficult if one considers that the new technologies will be implemented by the private sector, since EU funds for waste management have already been assigned and there can be no subsidized projects. «At this very crucial phase local government will have to make use of the institutional framework provided for in the Public Private Partnerships,» Lolos said. Nevertheless, he added, if the state wants to entrust this transitional phase to private interests, then it will have to cease favoring monopolies and open up the market to competition.