Brussels, 27 September 2012
Environment: Commission takes Greece to Court over waste landfill and endangered turtles
The European Commission is taking Greece to Court over a landfill site in a protected area on the island of Zakynthos. The landfill is operating in breach of EU waste legislation and constitutes a serious threat to human health, the environment, and in particular, to nesting turtles. Greece needs to either close the landfill, or bring it into line with EU waste legislation. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is taking Greece to the EU Court of Justice.
Commissioner Potočnik said: "As we move towards a recycling society, landfilling should be a last resort. And when landfilling is used, it can't be at the expense of human health or the environment. Why should we be remembered as a generation that spoiled the environment, and not one that preserved it for our children?"
The landfill site is situated within a National Marine Park on the island of Zakynthos. The park was set up to protect the loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta, a priority species now classified as endangered.
The Commission's concerns date back to 2009. In January this year the Greek authorities were sent a Reasoned Opinion asking them to take urgent action on the landfill site (see IP/12/66), but inspections carried out by the Greek authorities have confirmed that the landfill is still operating in breach of EU legislation. In addition to being a threat to public health and the environment, the landfill is causing damage through pollution from leakages into the local environment and the spread of plastic bags, and is attracting seagulls that prey on the turtles' offspring. The Greek authorities have acknowledged the problem and steps were taken to create a replacement facility. Serious delays have ensued, however, and no location has yet been selected for the replacement facility. Furthermore, the permit for the existing landfills was recently renewed in breach of EU environmental legislation, and plans for a proposed transitional period, during which waste would have been sent to mobile units rather than the existing landfill, have been abandoned. The Commission has therefore called Greece before the EU Court of Justice.
Directive 99/31/EC on the landfill of waste is a key instrument to prevent or reduce as far as possible the negative effects on the environment from landfilling of waste, throughout the whole life-cycle of the landfill site. According to the Landfill Directive, "existing" landfills must meet certain conditions in order to continue to operate. The legislation aims to protect human health and the environment from the negative effects caused by the collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of waste.
Caretta caretta loggerhead turtles are mainly carnivorous animals that grow up to a metre long and can weigh 170 kilos. It is thought that 80 % of the loggerheads nesting in the Mediterranean now nest on the Ionian island of Zakynthos, on six beaches that total only five kilometres in length. There are between 800 and 2000 nests each year. Loggerhead turtles are an endangered species, classified as "facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future".
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