Corfu society readier than ever to adopt good waste management practices
Theodoros Voros talks to Enimerosi about what has been achieved with waste management in Corfu and what still needs to happen.
Theodoros Voros, Economist & MSc Statistician
Although born in Athens, Theodoros Voros has lived with his family in Corfu since 1998. He is a member of Corfu Alternative Cultural Workshop and has been an active member of the Bypassing Middlemen Group since 2013. He also followed lessons in waste management from 2016 to 2018.
He took active part in the following seminars in Corfu:
- November 2018 – Community Waste Management: The example of waste management by citizens in Sparta.
- October 2019 – Can Corfu become a zero-waste island role model?
He is an active member of the waste.gr initiative for proper waste management and has played an active role in the establishment and development of Green Spots in Corfu.
He is an admin on the Facebook Waste Management Group for Corfu and the rest of Greece as well as the waste.gr Facebook Page.
Theodoros has had articles published on waste management, with economic and statistical analysis, in local media and sites such as Ecopress, Water & Waste, Greenagenda and others in Greece (Athens, Thessaloniki, Peloponnese, Ionian Islands etc.).
How did you first become interested in the subject of waste management and how have you become involved?
There has always been an interest in environmental issues. We have to live in harmony with nature for the survival of our species and the planet. The big crisis in waste management in Corfu, which reached its peak in 2018, raised the question of what is it that others in other Municipalities both in Greece and abroad are doing right, but we are doing wrong and cannot have rational and modern management.
As an economist and statistician, I am able to highlight the problem from an economic point of view. In order to solve a problem, you must first analyse it. Therefore, the need to understand and make the issue of waste management more specific, the need to explain why we are not making any progress, especially at a local level, was the reason to look further into the issue, since it concerns a popular tourist destination, where failed and outdated choices can prove to be disastrous for our future and our survival.
Waste management is a major issue in Corfu - what progress do you feel has been made recently and how has this come about?
Progress has been made since 2018, mainly due to the awareness that has been raised in a significant part of local communities. Many high-quality workshops have been held in Corfu with known scientists as speakers. Therefore, the theoretical knowledge exists and much of the population has it. A great boost has been given by the foreign nationals (British, French, German, Dutch, etc.) living on the island, who have the culture of recycling and have played a key role with their knowledge and creativity in the creation of green spots. We trained each other, worked as a team and the result was impressive.
In Corfu there is now the North Corfu Municipality for which green spots are a strategic choice with already tangible results. The recycling rate was 0% in 2019, but within two years and without basic infrastructure it has already exceeded 10% and it is likely to increase further over the coming period. I believe it is only a matter of time before the other Municipalities follow in order to make progress throughout the island.
What do you feel is the goal we need to be aiming at and how can this be achieved?
The European directives on the circular economy have already been incorporated into national law. Thus, the targets are now a legal obligation for the whole country and, therefore, for all regions, municipalities, local communities, all of us. We are, of course, at the beginning of this effort. The goal is to reach a 50-65% recovery of recyclable materials and up to 10% residue for landfill over the coming years.
Circumstances are now forcing us to stop delaying. But we have an important advantage. A large part of the population is already trained, they know what to do. The experience of green spots has taught us that, as long as we try and stay focused on the goal, we can achieve great results. The green spots in Liapades, Gouvia or Arillas, which achieved more than 60% reduction of mixed waste etc. in 30 days, are a great example. What is left to do now is the adoption of credible programmes aiming at high recovery and low rates of residues for landfill, strict adherence to deadlines, good communication and respect for the citizens.
Liapades Green Spot
Has there been a shift in the attitude of people in Corfu towards waste management and how do you think this has come about?
The experience we have gained from the green spots, which is an innovative phenomenon, has taught us that here in Corfu we have found a very important reason to bring out the best part of ourselves. Local communities have found a very creative way of expression and a place of cooperation. The exchange of experiences, the perception that we deserve something better for our lives and the will to try have played an important role so that today we can claim that Corfu society is readier than ever to adopt good practices.
The green spots are also a place of education. Schools are actively involved, the Ionian University has already signed memoranda of cooperation with Corfu Municipalities. In the new local waste management plans of the Municipalities, especially in the north, there is a strategy to become a zero waste island. After the experience of the waste management crisis that we have experienced in a very painful way over the past years, local bodies are ready to contribute to this effort and follow good practices, provided there is a reliable institutional environment.
Some tourism businesses, on their own initiative, have already proceeded to separate collection of recyclable and organic materials with excellent results. If this is followed by more people and businesses, it could, with the encouragement of Municipalities, even create branding as everyone would like to become the first in recycling, understanding the environmental, economic and social benefits.
Recycling in Arillas
With regard to recycling, how do you think local authorities and volunteers should work together?
Honesty, integrity, reliability, consistency, transparency in the system, the adoption of programmes clearly oriented towards sorting at source, correct and timely information, good communication of measurable results, interpretation of deviations from targets, the adoption of incentives and disincentives and respect for the citizens are necessary, so that there will be effective and successful cooperation between local authorities and volunteers.
The publication of monthly quantitative data on waste management and recycling could be of great help here. Any successes in recycling could serve as an additional incentive for even greater social participation. Recognition of the great work of volunteers and rewards from institutional bodies could play a key role in developing a culture of recycling. And talking of reward, we are finally including financial incentives. It is inconceivable that Municipalities get more than €400 for every ton recycled on the island and do not return, even symbolically, part of this money to those who work and save valuable resources for the whole society.
Do you find that young people are concerned about the environment and if so, do they get involved in helping to protect it?
Young people are very interested in environmental issues and want to live in a decent environment. It is the older people’s responsibility to find the right way to approach young people. In the volunteer groups that have supported the green spots, young people have always been present in actions to protect the environment, either as volunteers or in schools.
It is entirely our responsibility to encourage them to participate wherever they can. Above all, we must give them the opportunity to express their ideas, opinions and needs, which we must truly take into account and include in our next steps. At the same time, we must not put obstacles in their initiatives and actions and we must support them in every way we can. If we don’t do well, then we have certainly made a mistake somewhere in our approach or manner.
How do you think we can keep a balance between tourism and protecting the environment?
Popular tourist destinations usually have very limited options available for landfills due to geographical limitations and seasonality in production of waste. It is, therefore, necessary to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills through actions to reduce the production of waste and increase reuse of materials and recycling.
In order for destinations to be sustainable, there must be a balance between tourism and environmental protection. This balance is both a requirement and a necessity. Climate change is another reason we must take into account in order to adjust or revise policies. Large number of visitors to a tourist destination means a much more demanding need for rational, modern and effective waste management.
In Corfu, the tourism sector produces 40-45% of waste. In order to achieve a qualitative upgrade of tourism, the latter must coexist with the protection of the environment and must follow successful examples of tourist destinations that apply zero waste policies and have very clean towns and villages, thus upgrading their image and making them more attractive. It is tourism businesses that will play a key role in achieving this goal by actively participating in the implementation of zero waste programmes.
Regarding the major problem of climate change, what do you think should be done on a local, national and global basis?
The collapse of all indicators relating to environmental protection and biodiversity is a sign that if we continue to behave in the same way and if we do not radically change our attitude to life, then there is no hope, no future.
The model of non-management of waste applied so far, i.e. dumping waste in landfills, is degrading the environment by emitting pollutants such as carbon dioxide, methane, dioxins, etc., it is polluting the groundwater and is effecting in a clearly negative way the biodiversity, sustainability and climate change. It is an irresponsible behaviour that cannot be tolerated by anyone. It is disrespectful to ourselves, to future generations, to life itself.
It is worth pointing out that the EU has the implementation of “green” policies very high on the agenda. It has set high targets, which are binding for all countries. It has done this because it has identified the problem and decided that it is important to follow environmentally friendly options in all sectors. Waste management is one such example. Our country is one of the last ones in Europe when it comes to waste management – only 5% of recyclable materials are being recovered and it is sending 95% of the waste produced to landfill, while the management cost is almost double the EU average. We must all (Ministry, regions, Municipalities, other bodies) work to change this unacceptable situation.
If we look at the issue from this perspective, we can easily understand how important it is to follow those models in waste management that ensure maximum savings and, at the same time, minimise the problem in all its aspects. We can think about how important it is to be able to reach the levels of other societies that utilise their waste by recovering resources and recycling over 90%, while also sending to landfill less than 1%.
One would expect all projects and actions concerning waste management from now on to be oriented towards sorting at source with a door-to-door system, combined with appropriate incentives and disincentives, in order to achieve the goal of high material recovery and low landfill rates.
It is necessary to switch immediately to sorting at source. Funding is available from European programmes. What is left now is the political will to finally do the right thing. We must be interested in contributing to climate change actions, we must contribute to achieving the circular economy goals, we must get updated on developments at a global level and be open to cooperation, we must make use of scientific knowledge and global experience so that we can become a zero-waste, zero-emission society.
We have to contribute, in a positive way through rational waste management, to the protection of biodiversity and to the protection of life and our big home – the planet.
Are you optimistic about the future?
What makes me feel optimistic is that today more and more of Corfu’s residents are changing their attitudes and are adopting a lifestyle that leaves a smaller environmental footprint. The debate on the need to save resources for future generations is also very important.
Green spots as a phenomenon are preserved through time. It is impressive that entire local communities are coordinating their actions in order to develop, improve, better and more effectively operate green spots. For the first time a Municipality, the North Corfu Municipality, has as its main strategic choice a decentralised system based on sorting at source and green spots, achieving in a short time very good results both in recycling and in saving resources.
28 schools and 21 hotels within the North Corfu Municipality are also operating as green spots and are contributing to a culture change.
I am very optimistic that it is only a matter of time before we see good practices being adopted throughout the island by all municipalities and bodies, with Corfu creating a tourism destination branding, having turned the waste management problem into a problem of managing useful materials and resources, leaving any bad habits in the past. The island – the North Corfu Municipality in particular – has already received the first awards for implementing good practices and this can encourage other Municipalities to take such steps and implement good practices. There is already positive advertisement for our island. It is now up to us to improve our image as a destination.
Sorting at source is in fact our only choice. As time goes by, the benefits of clean materials become more and more obvious. These benefits are as follows:
a) the quantities of the mixed waste going to the green bins are drastically reduced, thus reducing the need to transport them to Kozani or Palairo, as well as the environmental burden
b) large savings in waste management cost
c) social benefits due to the creation of new quality green jobs as a result of sorting at source, which is a labour-intensive model.
d) success requires a lot of participation, but there is great willingness and desire to change culture and attitude
e) all actions for the circular economy are co-funded by the European programme 2021-2027, so we have every reason to want, as local communities, to see good practices being adopted and implemented effectively and we have every reason to be optimistic that we can achieve great things on our island over the coming period.