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Europe

Greece plans to turn trash into cash

Refuse disposal is a big problem for Greek cities - but it's also a potential source of revenue. Germany intends to help Greece modernize its waste disposal system.

If you ask Greek mayors what their biggest problems are, rubbish disposal would be among those at the top of the list. The entire country is overflowing with landfills. If one landfill reaches capacity and closes, another opens. An increasing number of politicians are admitting that this is not a real solution. Especially bad is the situation in the city of Tripoli in the Peloponnese, says mayor Yannis Smirniotis: "It costs a great deal to dispose of refuse. We could be earning money from it, but instead we spend money to get rid of it."

Avoiding Germany's mistakes

The concept of earning money with trash has been promoted for months by Hans-Joachim Fuchtel in Crete, the Aegean and the Ionian Islands. As a junior minister in the German Ministry of Labor, he has been tasked by Chancellor Angela Merkel with building knowledge partnerships between German and Greek municipalities. His main argument for cooperation between the two countries in waste disposal is that the Greeks can avoid the mistakes that Germany has made. "Thirty years ago, ways were sought in Germany to organize waste disposal effectively. We spent a lot of money until we found out how to do it," Fuchtel told DW. Greek municipalities could use the German experience to find their own solutions.

What's more, both the advice and the transfer of knowledge are free. Greek municipalities only have to pay for the transportation and accommodation of the German experts within Greece. The same rule will also apply in reverse when Greek local government officials and professionals come to Germany to find out more about the subject on-site and to receive training.

Gerhard Bauer is an expert in the field of waste disposal. As head of the district authority in Schwäbisch Hall in Baden-Württemberg, he has played a part in shaping the whole waste conversion process in his region. He believes Greece could benefit from some aspects of German experience: "It's a question of collecting garbage fees. The system in Greece provides no incentive to reduce waste." Bauer also sees a need for concepts for waste separation and waste disposal sites.

A lack of public acceptance

By separating household garbage into lightweight packaging, glass, paper, compostable waste and residual waste, each with its own bin, it can be processed at a profit. The less residual waste a household produces, the smaller the bin and thus the lower the fees. This is how incentives for waste separation were created in Germany.

Such a scheme might be of interest to Greece. Despite the economic crisis and budget cuts to municipalities, Kostas Simitzis, mayor of the northern Greek city of Kavala, believes there would be no difficulty gaining funding for the construction of a system of this kind. He says municipalities such as his could enter into partnerships with private investors and also draw on the EU's JESSICA fund, which finances urban development projects.

However, Simitzis is convinced that such projects would meet resistance from residents. They're worried about the incineration plants. Burning the residual waste reduces its volume, after which it can either be exploited further or buried. Greeks are concerned about whether the emissions the plants would produce would exceed environmental limits. Simitzis points out that previous attempts to install such systems failed due to rejection by local communities: "This is especially where we need advice from Germany. How did their municipalities manage to gain such wide acceptance for such projects among their citizens?"

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