Poor waste management threatens island image

While the Greek islands are normally associated with happy sun-and-sea holidays, mountains of trash are also a common eyesore that authorities have failed to deal with in an effective manner. It was this failure that recently prompted the University of the Aegean and the nongovernmental organization Sails for Science, which specializes in the sustainable development of islands, to organize a conference on the island of Samos on the issue of waste management in the Aegean archipelago.

Scientists from around the world and local government representatives from many of Greece’s islands attended the event to discuss their concerns, set ambitious goals and explore new synergies and partnerships.

Petra Campbell, CEO of Pacific Aid Australia, discussed a program run by the organization to improve the quality of drinking water on Easter Island in the southeastern Pacific, which had been affected by unregulated dumping.

“In cooperation with the Tahitian authorities, we designed a program for proper waste management, brought a machine that separates solid recyclables from other waste, informed the local population on the effects of using plastic bags, helped change legislation and offered incentives for the use of biodegradable or paper bags, boxes etc,” Campbell told the conference. Special attention, the expert said, was given to toxic waste.

“Special sealed containers are now used to store car batteries, as well as used car oil and lead batteries,” she said. Medicine packages are now returned to pharmacies that in turn give them back to drug manufacturers for reuse, while hospital waste is also destroyed according to international hygiene standards, Campbell added, listing the successes of the program. The Australian scientists went on to suggest that all islands with warm climates should be equipped with special bins for rapid composting and that countries facing waste management challenges should promote the use of recyclable diapers.

Other interesting strategies come from an island closer to Greece: Malta.

“Our studies showed us that it is possible to get households involved in recycling even without providing a financial motive,” said Marie Briguglio of the University of Malta.

“Seven years ago we started the ‘Recycling Tuesday’ campaign, in which households are encouraged to sort their trash once a week, placing paper, plastic and aluminum in separate bags,” Briguglio said.

The conference further addressed recycling programs that put financial pressure on households to comply with regulations. In Germany, for example, individuals who are remiss about sorting their trash face fines. In Malta, however, authorities sought to increase public involvement by raising awareness.

“We estimate that the majority of residents today do recycle,” said Briguglio. “They are working with the local authorities voluntarily to help solve the garbage problem.”

Sevastianos Roussos, a Greek professor who teaches at the Aix-Marseille University in southern France, stressed the benefits of using the waste from olive presses in particular.

“We talk a lot about olive oil in Greece, but rarely about the other products of the olive tree, such as the stones and the tree branches, which could possibly have a lot of value given the proper processing,” Roussos said. “Of course, for any such process to be effective it also needs to be efficient, which is why olive processing plants needs to be located in or near olive groves rather than in cities.”

Roussos and his team at the university have been cultivating useful bacteria and fungi such as mushrooms from olive press leftovers for the past 20 years.

“In Greece, where fish farming is particularly developed, the waste from olive presses could be used as fish food or even as livestock fodder,” he argued, adding that the stones can be used to heat greenhouses and the leaves for their antioxidant properties in cosmetics and hot beverages. As a result of these suggestions, Sails for Science and the Mediterranean Institute of Marine and Terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology at Aix-Marseille University decided to partner up in a pilot program for processing the refuse of olive presses.

Another piece of good news that has come from the conference is a German-Greek know-how exchange program aimed at helping the Greek islands of Samos, Icaria and Fournoi in terms of environmental protection, tourism and culture.

For Greece in particular, “special support will be provided for the management of non-recyclable waste given that from 2020 landfills will be prohibited by the European Union,” Sven Wagner, from Sails for Science, told the conference. “The challenge, therefore, will be to produce energy from waste or – alternatively – to develop a swap economy.”

Success on Tinos

One Greek island that has managed to make progress in waste management is Tinos, thanks to the activities of a community-based cooperative called “Kaloni – Kellia.”

“For the past 30 years, despite the state and community funds that were made available, the local authorities have failed to find a solution to our island’s waste management problem,” said Dimitris Politopoulos, the head of the group. In the period from August 2012 to June 2013, the association took all the preliminary steps needed to get the ball rolling: It drafted a charter, drew up a business plan, sought sponsors and launched a public information campaign. In July last year it opened a 250-square meter collection center for recyclables on the outskirts of the main town of Tinos.

The investment, which includes metal containers, scales, presses, plastic barrels for collecting used oil, a transportation lift and other equipment, came to a total of 20,000 euros thanks to the numerous donations made to back the scheme. One year later, the results of the project are impressive: By the end of August, the plant had collected 14 tons of paper, 15 tons of glass, 13,000 aluminum cans, 4 tons of plastic bags, 160,000 plastic bottles and 20 tons of frying oil. The recyclables are sorted at the plant and then sent to recycling units and paper mills in Athens.

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