Battle over dumped rubble pending recycling legislation

Five million tons of rubble are produced every year in Greece (one-third of it in Attica) as a result of building construction and public works projects. Most of it ends up in watercourses, on mountain slopes or in forests. Those directly involved say there is a silent war going on between major and minor players, and «immunity» agreements with local government agencies. They say a solution can only be found when legislation (a presidential decree pending since 2003) is passed on the recycling of waste from construction and earth-moving works. The disposal of rubble is an ongoing problem, given the extent of construction activity around the country. Every project, from the demolition of old homes to the opening up of new roads, creates huge quantities of unwanted material. «We’re not only talking about rocks, soil, bricks and metal,» said Christina Theohari, head of the standing environment committee at the Technical Chamber of Greece. «What is known as ‘rubble’ could also contain asbestos and all kinds of other toxic materials used in construction.» So the dumping of this kind of waste just anywhere is more than just an eyesore. However, the companies who manage this waste are forced to work semi-legally or even illegally because there are not enough legal dumping sites. The presidential decree on the recycling of rubble, which would considerably reduce the quantities produced, has been batted back and forth over the past four years between the Development Ministry and the Environment and Public Works Ministry (when last heard of, it was at the Council of State). Those working in the sector make no bones about the problem; after all it is affecting their business. «We estimate that about 100,000 tons of rubble are produced in Attica every day, from both public and private construction works,» said Dimitris Kioukis, head of the Federation of Earth-moving Equipment Owners of Greece. «Of that we have an agreement that allows us to send about 5,000-10,000 tons to the Ano Liosia landfill to cover the garbage taken there. We recently sent a similar quantity to the former Zoitsa Quarry at Koropi as part of the quarry’s restoration. About 30,000 tons were sent daily to the two quarries at Markopoulo, that is, until the quarries were closed a few days ago, although we believe that they will re-open in a few days. Some 20,000 tons are taken each day to the Frangos Quarry at Fili, managed by a private firm. The remaining 30,000 tons are dumped around Attica.» The situation is complicated even further by the construction firms. «Some companies have signed contracts to assume responsibility for certain old quarries, said Kioukis. «It is assumed that we can also send rubble to those sites, but the firms allow it according to their needs. That is, if they see that they have enough from one of their own sites, they keep the quarry closed to us.» There are also problems with former or current owners of various quarries, and lawsuits are not infrequent on each side. Representatives of the sector believe there are two solutions. The first is to reach a decision on the restoration of all old quarries in Attica under state or local government management, not by the private sector. The second is to move ahead with the decree on the recycling of rubble and earth-moving material, which was only recently sent to the Council of State for examination. «As long as no one monitors the quantities of material, then everyone can do as they like,» said Kioukis. «If people want to unload a truck somewhere in the middle of the night, there is nothing to stop them. Some smaller businesses have gained immunity through connections with municipal staff and forestry services. Larger businesses are not accountable for systematic dumping in private fields or even next to residential areas. Of course any dumping of rubble without a permit from the physical planning authority is illegal.» Given the thriving construction industry in this country, the market is already preparing to launch itself into the recycling business. «About 10 systems for the recycling and reuse of rubble and are awaiting presidential decree. That is unprecedented – to have the will but not the legislation,» said Philippos Kyrkitsos, president of the Ecological Recycling Association. «Until now the decree was being blocked by major contractors because of the cost. Now they are seeking a share of the recycling market.»