OPINION

Woefully outdated trash system

Some mistakes are unavoidable and, when one learns from them, also beneficial. Problems arise when mistakes do not lead to wisdom but rather to blindness and insensitivity. Now that citizens have finally started showing sensitivity on environmental matters, the central and local authorities have made no real efforts to promote alternative forms of waste management and separation-at-source programs. On the contrary, they are holding society back: firstly by insisting on the creation of more landfills to tackle Greece’s mounting trash problem and secondly by cheating citizens who have embraced recycling, by dumping their recycled materials in the landfills. It seems anachronistic that millions of tons of garbage continue to be dumped in people’s neighborhoods when the Germans sort 90 percent of their garbage and the Dutch reuse 80 percent of theirs. Indeed, most European countries have an organized system for dealing with their rubbish. Meanwhile, in Greece only 350 of more than 1,000 local authorities offer citizens blue recycling bins and there are only 14 trash-sorting units in the entire country. In 2007, when other countries were recycling up to 75 percent of their garbage, we only reached the 8 percent level. And we know the worst. A large proportion of valuable recyclable materials end up in Athens’s main landfill. Municipal officials all too often empty the contents of blue bins in regular trash-collecting trucks. The excuse they use is that citizens dump all sorts of trash – including non-recyclable materials – in the recycling bins, but the truth is that there is a severe lack of sorting units for recycled materials. Sometimes those handling the trash allegedly remove the aluminium for sale. Society is nearly ready for change. The state isn’t though. In Britain, the central government levies a special tax on municipalities according to the volume of garbage that ends up in dumps. In Greece recycling programs do not work properly, municipalities sabotage the recycling process instead of meticulously collecting all recyclable materials (packaging accounts for around 2 million tons of the 5 million tons of garbage produced annually) and setting up their own systems for managing organic trash. The only thing systematically recycled in Greece is inactivity and corruption. We are supposed to solve our trash problem by the end of 2008 but are dramatically behind schedule. A total of 1,453 landfills are being operated by municipalities and there are more than 10,000 illegal dumps. Nevertheless, instead of promoting new forms of garbage management and recycling, the state insists on outdated solutions, thwarting the efforts of conscientious citizens.