Greek recycling programs in the trash can

Recycling has been under discussion for years in Greece, but it is being dealt with more as an obligation to the Europe Union, to show that we have done something, with little or no practical results. Laggards in the EU when it comes to recycling, we squabble about where to put the trash which will end up, unprocessed, in garbage dumps. The only advantage is that we produce the least trash in the EU – 400 kilos per head. But we won’t be in the lead for long. The output of trash in Greece has risen by an estimated 50 percent over the past decade. For years, we have been the worst in the EU at recycling of all types. We recycle only 26 percent of the glass we use and 29 percent of the paper. Corresponding figures in Germany are 79 percent for glass and 70 percent for paper. EU regulations mandate that by 2011 we must recycle 60 percent of glass, 60 percent of paper, 50 percent of metal, 22.5 percent of plastic and 15 percent of wood. Will we manage? Probably not. All the attempts that have been made so far to implement recycling programs have failed. The reason is that they have been organized piecemeal, the public has not been informed and the basic aim has not been to succeed but just to make it look as if something is being done. It was typical that before the recent local government elections many municipalities decided to join the (voluntary) recycling program, putting out the blue bins that have started appearing around town over the past two years. The project is part of an endeavor by the Greek Recycling Company, which was formed upon the orders of the EU by companies that sell packaged goods so as to help recycle the packaging of paper, aluminum, plastic and glass. By 2011, it will be mandatory to recycle 55-80 percent of packaging waste. So far, with the help of the municipal elections, the bins have been distributed in 367 municipalities around Greece. The success of the program depends on many factors. For a start, residents must get used to putting packaging materials in different bins. Few can be bothered. Then, as local authorities are supposed to collect the waste, bins in many areas are rarely emptied, and usually contain all kinds of trash, as residents use them as regular garbage bins, especially when the other ones are full. That makes the process of separating the waste extremely difficult and time-consuming. About 50 percent of the public is estimated to be participating in the program. In comparison with earlier attempts, the results are promising; in comparison with the rest of Europe, they are disappointing. Not surprisingly, few are prepared to go to the trouble of separating the trash at home if they cannot see any visible benefit or if not forced to do so. As long as recycling is treated in Greece as a good gesture for the environment but not as any necessary obligation so we are not overwhelmed by trash, every such program is doomed to be implemented by just a few eccentrics.

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