Garbage still piling up

Greece is not only the dirtiest country in the European Union but also the country most unlikely to clean itself up in the near future, it appears. The European Commission has just issued a list of the 10 regions in Greece with the largest number of illegal garbage dumps, which it is referring to the European Court of Justice. However, there are many more of these sites and all constitute a major problem for the communities concerned. As residents protest and local authorities await funding from the Third Community Support Framework, mountains of garbage continue to pile up in the most inappropriate places. Even where there is local agreement on where to locate the new waste-processing plants, and even if the requisite funds are found, it will be more difficult to change the mentality of those who think someone else should concern themselves with garbage collection, separation and management. Although the European Commission points out that we are a year late in aligning ourselves with European legislation on waste management, no action has been taken. For example, according to European Directive 1999/31, by 2015, the amount of organic waste reaching processing plants should be reduced by 65 percent in comparison to 1995. This entails advance planning and persuading local residents to separate waste at the source. Greece produces about 5 million tons of garbage every year, of which 95 percent winds up at garbage dumps without undergoing any form of processing. (In the EU overall, only 57 percent of garbage ends up in waste-processing plants.) Plastics, inflammable material, paper, aluminum and many other materials are thrown into Greece’s landfill sites, covered up haphazardly by municipal authorities and expected to just disappear. The EU’s list of Greece’s illegal garbage dumps was drawn up after complaints by people living near these sites. This is in addition to the notorious Kouroupitos side on the island of Crete, for which a heavy fine was imposed, and others at Epitalio, in the prefecture of Ileia and Pera Galini in Iraklion, also on Crete, which have also landed Greece in the European Court. One of the sites on the EU’s list, at Alyki on the island of Paros, has been closed and covered and planted with trees. «The site closed as a result of complaints from local residents. However, the garbage continues to mount up at the island’s other sites, where there is the same problem,» the municipality’s environmental expert, Yiannis Drakoulakos, told Kathimerini. Local authorities are carrying out surveys for the location of new waste-processing plants, but there have been difficulties. «As land use is not clearly determined everywhere, buildings can be erected almost anywhere, and naturally, where people are living, there are bound to be complaints. We know we are late but we are waiting for the Environment and Public Works Ministry to send us the complete management plan,» he added. Next on the EU’s list is the Maroula site in Rethymnon, Crete, where 60-65 percent of the prefecture’s waste ends up, the remainder going to a number of other illegal dumps. «There is no real problem because the site is 4 kilometers from the nearest settlement,» said Dimitris Archondakis, Rethymnon’s deputy mayor. In Halkidiki, in northern Greece, the EU list refers to a site in Ierisso, but there are another eight such sites. «In Nea Roda, the site is 800 meters from major hotels,» said Deputy Mayor Pavlos Tome. «The site at Ierisso is 400-500 meters from the beach and, of course, there have been complaints,» he added. According to Tome, residents have agreed on the site for at least one waste-processing plant scheduled for the area. In Paeania and Halandri in Attica, Aigion and Arta, and the island of Skiathos, to name just a few of the names on the EU’s list, there are similar problems, no doubt exacerbated by funding delays. At the same time, however, local communities have made no preparations nor have the public been made aware of how waste should be managed properly. According to Directive 1999/31, which should have been incorporated into Greek legislation by July 16, 2001, garbage should be separated before being sent to the processing plants, which should only receive waste that fulfills certain conditions. These rule out rubber tires, liquid wastes, inflammable and caustic material, infectious matter and livestock waste. The EU directive is based on the premise that we have to try to produce less garbage, to recycle or produce energy where we can, in order to reduce the amount of garbage as much as possible.