Attica teeters on the threshold of another major waste problem

Just as the government is scrambling to find a solution to Greece’s massive waste management problem, an issue that has landed the country with millions of euros of European Commission-imposed fines over illegal landfills, another headache has come along to complicate matters even further. In about a month’s time, the last large legal dump for construction debris in Attica, which on average receives some 50,000 tons of waste a day, will be closed down. There are two solutions to the problem of where all that waste will go after the closure: pushing harder for the implementation of legislation regarding the recycling and reuse of construction debris or finding new sites at which to dump the refuse. The biggest union covering businesses involved with the removal of construction debris, the Enosis Union of Attica Earth-movers, has been trying to mobilize the state on this issue before the situation gets out of hand. «No one seems to have understood the magnitude of the problem we are looking at,» say Enosis president Thomas Panos and vice president Ilias Vroutsis. «Today in Attica alone there is a daily production of 40,000 to 50,000 tons of construction debris and earth a day. The only licensed facility that can deal with this waste is the former quarry at Zoitsa in Koropi, where the debris is being used to rebuild the landscape from the effects of quarrying. But the reconstruction of the site is almost finished, and the quarry will be taking in construction debris for just another month, and earth for another four months. After that, it’s finished,» explain the representatives, adding that «other than Zoitsa, there is a working mine belonging to Titan Cement in Malakasa, which, however, occasionally takes in construction debris that has made its way to the Fylis landfill, and also takes in just enough earth to strengthen the quarry walls. In real numbers, Zoitsa takes in 30 percent of debris, another 10 percent ends up in Malakasa and 5 percent in the landfill, and the rest is just disposed of in fields and other empty lots.» What will happen after the Zoitsa quarry closes? Illegal dumping, say the experts. «The problem is already very pronounced in Western Attica,» says Panos. «Companies would rather simply dump their waste in a field than pay 20 euros to the quarry another 70 euros in transportation fees.» From a legal standpoint, there are two ways to deal with the issue. The first is to find another quarry in need of reconstruction or buttressing work and to strike a deal with the operators. The second concerns recent legislation which made the recycling and reuse of building and excavation debris mandatory as of January 1. This program, however, has not picked up any momentum yet, because none of the 30-32 consortia that applied for licenses to handle the task have received government approval yet. The authority in charge of this process, the National Organization for the Alternative Management of Packaging Materials and Other Products (EOEDSAP), however, is not optimistic. «I’m afraid that the issue will not be solved within a month,» says EOEDSAP chairman Katia Lazaridi. «It will probably take up to three months because the license-issuing process has only just got started.» One of the biggest obstacles in the recycling scheme is finding large enough sites and equipping them. The Enosis union has already created a recycling system and has submitted a request to site it at the Mousama quarry, which is out of operation. «Because there are a lot of ‘big players’ in our field, I’m afraid that we’ll be squeezed out,» admits Panos. «The worst-case scenario is the forming of a monopoly. If the cost of recycling is allowed to be high, businesses will simply recycle the minimum required by law and dump the rest illegally.» Yiannis Polyzos, president of the Athens Organization, a department of the Environment Ministry that is focused on the Attica region, argues that «the recycling of debris need not necessarily be restricted to quarries, but it can be carried out at any industrial site.»