Porto Heli wrestles with trash problem over summer

The picturesque seaside village of Porto Heli is being transformed into an improvised landfill this summer as domestic waste is piled into unsightly mounds every few hundred meters.

Facing the Saronic island of Spetses and boasting one of the largest natural bays in the Aegean, Porto Heli has long been a favorite summer base for shipowners and other wealthy Greeks who sojourn in luxurious villas on vast plots along the coast. But along the roads that run through this town and toward the beaches and well-heeled neighborhoods of Costa, Hinitsa and Aghios Aimilianos, the stench of rotting refuse wafts as piles of garbage up to 20 meters long and several meters high rise at every corner.

For almost two months now, the town’s garbage collectors have stopped regular collections from designated locations, allowing the rubbish to accumulate in unsightly mountains that threaten to taint the village’s image and present a health hazard for residents and visitors. According to Dimitris Sfyris, the mayor-elect who takes office in September, collections ceased when the local landfill at Dydyma stopped taking truckloads five weeks ago, declaring that it was filled to capacity. Locals from the neighboring town of Kranidi complained about the landfill and the fact that its continued existence violates EU regulations, pushing for a cleaner waste management system. The same issue arose last summer but the town resorted to trucking its excess refuse almost 200 kilometers to Athens.

Sfyris claims that the town has obtained permission this year to transport up to 2,000 tons to Athens, but when asked why the current mayor, Dimitris Kamizis, is not using it to solve the problem, he smiled and acknowledged that the resulting situation would be a “good gift” for his successor.

It is difficult not to sense friction between the outgoing and incoming mayors. When he last held office, Sfyris had built a state-of-the-art recycling plant with public funds but claims Kamizis destroyed it, transforming the site into a new landfill. Although the latter’s public alternative is cheaper than Sfyris’s, which made use of a privately owned recycling facility, there are accusations that it is harmful to the environment, illegal within the EU, and unsustainable as indicated by the current state of Porto Heli’s streets where the usual 5 tons of detritus have grown to an estimated 600.

In July, Kamizis told that he would send the waste to Athens. A hastily organized emergency collection was made in early August, but piles of garbage continue to appear throughout Porto Heli. In the meantime though, the incoming mayor is preparing for his term and already plans to move the garbage out of town and go back to recycling it as soon as possible. Nonetheless, Sfyris estimates that the garbage will have grown to more than 2,000 tons by the end of August, before he takes control of the municipality.

The waste poses a problem for tourism in the region. August is Porto Heli’s peak month for visitors. In addition, locals fear the garbage has become home to rats and cockroaches. As a precaution, rat poison is being spread among the trash, harming the stray dogs and cats that feast on it. Finally, the waste constitutes a fire hazard: One pile set on fire last month by a frustrated resident burned for almost an hour before being extinguished by local firefighters.

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