No waste is wasted on Greek islands in race to recycle

Greece has taken action against the throwaway culture, such as forcing stores to charge customers for single-use plastic bags.

Still, “we’re quite behind when it comes to recycling and reuse here,” said Dimitrios Komilis, a professor of solid waste management at Democritus University of Thrace in northern Greece.

Recycling can reduce global-warming emissions by reducing the need to make new products with raw materials, the extraction of which is carbon-heavy, Komilis added.

Getting rid of landfills can also slow the release of methane, another potent greenhouse gas produced when organic materials such as food and vegetation are buried in landfills and rot in low oxygen conditions.

And environmental groups note that zero-waste programs can generate more jobs than landfilling or incinerating, because collecting, sorting and recycling waste is more labor intensive.

But achieving zero waste isn’t as simple as following Tilos’ example – every region or city generates and manages waste differently, said researcher Dominik Noll, who works on sustainable island transitions at the Institute of Vienna social ecology.

“Technical solutions can be extended, but the socio-economic and socio-cultural contexts are always different,” he said.

“Each project or program must pay attention to these contexts in order to implement waste reduction and treatment solutions.”


Tilos has earned a reputation as a testing ground for Greece’s green ambitions, becoming the first Greek island to ban hunting in 1993 and, in 2018, one of the first islands in the Mediterranean to operate primarily on land. wind and solar energy.

For its “Just Go Zero” project, the island has partnered with Polygreen, a Piraeus-based business network promoting a circular economy, which aims to take waste and pollution out of supply chains.

Several times a week, Polygreen goes door to door with a dozen local employees to collect household and professional waste, which they then sort manually.

Antonis Mavropoulos, a consultant who designed Polygreen’s operation, said the “secret” to successful recycling is maximizing the market value of the waste.

“The more you separate, the more valuable the materials,” he said, explaining that waste collected in Tilos is sold to recycling companies in Athens.

One morning in June, workers were milling around the floor of the Polygreen recycling facility, perched next to the disused landfill in the arid mountains of Tilos.

They quickly separated a colorful assortment of waste into 25 streams – from used vegetable oil, destined to become biodiesel, to cigarette butts, which are dismantled to be composted or turned into materials like sound insulation.

Organic waste is composted. But some waste, such as medical masks or used towels, cannot be recycled, so Polygreen grinds it up, to be turned into solid recovered fuel for the cement industry on the continent.

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