Battery-powered Greek island bets green future

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TILOS, Greece – When deciding where to test green technology, Greek policymakers chose the farthest point on the map: the tiny Tilos.

Providing electricity and basic services and even access by ferry is a challenge for the island, which has been inhabited for only 500 years. Its latest problem is working with plastic.

But authorities announced this week that more than 80% of Tilos’ waste is now being recycled. A landfill where once untreated garbage was buried on the side of a hill has been permanently closed.

The island has already been generating its own electricity since 2019, connected to a trailer-sized battery using a solar park and a wind turbine that maintains an uninterrupted supply.

S-shaped and slightly larger than Manhattan, Tilos is a far-flung member of an island chain in the southeastern Aegean Sea, where most beaches are empty, goats roam the side of centuries-old churches, and the Satuth Mountains smell of wild oregano. Self-reliance is a necessity and a source of pride here.

So technology is adopted.

In the main port, electric vehicles humming tourists, transporting goods. Solar panel power bus stop information board and a ramp that allows people with disabilities to enter the sea.

Mayor Maria Kamma-Aliferi said the declining population of Tilos added an urge for change. “There were 270 people on the island in the 1990s. Very few were born. The school was at risk of closing because there were so few children – I was one of them, “he said.

“And the island came close to being completely deserted.”

But the mayor stayed on the island and took a university correspondence course to introduce himself through business school and learn about public administration.

“We came close to the shore, and I think that’s what inspires us now,” he said, standing in the place of the old landfill where the flowers are now planted.

With tourism returning to the Mediterranean this summer after the worst of the epidemic, many Greek islands are facing an urgent pressure on their resources: a shortage of drinking water and reliance on diesel for power generation as energy prices continue.

Greece has about 200 populated islands, many of which still face summer blackouts and usually have to contend with overflowing landfills hiding in the mountains.

Tillos is expecting 30,000 visitors this summer, while more than 2 million will be air-only near Rhodes Island.

Beginning in December, Tylos runs a home trash pickup scheme, where residents hand out recyclable kits and ask them to wash and dispose of household waste.

“It’s working. We started with 10 houses and now we have more than 400,” said Athanasius Polycronopoulos, head of a Greek recycling firm, Polygreen, hoping to expand its model.

“It is an island community open to change. It voluntarily accepts refugees and hosts Greece’s first gay partnership. We had other options but we knew we had to start here, ”he said.

The old landfill site has been replaced with a recycling plant where waste is segregated on a steel sorting table for making powdered glass, cement mix, compost manure, compressed cardboard and paper drums and plastic twine which is used to make an art gallery 3D printed couch and sheets.

The plant currently processes about 2 tons of waste per week, most of which is completely recyclable. Approximately one-third is composted, and 15% – classified as “non-recyclable” – is disinfected and dismantled for use in construction.

The company uses a proprietary app to prepare for incoming waste weighed in each home’s pickup. It did not disclose the financial details of the scheme.

“We’re still making mistakes and learning,” Polycronopoulos said. “To our surprise, older people are the best at separating waste. It makes sense, if you think about it: they can imagine what things were like before there was plastic.

Some residents may remember when it was a rare sight to see a passing ship off the coast of Tilos. The Rhodes ferry is still two hours away; The Greek mainland is 15.

“We always wondered where all the plastic would go. And we always felt we had to do something about it, “said Nikos Atsiknaudas, owner of a seaside restaurant.

From tidying up food, to waiting tables and cleaning them for new customers, the staff tipped everything into a color-coded bin.

“It’s extra work but no one can argue about the long-term benefits,” he said. “We have a lot of foreign visitors. They are more accustomed to recycling than we are, and they like it. “

Government visits to Tilos are rare and pompous, with children dressed in traditional garb gathering at the port. Most recently, Greece’s Minister of Energy and Environment, Costas Screcas, visited the new recyclable plant on Tuesday with colleagues from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Our small islands face difficulties due to the distance from the mainland and the (environmental) understanding of tourism,” he said after meeting with schoolchildren in a recycling awareness class.

“Again, the beautiful island of Tylos is a pioneer.”

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