Nobody likes to think about trash – or wants it in their backyard. But with Attica’s Ano Liosia landfill filling by 2005 and the threat of massive European Union fines for 1,500-some illegal dumps facing the country, Greece is being forced to make trash a priority. The Ministry of the Environment, Public Planning and Public Works is trying to speed up its decade-long replacement of unmonitored dumps with “Sanitary Legal Waste Burial Sites” (HYTA).
The first steps are also being taken to make Greece “reduce, reuse and recycle” – something EU laws increasingly demand. However, the toughest challenge may be getting regional authorities agree over the locations of new landfills, an explosive political issue. Greece makes up 30% of the currently open European Court cases (totalling 30 in number) concerning illegal landfills. Since 1990, Greece has gone to the European Court 14 times over environmental infringements. The only fine to date has been over 5 million euros for the Kouroupitos, Crete dump.
Though a 1975 law established Greek landfill legislation, for decades hundreds of municipalities have been sending mounds of trash to dumps that lack permits and proper location/ sanitation standards; many landfills have sparked forest fires or produced dioxins when trash is burnt. However, Environment Ministry figures indicate a turnaround. The 6,000 illegal landfills of a few years ago were reduced to 2,182 by late 2001 and to less than 1,500 today. However, remaining illegal dumps fester everywhere: Attica has 27, the Peloponnese houses 157 and Cycladic and Dodecanese islands tally 64 together.
In late July, the European Commission blew the whistle on this status quo, announcing that Greece will go the European Court of Justice for the 1,458 landfills that take in 44% of Greek waste. The landfills violate its1999 Landfill Directive. The Commission also gave final notice to Greece over three additional spots: Eastern Attica’s illegal Paeania dump, Crete’s unauthorised Maroulas landfill and Psittalia (an island off of Pireas with unsatisfactory sludge treatment). Stiff fines, like those paid by Crete for its Kouroupitos dump , could accompany a Court of Justice verdict.
The Cohesion Fund plan
The Environment Ministry is preparing for the impending case with the best defence of all – the elimination of all unmanaged landfills. But, as ministry official Ioannis Mahairas notes: “These dumps can’t be closed until HYTA are built to replace them.” This may take till 2007. Since 1994 (with the 2nd Community Support Plan), 36 HYTA have been created. Thirty more are in the works. HYTA are massive holes, lined with aluminum and plastic that keep dangerous materials from seeping into the ground and water supply, also preventing toxic gases from escaping. Once filled, they are covered and tended to for 30 years (by EU law). Burying waste, cheaper than regulated burning, is Greece’s waste disposal method of choice.
Through late August, the Environment Ministry accepted applications from municipal and prefecture authorities for waste management projects in a nation-wide scheme co-funded by a European Union Cohesion Fund . Regions submitted long-term plans for HYTA, dump upgrades, recycling and trash management/ transport. The projects could tap into over 170 million euros (according to an Ethnos newspaper estimate) in Cohesion Fund moneys, with 70% paid by the EU and 30% by Greece.
However, the assembled “waste management map” of Greece is riddled with holes. It seems that each prefecture has at least one area over which no common ground can be found. Some regions have not submitted proposals or up-to-date plans at all. This could mean the persistence of disparities between neighbours, such as the difference between Patra city , which has a modern landfill, and the rest of its prefecture, which lacks any.