Why Greece must get greener
Dabs Banner: November 2014
The Greek Islands are heavily promoted as sun, sea and sand holiday destinations but regular visitors will know that piles of rubbish are a major eyesore in many island resorts.
And it is not only overflowing roadside bins and piles of smelly rubbish bags in the streets that are a problem.
Greek authorities have been told to close dozens of illegal landfills this year or face a €22 million fine from the European Court with further fines of more than €50,000-a-day if illegal dumps continue to remain open.
For a country that is throwing millions at promoting the Greek Islands as the holiday destination of choice, the failure to tackle the twin problems of street rubbish and illegal landfills seems a strange strategy to the outsider.
Greek island leaders and scientists gathered at a special conference on Samos recently to thrash out ways to tackle the rubbish problem in Greece.
Greece needs to clean up its act quickly. From 2020, open landfills where waste is dumped indiscriminately will be prohibited by the European Union.
Greece was convicted in 2005 for violating European waste management laws when the country had some 1,125 illegal landfill sites.
The number of illegal sites was drastically reduced and last year more than 70 active landfills and another 223 dump sites have been closed.
But Greek island authorities are not replacing the landfills with legal alternatives and the islands face a particular problem in having little land to provide new sites that meet EU regulations.
Illegal rubbish dumps blight Greek island beaches
A survey this year counted a total of 16 illegal landfills operating in the Cyclades and Dodecanese and four more in the northern Aegean.
Continued pressure from the European Union to clean up and recycle waste materials may be the biggest incentive for Greece to finally get moving on the waste management issue.
One of the biggest challenges will be getting the Greeks themselves to go green and stop dumping rubbish. Rusting vehicles, dumped refrigerators and old car tyres are not an uncommon sight for those holiday visitors who enjoy walking the hills and valleys of the Greek islands.
Ideas discussed at the Samos conference included fines for Greek households who fail to recycle waste. In Germany, for example, household who fail to sort out rubbish for recycling can face stiff penalties.
But other delegates pointed to successful schemes on Malta where campaigns to persuade households to sort their rubbish once a week, have proved very successful.
And there are moves to help Greeks get green such as a German-Greek exchange program aimed at helping the Greek islands of Samos, Ikaria and Fournoi improve environmental protection.
Tinos island a model for the future
But it is not just the Greek culture that needs shifting, the small holidays island of Greece present an especially difficult challenge and special support may be needed to cope with the tons of non-recyclable waste turned out by tourist visitors that are expected to top 20 million in 2015.
The Dodecanese island of Tinos may provide a model for other islands. After years of state funding little progress was made in finding a solution to the island's waste management problem.
But in 2013 the island drafted a charter, drew up a business plan, sought sponsors and launched a public information campaign to tackle the island's rubbish and last year opened a collection centre for recyclables on the outskirts of the main town.
The €20,000 investment has paid off handsomely. Within months the plant had collected 14 tons of paper, 15 tons of glass, 13,000 aluminium cans, 4 tons of plastic bags, 160,000 plastic bottles and 20 tons of frying oil.
Other islands will have to follow suit quickly if they are to avoid heavy Euro fines. The benefits are not only a cleaner, safer environment but the opportunity to increase tourism even further by enhancing the beauty of the Greek islands even further.