Despite increase in environmentally friendly programs, Greece lags EU peers in recycling, waste management

A growing number of recycling programs are starting to get off the ground across the country, but with limited results, since municipal officials have dragged their feet on projects and authorities have done a poor job of informing citizens about the services. Under pressure from Brussels to meet EU-imposed goals, Greece has launched a number of recycling programs in the last few years. Recycling household waste, batteries, petrol products and abandoned cars are among the programs that have been started and are being run by newly formed bodies. One of the better-known programs is the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Program (HERRCO) which is responsible for the siting of blue bins in many neighborhoods. More than 27,000 blue bins have been placed in some 70 municipalities around the country to encourage recycling and lighten the daily load of rubbish taken to landfills. The scheme – which collects paper, plastic, metal and cardboard – has been expanding steadily. «The system with the blue bins is very good. It has been operating systematically,» Phillip Kirkitsos, president of the Ecological Recycling Society, a non-profit organization, told Kathimerini English Edition. The program got a boost last year when a number of municipal councils added the blue bins to their streets shortly before local elections in October in a bid to show voters their environmentally friendly side. But even more councils must join the recycling program to make the scheme more accessible and authorities must make a consistent effort to empty the bins so that the program can gain the public’s confidence. Waste management programs are helping Greece’s recycling services catch up with those in the rest of the EU. Greece is some 13 years behind the rest of Europe, experts say. But they are optimistic that the right foundations are being put in place for speedier progress in the next few years. According to the Environment Ministry, some 14 percent of rubbish was recycled in 2006 and this figure is expected to rise to an ambitious 20 percent this year. The respective EU average stands at around 33 percent. A closer look at the numbers shows the vast amount of work that still lies ahead. Industry data show that 26 percent of glass is recycled in Greece while 29 percent of paper is reused. The figure is low in comparison to countries such as Germany, where 79 percent of glass is used again. By 2011, Greece needs to be recycling 60 percent of its glass in order to abide by EU rules. Despite the growing network, one of the major problems with the blue bins is that households do not sort waste properly, slowing down the recycling procedure and making it less efficient. Better advertising of recycling procedures will help overcome this problem, sources said. «This (poor sorting) happens due to the fact that there has been no proper marketing campaign on the issue. When a recycling effort is accompanied by the right communication campaign then people respond,» said one industry source. A poor information campaign on recycling is also likely to blame for the missed targets at Appliance Recycling, which collects old electrical appliances. About 174 councils in Greece have joined the program but results have fallen well short of goals. National targets specified that by the end of 2006, households were expected to have recycled 44,000 tons of electrical appliances, an amount which corresponds to 4 kilos per resident. By the end of 2006, the total figure was only 12,000 tons. No one was available at Appliance Recycling to comment on the large shortfall. But some senior government officials hinted that patience with the program’s implementation will eventually be rewarded with results. «Abroad, recycling starts at home, from the family, with separate bins (placed on streets),» Environment Minister Giorgos Souflias told journalists earlier this week. «Let’s not kid ourselves, because it is difficult to teach Greeks (recycling habits),» he added. One of the changes that experts believe will help encourage environmentally friendly practices is the establishment of an authority to oversee the recycling programs. «The work that needs to be done by this organization is massive and its delay sets back all activities regarding recycling… delaying procedures for the economy and the creation of many new job positions,» added Kirkitsos. Legislation approving this new body was passed two-and-a-half years ago but the cost of funding such a program has kept the idea from being realized. Currently the work is being done by a small team at the Environment Ministry. Higher priority As the public grows increasingly worried about the effects of rapid climate change, Greece’s leaders are viewing environmental issues more carefully and including them on their political agendas. Recently appointed Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, who was sworn in last week, told Kathimerini that the current situation is unacceptable. «When you sweep a problem under a rug so that you don’t see it… not only do you not solve it but you will also be faced with the situation in a violent way,» he said. Kaklamanis, one of the most popular members of the ruling New Democracy party, is expected to soon meet with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to discuss the city’s waste management woes. «The government should realize that it could perhaps risk losing the elections from the rubbish problems in Attica,» added Kaklamanis. Sources said that the mayor is also examining whether to launch new campaigns, in cooperation with the Environment Ministry, to help inform Athenians about alternative trash disposal methods. Athens’s main landfill in Ano Liosia is expected to fill up in a few months, making more pressing the need to find a replacement. The capital produces about 6,000 tons of rubbish per day, half of which is recyclable packaging material from everyday consumer goods. Plans to help ease the rubbish problem by opening new landfills in Grammatiko and Keratea have been blocked by local residents, who have taken the issue to court. Since no residents want a dump in their back yards, the siting of a new landfill has become one of the most hotly debated topics in the greater Athens area. The Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, is expected to rule on the landfill siting issue in coming weeks. Meanwhile, data show that improved waste management makes good business sense. According to figures from the European Commission, 250 jobs are created by every 10,000 tons of waste that is recycled. Improved waste management policies will also satisfy the EU, which will continue to threaten Greece with fines if municipal governments continue to act too slowly on issues such as recycling. If Greece does not close its illegal landfills by the end of 2007 then the government is likely to be hit with a one-off fine of -20 million, followed by fines of -40 million for every six months that the dumps continue to exist, according to industry sources. Environment Ministry data show that since 2004 the government has shut down 1,850 of the country’s 2,626 illegal landfills. However, ministry officials said that more have sprung up in their place. Souflias warned council officials earlier this week that any EU fines Greece receives for the illegal dumps will be passed on to municipalities.

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