Managing waste between struggles and headways: the case of Greece
Waste management has been recognised as one of the most severe problems in Greece. How could SYMSITES help waste management technologies in this country?
In the last few articles, we explored at length the innovations that the SYMSITES project intends to implement in the upcoming months and years.
We talked about the origin of the concept of Industrial-Urban Symbiosis and what is the role of the different actors involved. We described what is an Ecosite, the beating heart of the project, trying to present its powerful potential for a greener and more circular economy.
However, what is SYMSITES’ starting point? Which are the most urgent problems European countries are facing today relating to waste and wastewater management? Which are the challenges that SYMSITES will concretely tackle?
Let’s start from Greece, one of the 9 countries involved in the project.
The root of the problem: current state of waste management in Greece
Waste management is certainly one of the most discussed topics today, filling the European debate in search for new solutions and coming along often with other “trending” topics like climate change, environmental challenges, water pollution and so on.
Today we want to examine the concrete state of the art of waste management starting from the “test” countries of the project, those in which the ecosystems will be designed and implemented. Let’s start with Greece.
Waste management has been recognised as one of the most severe problems in Greece’s environmental performance indices. The country suffers from a low level of organisation while relying predominantly on landfilling. Nevertheless, over the last years, solid waste management in Greece has undergone a remarkable improvement.
Following the recent EU waste policies, we can recognize a significant effort to reduce the amount of landfilling, while increasing the rate of recycling. Indeed, the Greek government has set the most ambitious goal among all EU Member States for reducing waste disposal.
The country is struggling to increase the percentage of recycled municipal solid waste (MSW). Greece is still lingering on a lower percentage comparing to European average (21% vs 48% approximately in 2020). Despite the heavy reduction of MSW production, recycling operations in Greece are still far from the new EU target of 65% by 2035.
Regarding municipal wastewater treatment, currently most communities are properly serviced with advanced wastewater treatment plants, with the exception of the relatively small municipalities with a population equivalent less than 2000. For such communities, small and decentralised wastewater treatment systems still need to be installed.
When it comes to industrial waste treatment, Greece meets environmental regulations for the most part. However, there is a need for a better valorisation of specific streams if we are to move towards a circular economy from the current mostly linear economy situation. Biowaste, for example, needs to be diverted from landfilling, while it may be valued for the production of energy, biofuels and other useful products – in respect of the principles of I-US.
A gaze into Greek good practices on waste management
However, there are silver linings, too!
Indeed, it is fair to give Greece credit for a few, yet noticeable innovative solutions and remarkable good practices.
In the last few years, Greece has significantly increased its efforts towards a more efficient collection of urban wastewater and wastewater biological treatment.
According to the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, compliance with the European Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive regarding municipal wastewater collection and treatment is 95% for collection, 88% for secondary (biological) treatment and 88% for advanced treatment (nutrient removal). This is globally above the EU average of 76%.
Moreover, a few Greek islands, recently became an example of “Zero-Waste Laboratories” for the whole EU. Lately, various European newspapers reported the island of Tilos as a major reference for waste recycling strategies. According to recent facts, the island recycles up to 86%of its rubbish, a record in Greece, and the local landfill is shut.
Projects like SYMSITES also contribute to rapidly improving the waste management situation in the country, bringing innovation and above all, the possibility to collaborate with organisations from all over Europe, easing the “importation” of new technologies and existing good practices.
In a recent Horizon project called Waste4Think, implemented in Greece, various technologies were developed to improve all stages of the waste value chain, adapting a global approach focused on citizen participation and moving towards a circular economy in order to build more sustainable and eco-friendly cities.
The National Technological University of Athens (now also partner of SYMSITES) in collaboration with Municipality of Halandri have implemented at pilot scale separate collection of food waste from approximately 1000 properly informed citizens, followed by drying and shredding of the collected food waste, to generate a food residue biomass product, called FORBI, that may be used for the production of different valuable byproducts, such as:
- biofuels like methane, hydrogen and hythane
- animal feed
- activated carbon
- alternative fuel for the cement industry
This demonstrated an effective valorization plan for the only fraction of solid waste, which is not valorized today in a systematic manner.
It should be noted that NTUA’s findings indicate that (a) drying and shredding requires only half the energy content of the generated FORBI product, (b) the FORBI generated is approximately 25% of the weight of the processed biowaste, the rest being recovered as condensate, (c) FORBI is devoid of odours, is homogeneous and may be stored for prolonged periods of time without deterioration, so that it may be used for generating products as described above.
The alternative has been compared from an economic and an environmental point of view so as to arrive at the optimal exploitation.
Such an approach has proved extremely meaningful and allows the conversion of a municipality to a product generator rather than a waste generator.
Therefore, it is clear that paradigms such as the one developed within the SYMSITES project are very much needed in the quest for an integrated more sustainable industrial and municipal symbiosis.