Corfu waste management 2020-2021 in numbers
The innovative phenomenon of Green Spots – the interesting case of the North Corfu Municipality.
The EU attaches great importance to the implementation of circular economy in all its aspects, a key element of which is the rational management of waste and the transformation of the problem from waste management to resource management. Greece, one of the last ones in Europe when it comes to waste management, is sending 95% of the generated urban solid waste to landfill, often untreated, while only 5% of recyclable materials are being recovered at a very high management cost (1.2 billion, equivalent to 0.4% of GDP), almost twice the EU average. These data prove the inefficient and failed management, which also has a huge environmental burden.
The targets that have been set and incorporated into national law with the National Waste Management Plan 2020-2030 are: a) 50% in 2020 with a 5% increase every 5 years, reaching 65% recovery rate in 2035 and b) landfilling of residues up to 10% of the total amount of the urban solid waste produced. The abovementioned targets are impossible to achieve without the implementation of sorting at source and the door-to-door system combined with appropriate incentives and disincentives.
The case of Corfu is particularly interesting because of the different strategy and different management options followed by the Municipalities. Waste management is one of the most critical factors in terms of the sustainability of popular tourist destinations, especially islands that have very limited landfill sites available. Corfu, one of the most popular destinations with an area of 592 km2 and 105,000 inhabitants, including Paxos, produces 60-70 thousand tons of urban solid waste per year, with the tourism sector contributing by 40%-45% to the waste generation. This waste is on average 45% organic, 22% paper, 13% plastic, 5% glass, 5% metal and 10% other.
The innovative social phenomenon of Green Spots in Corfu first appeared in March 2018, thanks to voluntary initiatives at the height of the crisis and as a solution for waste management. The result that emerged from the first year of operation of the 25 or so Green Spots was the collection of 1,000 tons of pre-selected high purity recyclables (paper, plastics, metals) and 500 tons of glass, which corresponded to 33% of the quantity recovered when there was just one Municipality with all its mechanism and infrastructure (total recovered quantity of 2.9 thousand tons plus 0.7 thousand tons of glass collected in 2018, while the total urban solid waste was 66.3 thousand tons). It was, no doubt, an impressive result which caused interest inside and outside Corfu.
The situation today has the following characteristics: In the Central Corfu Municipality there are 7 Green Spots, all thanks to volunteers, with the case of Liapades as a great example, which has been awarded many times and is an interesting case study of adoption and implementation of good practices. The collection continues to be done by a local professional, diverting usable materials from the system of municipal management, while relieving the Municipality from similar management costs, with recycling plants outside Corfu (Thessaloniki etc.) as the final destination. In the South Corfu Municipality the only Green Spot has stopped operating, while in Paxos there is none. The Central Corfu, South Corfu and Paxos Municipalities chose as a policy not to create Green Spots, apparently considering that it would not have anything significant to contribute to the effort to increase the recovery rate of recyclable materials. The waste collection from the blue bins is done with the same refuse trucks that collect the mixed waste from the green bins.
Of particular interest is the case of the North Corfu Municipality, which follows a different path. It embraces, supports and develops the efforts of volunteers. In 2019, there were only 6 Green Spots within the Municipality that were being operated by volunteers. Today there are 81 Green Spots operating in various versions, 21 in hotels and 28 in schools, i.e. a total of 130 that are now in almost all communities of the Municipality, while 60 more will be added to the network in the near future. The collection is being carried out by special refuse trucks of the Municipality, one for paper and one for plastics.
As shown in Tables 1 and 2, the result of this effort, which started in February 2020, was a total of 398 tons of recyclables, of which 226 tons of recyclables (paper, plastics, metal) and 116 tons of glass were collected by the Μunicipality, while 56.5 tons were collected by the Social Cooperative Enterprise (KOINSEP) SynPraxis in Sinies. The amount of generated mixed waste is 7,812 tons, achieving a total of 4.8% recycling for 2020. For 2021, a total of 1,072 tons of recyclables were collected, meaning there was an increase of 169.1% compared to the corresponding quantities in 2020. In detail, for 2021 the Municipality collected 562 tons of paper, plastic and metal, 182 tons by the KOINSEP in Sinies, 312 tons of glass and 16 tons of clothing, thus more than doubling the recycling rate to 10.3%, given that the quantity of mixed waste produced was 9,262 tons and the total urban solid waste was 10,336 tons. In summary, the results of this strategic choice are reflected in the recovery rates, i.e. recycling, where North Corfu had 0% in 2019, 4.8% in 2020, 10.3% in 2021, compared to 1%-3.8% of South Corfu and 4.5%-6.7% of Central Corfu which has these numbers for many years now, as it continues with the blue bin system and with an open lid.
The second and perhaps the most important conclusion is the purity of materials where for North Corfu it reaches an impressive 99% with only 1% returned residue from the Corfu Recyclable Waste Sorting Centre (KDAY), compared to 53.1% in 2020 and 63.2% in 2021 residue of the collected quantities of recyclables from the blue bins of the other Municipalities. The abovementioned data undoubtedly confirm the correctness and effectiveness of the choice of the strategy oriented to Sorting at Source and Green Spots.
The high purity of the materials, as mentioned below, contributes, among other things, to financial savings due to the drastic reduction in the overall management cost of Municipalities as a result of savings in transport costs, gate fees, landfill fees and savings due to the reduction of fines and various environmental taxes.
It is worth mentioning the data by material category presented in Table 3 and 4.
Τhe North Corfu Municipality collected in 2021 a total of 862 tons, compared to 342 tons of recyclables in 2020, showing an increase of 152.7%. The increase is continuing in the first quarter of 2022. As shown in Table 4, the Municipality collected 93.3 tons of paper, plastics and metal in 2022, achieving an increase of 72.7% compared to the same period in 2021 when 54 tons were collected for the same materials, compared to only 24.8 tons in 2020. This increase occurs due to the gradual integration of more and more Green Spots in the Municipality's network.
In addition, the Municipality has started recycling mattresses and bulky items and has a reuse centre with very encouraging results. The great challenge however remains the implementation of separate collection for organic waste and household composting programmes (planned in the coming months), in order to achieve an increase in recycling rates.
It is also worth mentioning that the Ionian Islands Regional Governor and FODSA President Mrs. Kratsa stated recently that there is an orientation towards separation at source in the project to be re-tendered, in order to make it more compatible with the European directives for the circular economy, as well as to have greater potential for processing pre-selected recyclable materials with separate collection. The planning must be such that at least 90% of the urban solid waste generated can be collected and treated by separation at source.
We summarise the results from the creation of Green Spots:
a) within two years and without means, as shown in Table 5, North Corfu from 0% in 2019, achieved a recycling rate of 4.8% in 2020 and 10.3% in 2021, which is one of the best records nationwide, given that the vast majority of Municipalities are around 5%.
b) the purity of recyclable materials exceeds 99%, having a residue from the sorting of recyclable materials at the Corfu Recyclable Waste Sorting Centre at most 1%. Without a doubt this is a huge success considering that the corresponding residue from the sorting of recyclables in all Recyclable Waste Sorting Centres nationwide is over 50%. Similar purity of materials have been recorded by the Halandri Municipality (98%), the Vari-Voula-Vouliagmeni Municipality (95%) that are also implementing sorting at source programmes, as well as the Lakoni Bioenergy SA company in Sparta, which is also applying sorting at source with a door-to-door system.
c) The North Corfu residents are already trained on how to do separation at source and this will greatly facilitate the quick and correct implementation of the separate collection of bio-waste and home composting programmes that are planned to start in the near future.
d) Great savings due to the drastic reduction in the overall cost of municipal waste management, as well as a reduction in fines and various environmental taxes.
Let us briefly look at some of the direct benefits for Corfu from each ton of recovered recyclable materials.
- Savings in the cost of transffering mixed waste to Kozani or Palairo (103€/ton + 24% VAT for Kozani or 84€/ton + VAT for Palairo)
- Savings on gate fee to a treatment plant or landfill (41.96€/ton + 24% VAT in Kozani, 40€ + 24% VAT in Palairo)
- Savings in landfill fees (20€/ton for 2022, with annual increase +5€/ton, i.e. 25€/ton in 2023, 30€/ton in 2024 etc. up to 55€/ton in 2027)
- Savings in environmental tax of €800/ton for every ton of plastic packaging that Μunicipalities fail to recycle. From January 2021, the EU budget estimate will apply the same resource principle for plastic waste that is not being recycled. The resources come from charging Member States €800 per ton of non-recycled plastics, while the total amount may increase further as a result of a change in the way the quantities of recycled plastics are being measured. This tax is expected to be passed on to Municipalities from 2023, according to an announcement by the Ministry (March 2021).
- Greater possibilities of claiming European funding due to the development of sorting at source systems, as the 2021-2027 programme will be full of funding for actions concerning the application of the circular economy in waste management (e.g. sorting at source, door-to-door systems, information and awareness-raising actions, innovation, prevention policies, etc.).
- Possibility of claiming 50% of landfill fees in the form of funding from the Green Fund for circular economy actions and a further 40% if Municipalities achieve high recycling rates.
- Possibility to claim up to 60€/ton for the quantities of recovered packaging waste, given that according to the new operational plan of the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Corporation approved by the Hellenic Recycling Organisation (May 2020), the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Corporation is expected to pay a fee to Municipalities for the collection of packaging waste, based on their performance. This fee will be paid gradually to Municipalities over the next six years, reaching up to €60 per ton of recovered packaging waste in case the per capita recovery exceeds 40kg per resident per year.
- Potential revenue from the sale of recovered quantities of recyclable materials, whose commercial value increases the higher their purity is. It is therefore easy to see the importance of obtaining clean materials, which sorting at source has been proven to ensure. This is precisely where the enormous contribution of sorting at source through Green Spots is being documented, as it achieves a purity of over 99%, which, among other things, also serves as a place of education and exchange of experience.
- Creation of new quality green jobs, as sorting at source is a labour-intensive system.
- Environmental benefit by reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.
- Positive image and potential to create destination branding for the island if sorting at source models are fully implemented by all Municipalities.
In conclusion, we would like to thank the Municipal services for their cooperation, hoping that this article will motivate and encourage other Municipalities, on the one hand, to switch to sorting at source and, on the other hand, to publish on a monthly basis the available quantitative data on waste management in order to inform the citizens. A well-informed citizen is much more likely to want to be part of the solution and actually make it easier for local communities to adopt good practices, as there is an urgent need to achieve high targets.
By Theodoros Voros, Economist & MSc Statistician
Sources: 1. Central Corfu Municipality, 2. North Corfu Municipality, 3. Report of the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Corporation, 4. Central Corfu Waste Management Plan, 5. South Corfu Waste Management Plan