Austerity-hit Greece faces further fines for poor waste management
In September 2009, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Greece had failed to correctly apply several directives: those on waste, hazardous waste and the landfill of waste.
This resulted from the country not adopting a plan for the management of hazardous waste and failing to establish a network of disposal facilities to treat it safely for both the environment and public health. The court ruled that Greece had also not complied with rules relating to the recovery and disposal of waste and the authorisation and operation of landfills.
Following the ruling in 2009, Greece was given until March 2013 to make the necessary changes, but when this deadline passed, the European Commission (EC) decided to bring a second action against the nation’s government, resulting in yesterday’s (7 September) penalty.
In addition to the lump-sum fine handed down by the ECJ, the Greek government will be subject to a penalty payment of €30,000 for every day after yesterday that it does not implement improvements to fully comply with the laws.
A statement released by the ECJ shortly after the ruling stated: ‘The court considers that the failure by Greece to fulfil its obligations, in addition to lasting six years, is particularly serious, in so far as it is liable to directly endanger human health and to harm the environment. It states, in particular, that the construction of several installations and of three landfills for the treatment of hazardous waste has still not commenced.’
Latest in a string of waste fines
This is not the first time that Greece has been handed a significant fine for its poor waste management. In December 2014 the ECJ ordered the country to pay another fine of €10 million after failing to deal with a number of illegal landfills. As in this latest case, an additional penalty was imposed, in that instance of €14.5 million (£12.2 million) for every six-month period that the government failed to address the ruling.
The court did agree to reduce the payment if Greece took steps to address the environmental damage caused by the landfills, deducting €40,000 for each landfill that was closed down or cleaned up and €80,000 for each site that was both closed and cleaned.
Another €10-million fine was handed out in 2015 for violation of European regulations on the management of urban wastewater.
Austerity damaging Greek waste performance
A 2012 ‘Screening Report’ published by the EC ranked the 27 member states on scores for 18 waste management criteria. Greece was at the bottom of the table, and was given red flags for 16 of the 18 areas of waste management.
In 2013, the most recent figures available, 80 per cent of Greek waste ended up in landfill (against an EU average of 38 per cent), and Greek residents sent an average of 411 kilogrammes (kg) of waste each to landfill, the third highest among the EU countries – only Cyprus (491kg) and Malta (464kg) sent more waste to landfill per capita.
That same year, Greece reported a recycling rate of 19.3 per cent, again one of the lowest in the EU, and well below the average of 42.2 per cent.
The fines imposed by the EU will add to the mountain of debt that Greece owes creditors after its financial crisis that started in 2009. The government has received three bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund, Eurogroup, and European Central Bank and owes over €300 billion, almost double its yearly gross domestic product.
Among the ramifications of this debt is the difficulty in maintaining public services like regular waste collection.