Better late than never: The capital city is waking up to the recycling drive, but measures still fall short

The first recycling bins did not appear in the municipality of Athens until October 2006. Known as «blue bins,» these are managed by the Greek Recovery and Recycling Association (EEAA), a company set up on a European Union directive by companies that manufacture packaged goods. In Athens, they were long overdue. In fact, the municipality of Maroussi and yet another four had introduced blue bins back in 1994, while as of 2003, when recycling became mandatory, numerous other areas began joining the program. The City of Athens took its time in applying the program. First it had to decide which of the three existing recycling systems would be best suited to a municipality that combines a number of problems, including a high concentration of people and a variety of different commercial activities. However, the issue did not rank very highly on the mayoral agenda, as environmental matters are rarely a priority of politics in Greece. So, the near 800,000 residents of the City of Athens proper continued to produce garbage unhindered, sending it to the rubbish dump in Ano Liosia. «The municipal authorities may not have taken too much of an interest, but the residents themselves did not seem to care enough to also exercise some pressure,» says Philippos Kirkitsos, president of the Ecological Recycling Society. What leeway there was began to run out and the City of Athens received an order from the European Union to get its act together. According to the relevant EU directive, by 2011, 60 percent of all packaged goods should be recycled. Of course, the 1,500 bins that were placed in the city in the first pilot phase of the program are less than adequate. For the job to be done correctly, it would require some 6,000-7,000 bins, or one bin per 100 residents. This would also save residents from having to walk that extra mile – metaphorically and literally – to get their garbage to a recycling bin. The hardest step is always the first, say the authorities, and the truth is that recycling in Athens has always been something of a conundrum. The president of EEAA, Yiannis Razis, sees the 1,500 bins as «the first step in a network that is visible to all citizens and at a reasonable distance from them.» The placement of even this small number of bins was a challenge, explains one City of Athens executive. «Nobody wants a bin outside their house,» he says. The City of Athens chose not to withdraw conventional garbage bins at the same time, though the blue bins would reduce the volume of garbage they would be receiving. The blue bins appeared, disappeared and then cropped up again, 50 meters down the road. The city authorities did not display much decisiveness on the issue, as it tested all three recycling systems simultaneously in order to see which worked best. Therefore, today the city has 65 large, yellow, bell-shaped bins for paper only, 285 stainless-steel bins for plastic, glass and aluminium, and there are 25 so-called «reciprocal recycling» points at central squares around the city, where you can insert your recyclables into the relevant bins and receive either a token cash amount or donate the amount to the Smile of the Child charity. In total, Athens has approximately 2,000 recycling points, which, according to city data, collect 30 tons of recyclable material daily. The municipality of Athens produces some 1,200 tons of garbage every day (Attica as a whole is estimated to produce 5,000 tons daily). Of this amount about 40 percent, or 480 tons, is packaging material, of which just 30 tons are recycled at the source near their location of production. The remaining 50 percent is sent to the recycling unit of the Union of Municipalities and Communities, where it is sorted to produce 225 tons of solid fuels, 60 tons of organic fertilizer, 400 kilos of aluminium and 125 tons of useless residue. The other 50 percent of the city’s daily garbage output goes to the saturated dump in Ano Liosia, with all the problems this entails. Deputy Mayor Giorgos Dimopoulos says that this time round, the City of Athens is determined to make recycling work. «We think it is more useful not to have one system, but we do aim, in the near future, to increase the number of recycling points so that every resident of Athens has access to a recycling bin at 100 meters at the most.» The deputy mayor says that he expects to see «realistic» results within a short period of time, meaning that every resident will be taking 1 kilo of recyclable materials to the bins each week, doubling current output, which is at half a kilo.

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