Despite being heavy consumers of bottled water from plastic bottles, recycling isn’t a concept that has caught on quickly in Greece. Until recently we had to load several bags of recycling into the car each time we went shopping, and drop them off in the nearest bins, about 25 kilometers away. Then just a few months bright blue bins appeared in the village. Progress at last as they’d only been standing in a local depot for about the previous 3 months.
Prior to the latest arrivals there was one small blue recycling bin in the area, but it was emptied by the normal refuse collectors, who recycled it straight into the landfill! Now there is the opportunity for everyone to recycle as the blue bins sit next to the regular refuse bins. They’re often full – but it seems there’s still a need for education, as they aren’t necessarily full of recycled items. Despite the clear pictures on the side, showing what is and isn’t appropriate to recycle, some people appear to be putting their normal waste into these bins.
A newspaper article also highlighted school children who had photographed a blue bin being emptied into the normal refuse – slightly embarrassing for the authorities, but probably indicative of the general attitude towards recycling.
When we lived in England we had several different recycling bins and we were expected to sort our items into paper, glass, plastic, garden waste, aluminum etc. Here in Greece they’ve taken a different approach: you put everything in the same bin and it’s sorted by humans – kitted out in protective clothing and wearing masks they work their way through vast piles of mixed recyclables. Not work for the faint hearted.
The normal practice appears to be for green waste to be burnt rather than taking the opportunity of recycling it for composting. The extensive olive harvest produces lots of green waste. While the larger branches are taken for logs, the smaller branches and leaves are piled up and burnt, or sometimes thrown into the normal refuse bins. In a country which is still largely agricultural that’s a lot of burning.
Plant prunings are treated in the same way. Occasionally you see some cuttings left on the ground to rot, but there seems little awareness of the benefits of composting. Given the quality of the soil in some areas, a good layer of compost would probably be beneficial, and help to retain water as well.
Like all other countries Greece has targets to meet for recycling. Signs so far suggest they are struggling with these, and you can’t help but feel they aren’t doing themselves any favors in the way they’ve decided to approach the task. But we will carry on in our own small way, and look forward to becoming one of the majority rather than a select minority.