Greek startup turns to e-solutions to address low recycling rates

Blue recycling bins in the center of Athens. [Sascha Kohlmann/Flickr]

A Greek startup company is exploring innovative ways of rewarding consumers who recycle, a move that could help address the lack of recycling culture in Greece.

The EU has asked member states to reach a 50% recycling target for municipal waste by 2020. However, according to the European Environment Agency, only 16% of household waste is currently recycled across Greece, far below the EU average of 28%.

In Athens, a city of almost five million inhabitants, only 13% of eligible waste is recycled, AFP recently reported.

The failure of “blue bins”

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, Dimitris Ibrahim, campaign chief at Greenpeace Greece, said there was a serious lack of policy continuity on waste management.

Greece introduced the “blue bins” concept in 2003. However, due to low eco-awareness, the results are poor.

“On the one hand, there is no involvement of citizens,” the Greenpeace activist said, pointing to “political responsibilities” about the lack of recycling culture in Greece. “And on the other hand, there are no structures,” the activist added, saying the economic crisis also played a role.

“Gatherers often collect from the blue bins waste products that are more valuable and this creates a problem,” Ibrahim said.

Member states need to agree on a strong Circular Economy Package

Following the European Parliament’s adoption of the proposed amendments on 14 March, the negotiations on the EU Circular Economy Package have now entered their final phase. NABU urges Europe to set strong targets, not watered-down goals.

Is innovation the solution?

Several start-up companies in the country came up with innovative solutions to help citizens develop a recycling culture.

Cyclefi is a start-up with an innovative waste tracking technology and reward mechanism which associates a collected refuse recycling bag, with a corresponding user.

“Through questionnaires, we found out that the citizens do not seem to fully trust the blue bins’ effectiveness,” Cyclefi’s co-founder Evi Freri told EURACTIV. “The lack of confidence in the process, coupled with a lack of education on the subject, seem to be probably the main reasons for the low recycling rates of our cities today,” he said.

The system comprises tags with unique QR codes that are attached to the orange recycling bags that the user can find in the recycling package. This means all recyclable materials have a designated owner.

Recyclables must be collected separately for circular economy to succeed, says panel

Separate collection of recyclable materials is the key to a successful circular economy, but some member states struggle to put the necessary infrastructure in place, policymakers told a EURACTIV event held on Tuesday (21 March).

The process is easy for citizens. They subscribe to an online platform where they get a tag with a QR code they can stick to their recycling bag. At the recycling facility, every time Cyclefi finds a tag, it adds points to the profile of users who can redeem their points with specific discount partners (electricity providers, supermarkets etc.).

“Whatever cultivates the recycling culture and raises awareness among citizens is warmly welcomed,” Greenpeace’s Ibrahim said. But he warned that start-ups cannot fully take care of waste management and that local authorities and citizens need to be involved.

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