NEWS

Trash disposal lands Greece in the mire

Northern Europe recycles, Eastern Europe recycles, but Greece still buries its garbage in landfills, a practice that has made it liable for hefty EU fines. According to official data compiled by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics service, 77 percent of all household garbage in Greece ends up in landfills, when the corresponding percentage in France is 36 percent, in Belgium 5 percent and in Germany just 1 percent. The «gold medal» for prudent refuse management goes to Austria, where 70 percent of the garbage produced in the country is either recycled or made into compost. Although Greece’s recycling performance is actually not far off the European average, the relevant data sent by Athens to the EU in recent years has been repeatedly disputed, even by the country’s current environment minister, Tina Birbili. Each citizen in EU-27 produces 524 kilos of garbage annually, according to Eurostat, more than the average Greek who generates 453 kilos, but 77 percent of this winds up in landfills; only 21 percent is recycled and 2 percent is turned into compost. However Birbili herself recently estimated that the recycling figure for Greece is only 14 percent, attributing the difference to creative accounting on the part of her predecessor. Ten years ago, Greece became the first EU country to be fined (about 5.4 million euros) by the European Court for violating Community legislation on garbage disposal. The failure since then to close at least 1,125 illegal landfills, which pollute the soil and underground water, means Greece now faces a daily fine of 30,000-35,000 euros for each landfill operating unlawfully. But while Greece’s recycling record might justifiably be described as «rubbish,» the performance of some EU peers is worse. In Bulgaria, all garbage ends up in landfills, in Romania 99 percent and in Malta 97 percent.