Landfill in Athens and Save Food initiatives in the UK

Letter from Europe

One of the largest landfill sites in the world is in Greece, up to half a kilometre deep
One of the largest landfill sites in the world is in Greece, up to half a kilometre deep

An ugly face of Europe not normally seen or expected, and lives lived and lives lost in ways that beggar belief in the developed Western world – BBC Television documentary maker Simon Reeve unforgivingly showed in a recently-aired film the realities of Greece today, which he concludes result from ‘shambolic’ government administration. The city of Athens, he reports, has had its budget slashed by 40% in five years and essential services are crumbling.

“A symbol of the rotten state of the Greek establishment,” is an infamous local landmark – one of the largest landfill sites in the world. “The scale of the place is extraordinary. It covers square miles!” we hear Reeve exclaim.

BBCgreece with simon reeve
BBC film-maker Simon Reeve
discovers the uglier face of Greece

Said to be half a kilometre deep, 6,000 tonnes of rubbish arrive there every day. We learn that Greece has one of the lowest recycling rates in Europe; 80% of waste is sent to landfill, double the EU average. Under the wheels of lorries the ground ‘bounces’ because it’s not earth but compacted rubbish with innumerable thousands of plastic bottles.

In short, this is “an environmental disaster that should have been closed long ago,” one of scores of illegal dumps, there because the government isn’t forcing Greeks to recycle, says Reeve. It’s also a human disaster – children are among the rubbish pickers, and people have died while foraging for sellable recyclable material, buried under waste that in some cases is hazardous and poisonous. “This is not Sub Saharan Africa or South East Asia. This is Europe,” he says, incredulously.

Too much of a good thing?

Back in the UK, over-buying good, healthy food has been recognized as another, altogether different, environmental scourge. See the feature ‘Waste not, want not: how to fill gaps in global resources.’ Proving you can have too much of a good thing, two-for-one deals, which are seemingly great bargains, entice shoppers to buy more than they actually need of perishable products. One of Britain’s biggest supermarket chains is ending the practice to help customers cut down the level of household waste. Sainsbury’s is the first in the UK to ditch a marketing tactic widely used in fresh food retailing for the past decade. One in four people in the UK discard food that’s safe to eat and multiplied across the EU that makes 100 million tonnes of food wasted annually. Over the next 15 years Brussels wants to halve that figure and is making food that’s safe, but which can’t go into the human food chain, exempt from the EU Waste Directive and able to go into animal feed.

An English farm is feeding piglets on special formulations containing processed food, such as boxed chocolate powder for instant drinks, cake mixes and biscuits. Other farms use surplus product as feedstock, but this one specializes in taking high-value sugars and milk powders considered good for lactating sows and helps sows ovulate. What’s discarded by manufacturers includes trial milk mixes, batches with a dissolve-ability outside set parameters, and over-baked rusks. The nutritional need of a piglet is similar to that of a baby and milk powder is analyzed for oils, fats and other nutrients, and divided into bags for each age of pig. This is blended with other feed ingredients as required.

Banking on food banks

British families living in poverty head to food banks for items donated by the public and commercial retail enterprises, and a new phenomenon, the 25p store, is giving them another option. These shops are popping up around the country piled high with stock that’s close to the sell-by date, or with damaged packaging or poor labeling. Entrepreneurs who are selling this safe, still-edible packaged food at rock bottom prices say they are diverting it from landfill. If their initiative can save us from Greece’s nightmare scenario, good luck to them

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