There is a regular question that we can hear when speaking about recycling programs in Greece, and in Athens in particular: is it really working, do the garbage collected are going to recycling organisms? So I wanted to have a clear view of the official organization of the project “Blue bins”. In my neighborhood for example, the blue bins are fill of everything, I am really not sure that there is anybody really sorting its garbage. So in order to all have a clear view of the project, its organization and the role of each actor, I went to interview the responsible of the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Corporation (HERRCO), the “project manager”.
Camille Delcour (CD) – Τell us how the “Blue bins” system works and the role of the HERRCO?
“The main activity of HERRCO is the system of “Blue bins”, since from this project comes almost the entire packaging recycling achieved in our country and concerns municipal waste. The network of “Blue bins” is addressed to the general public and is developed in collaboration with the municipalities for which HERRCO provides bins and special vehicles to take over the collection. Citizens of municipalities implicated are required to deposit in the blue bin recyclables (packaging waste paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and tin) and the amounts collected from the cooperating municipalities are transferred to the Recycling Sorting Center (RSC) of HERRCO operating for the system, where materials are separated and forwarded for the manufacture of new products.
Along with the blue bins, the HERRCO develop specific actions aimed at collecting and recycling packaging waste, glass bottles mainly from large producers and areas where professional activities consume products in glass containers (e.g. nightclubs, hotels) in order to maximize the use of larger quantities of waste packaging that without the intervention of the system would have ended up in household garbage.
Furthermore, the system operates in the field of Recycling of Industrial and Commercial Packaging Waste (ICPW), focusing on the registration and promotion (through financial incentives to companies that collect and sell the materials) of recycling in industry and trade.
Finally, under the current legal framework which envisages the participation of other methods of recovery of packaging waste in order to achieve national objectives, HERRCO included additional related actions (e.g. energy use, alternative fuel use) and developed partnerships in this field with municipalities or other agencies.”
CD – In some municipalities we observe a better implementation of recycling and a better use of blue bins? Why those results?
“In general, municipalities that have implemented the recycling program “Blue Bins” for a long time already show the best results, compared with municipalities that have joined the system of “Blue bins” recently. This result is totally expected and logical, as the residents of these municipalities gradually gain the experience of recycling, squeezing it in their daily lives.
In addition, it worth mentioning that typically medium sized peripheral municipalities have better results.”
CD – How HERRCO promotes recycling of packaging in Greece and how it encourages people to include it their daily lives?
“The basic tool of HERRCO to further promote recycling of packaging in Greece is to educate and inform citizens about the importance of recycling and the many benefits it brings.
In this context, the HERRCO emphasizes the education of citizens, believing that it plays an important role in the widespread adoption of recycling and investing substantially to the emergence of “environmentally responsible and sensitive citizens”, which is the main long-term goal of the company. HERRCO acts steadily in this direction, taking every opportunity of sending messages to the public about the importance of recycling and proper use of the “Blue bins” system and investing substantially in the emergence of “environmentally responsible and sensitive citizens”, which is the main objective of the company.”
CD – What are the returns from recycling?
- contributes to the reduction of waste, leading to final disposal (landfill, etc.),
- contributes to the saving of raw materials and energy,
- creates new jobs.”
CD – What is the process of recycling in RSC? How to verify that recyclable materials are recycled properly in these centers?
“The process of recycling in controlling the RSC of HERRCO includes 4 stages:
- Sorting at source, meaning the residents separate packaging materials that can be thrown in the blue bins,
- Collection carried out under the responsibility of municipalities, using special garbage that the HERRCO has provided,
- Edit-separation, where the waste package transported to RSC and separated into different categories depending on the material composition, and finally
- Compression-Baling, where packaging materials are compressed, excluding the glass – bundled and forwarded to respective Greek industries, and foreign industries, for further treatment. Each industry, depending on the processing needs of each material, treats and make the recyclable packaging for reuse and further treatment.
Today, as part of the total operating recycling projects throughout the country 28 Recycling Sorting Centers (RSC). Among these centers, are included special units of large capacity, high technology, contributing to the proper and effective use of recyclable materials.”
CD – How can you caracterize the progress of the program after 10 years of operation? Does the crisis had an impact on the functioning and development of the “Blue bins” system in Greece?
“HERRCO was founded ten years ago by industrial and commercial companies that distribute/sell packaged products in the Greek market or manufacture packaging. These firms following the European practice that gives them the responsibility by the law to manage packaging wastes and organize the adequate system, have a basic commitment to self-manage optimally the financial resources required for the recycling of waste packaging of their products.
During these 10 years, the recycling of municipal waste through “Blue bins” System followed a really positive evolution confirming that project is the main source to increase recycling in the near future and therefore is a key factor in achieving the national targets for recycling.
At the end of 2011, 241 Regions across the country were affiliated with the “Blue Bins” System of HERRCO and today it serves more than 75% of the total population. In particular, substantial expansion of the system across Greek islands, where recycling projects were developed in 22 of them, where 350 000 residents and visitors can participate. Furthermore, in 2011 and the number of blue bins and vehicles delivered to local authorities across the country for the collection and disposal of recyclable materials has increase, reaching 126 000 and 370 respectively, while the number of members-operators has increased by 3% compared with 2010. Currently, more than 1,700 companies from all range of activities are already cooperating with the HERRCO, showing a real interest in promoting and enhancing the recycling of packaging in our country.
The prolonged economic crisis has led, among other things, a reduction of 7% of all packaging waste generated in the country compared to 2010 (due to the reduction in consumption). Nevertheless, the HERRCO in 2011 recycled from municipal waste 194 thousand tons of packaging, i.e. approximately the same amounts than 2010. Along with the paper documents and the other activities of HERRCO (e.g. Industrial & Commercial Packaging Waste-ICPW), about 480 thousand tons of materials were recycled in 2011.”
CD – What would you answer to those who argue that the content of the blue bins is collected together with conventional waste?
“The System of HERRCO has the responsibility to grant the municipalities with the necessary equipment (special vehicles, blue bins), but the proper use of recycling vehicles and the disposal process generally content of blue bins are the responsibility and authority of municipalities which cooperate with the system. The communication with the relevant municipality and specifically the Department of Sanitation of each Town Hall is the first step you need to do if you want to report incidents of malfunctioning of the Recycling. When the system receives complaints from citizens, they are forwarded to the related municipality, the reasons are investigated and possible solutions to correct the problem are taken.
But we must emphasize that such events are rare, which is evidenced by the fact that the amounts of the recyclables blue bins is continuously increasing during the past years. This means that the vast majority of the cooperating municipalities consistently meet the needs of recycling.”
Mrs. Chouliara Eleni, thank you very much for the information and your time.
We have now the next mystery to solve; why citizens do not recycle, why they don’t participate to the project as good as it should in order to make it a success story for Greece. Don’t they want cleaner streets and parks?
Coming Soon: our section Cam’s guides, where the guide created thanks to HERRCO advices for the correct use of “Blue Bins” will be uploaded.
Camille Delcour (23/08/2012)