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The Waste-Management Industry and the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ in Greece: Update 2020

By Chris Deliso

While European and world media remain obsessed with the spread of the Coronavirus – which may well have implications for the summer tourist season in Greece and the Balkans – little attention is being paid to another critical issue that has both economic and environmental facets: heavy industry, and the national and European institutional approach to solid-waste management in Greece.

Events bringing together academics, professionals and decision-makers in Greece this year include the International Conference on Waste Management and Agricultural Machinery (April 09-10, 2020) in Athens, and the 8th International Conference on Sustainable Solid Waste Management in Thessaloniki (from 17–20 June 2020).

Context

According to SEE Industrial Market, reporting in 2016, waste management in Greece is regulated according to European standards, with separate processes and facilities for hazardous and non-hazardous waste. National investment and legislation adopted over the years for waste management continue. “Management of non-hazardous solid waste in Greece has increased significantly since 2006, a report published by the United Nations (UN) states.” While landfills remain the major solid-waste depository (and while some more, as of the 2016 report, in the process of closing), renovations and upgrades to meet European standards have continued in this area.

Industry’s Role as a Solid-Waste Producer- and now, an Energy-Generator

The 2016 report notes that industrial sectors (namely, construction, and agriculture) are responsible for the majority of Greece’s solid waste, not individuals. Nevertheless, the summer tourism season does see a marked increase in consumer-related solid waste in the most-visited tourist regions, islands and cities, where facilities are often inadequate to deal with the influx.

Particularly since 2018, this has been exacerbated by a largely unseen but equally problematic source of pollution- the increasingly-frequently cruise ships that ply Greek waters, dumping waste and fuel into the sea while also damaging the marine ecosystem.

Nevertheless, some positive developments related to waste management and alternative energy in Greece are also being noted. On 6 March 2020, Energy Live News reported that the country’s first waste-to-gas plant is being built- a facility that will “use straw, corn and cotton stalk residues sourced locally from Greek farmers.”

Based in the central agricultural hub of Larissa and expected to open next year, the energy company is the result of a joint partnership between Waste-to-energy technology group EQTEC, along with ewerGy GmbH and ECO Hellas, as well as “the owner and project developer Agrigas Energy who will own and operate the 0.5MW gasification installation.”

David Palumbo, CEO of EQTEC, disclosed that his companyhad been “chosen as the preferred partner” for what is actually the first biomass project in Greece to use advanced gasification technology. “The Mediterranean agro-industry sector is one of our three main verticals and entering Greece has been a high priority for us,” said Palumbo, according to the report.  “The strong support in Greece for the Green Economy is driven by the absence of adequate Energy from Waste infrastructure and by the recently announced EU Green Deal Policy.”

Recycling of Solid Waste- a Work in Progress

The 2016 report indicates that between 1997-2007, Greek exceeded EU targets for recycling by one-quarter. Nevertheless, much remains to be done as the country (which primarily relies in plastic bottled drinking water) remained during this period generally likely to throw away rather than recycle such bottles.

Solid waste packaging (glass, metals, paper, cardboard and other materials) is collected and recycled- though this practice is still erratically encountered as of 2020 in different areas of the country and at different times of the year, and cannot be compared to the organized efforts witnessed in Northern European countries.

Greece has been somewhat more successful when it comes to recycling old large metals and electronic parts. Recycling of Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) “has been increasing,” the 2016 report noted, “and Greece now has a very good practice of recycling old automobiles, as per EU requirements.” In 2007, for example, Greece surpassed the EU’s target for recycling old cars by at least 80%, in accordance with the End of Life Vehicles Directive (ELVD). Some further good examples can be found in an EU-funded consulting report on Greek solid waste management from 2010.

Greek Non-Hazardous Waste Management Framework

The 2003 National Plan for the Management of Non-Hazardous Waste, again, following European guidelines, oversees the management of non-hazardous waste across Greece’s 13 regions; however, it should be noted that these individual regions in some cases have their own management plans for dealing with non-hazardous waste.

This can involve a diversity of processes at the public-private level. For example, while reducing biodegradable waste in landfills “is mainly achieved by the adoption of two programmes at a regional level,” the 2016 report notes, “recycling of packaging wastes via the programmes of ‘sorting at source’ (which is facilitated by a network of mechanical separation and recycling) and recovering of domestic waste at the two national units of mechanical recycling and composting.”

The “National Plan for the Management of Non-Hazardous Waste” of Greece also seeks to reduce the quantity of waste and “also utilize it again by providing more opportunities for recycling and forming into usable material.” A network of recycling sites is envisioned in the plan. Some of the regional landfill plan sites with more autonomy have partnered with outside bodies like the EU, which announced in 2019 the co-funding of a landfill in the region of western Macedonia, in northern Greece. “EU financing has supported the design and construction of an integrated management system and treatment plant for municipal waste in Greece’s West Macedonia region,” the EU press release noted. “In line with the requirements of national and EU rules, the plant has reduced the amount of municipal waste ending up in the landfill, increased the recovery of recyclable and biodegradable materials and has led to the production of compost.”

Greece had by 2016 also reportedly met most of the European targets set for reduction of biodegradable waste, reuse of ELVs and tires, collection of WEE and batteries, and recycling of construction-related waste. “The targets set for reduction of biodegradable waste disposed at landfills are 75%, 50% and 35% for the years 2010, 2013 and 2020 respectively – in comparison to their production volumes in 1995,” the 2016 report stated. “In terms of packaging targets for 2011, the following goals were set: between 55% and 80% by weight of packaging to be recycled, and 60% as a minimum by weight of packaging waste to be recovered or incinerated at waste incineration plants with energy recovery.”

Conclusion: Major Companies in the Sector and the EU Green Deal

Over the past decade, a whole host of new companies have found rich rewards in Greece’s waste-management industry, one which is often tied to renewable energies in the broader environmental game linked to the context of ‘climate change’ as a policy decider. Thus the EU’s planned ‘Green Deal.’ Worth over one trillion dollars, this long-term policy is a clear step by the leftist-dominated bloc to distinguish itself from the policies of the US (specifically, the Trump Administration) and other countries that it considers environmentally unfriendly. As such, it is one of those common identitative features on a group level that has proven relatively easily to manage as a process for redirection of public funds.

However, for dialed-in companies, contractors and consultants in Greece (and elsewhere in the EU and Balkans), the plan should be very rewarding financially. Here is the EU’s own official description of it:

“The European Green Deal Investment Plan (EGDIP), also referred to as Sustainable Europe Investment Plan (SEIP), is the investment pillar of the Green Deal. To achieve the goals set by the European Green Deal, the Plan will mobilise at least €1 trillion in sustainable investments over the next decade. Part of the plan, the Just Transition Mechanism, will be targeted to a fair and just green transition. It will mobilise at least €100 billion in investments over the period 2021-2027 to support workers and citizens of the regions most impacted by the transition.

As such, any forward-looking analysis of solid-waste management, recycling, biomass and other renewable energies, etc., sould be considered with one eye on the policies and stipulations laid out by the overarching EU policy, and the other on the major players that will likely be enlisted to carry out the projects. These will of course range from government-favored entities to international majors and, perhaps, a few feisty start-ups. Given EU previous practice, their should be considerable room for business opportunities on cross-sectoral and cross-border bases, making upcoming elections and trends in different regional states worth watching. Here follows a list of some of the major waste-management companies in Greece for researchers wishing to analyze further (from the Environmental-Expert.com website).

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