What is changing in the recycling behaviour in Pavlos Melas?
The Imperative need
The increasing production of waste at global and national level and the inability to dispose them at landfills due to saturation, makes it necessary to develop ways to reduce, recycle and reuse waste. In this context, Municipality of Pavlos Melas (EL) has made a great effort to achieve national and European goals in the field of recycling. The actions developed by the Municipality focus on informing and raising public awareness about the benefits of recycling since there is much space for improvements. This is achieved by the Municipality through the implementation of the innovative Tropa Verde program that enables the citizens of the Municipality to become aware of the benefits of recycling and adopt an environmentally friendly behavior concerning the management of wastes.
Mission of Tropa Verde
So, what does the Tropa Verde program offer and why should the Municipality of Pavlos Melas implement it? The Tropa Verde program is an URBACT Good Practice transfer network carried out in collaboration with 6 European cities. The purpose of the program is to mobilize and raise public awareness through an Electronic Platform, in which they are the main protagonists. In this way, the attempt is to create a pleasant environment for users in which they learn about recycling, acquire a sense of individual responsibility and are rewarded for their contribution through various gifts. It is also possible for the 6 cities to exchange ideas, share concerns and solutions and compare results.
Recycling is a game in which we all win!
The electronic platform of Tropa Verde is in the form of a "game" where the citizen redeems the points-stars, which they earn from the disposition of recyclable material to designated green points. The green points are specific locations, located in 5 neighborhoods of the Municipality, where the citizens bring their recyclable materials and get a coupon that expresses the points, they have earned depending on the type of material disposed. The citizen then uploads the coupon code on the Tropa Verde online platform and can redeem the accumulated points with one of the gifts offered by the program sponsors. Sponsors of the program are businessmen, shops and organizations inside and outside the Municipality who have a leading role in this action.
What we gain through Tropa Verde?
The main advantages of the program are that for the first-time cities and municipal employees are somehow interconnected developing better relationships as well as giving the opportunity to employees to inform citizens about the proper recycling process. Besides, it has been evolving a tight relationship between the municipality and local entrepreneurs whereas there is space for exchanging ideas and articulate a bottom-up approach to develop strategies about proper waste management. Furthermore, the gifts offered by the sponsors in combination with the online platform are a means of attracting young and middle-aged people who are getting familiar with recycling. In total, the program makes municipalities to be extroverted and initiate plans after a serious interaction with local stakeholders and citizens.
Implementation in the neighborhoods of Pavlos Melas Municipality
During the first stage of the implementation of the program in the Municipality, the participation of the school units in the dissemination and implementation of the idea of Tropa Verde was decisive. Learning the process of recycling through various activities and games from children is one of the most valuable moments of this trip and proved that recycling can become a fun process and way of life for all of us. The spread of the principles of recycling from children to parents, from teachers to colleagues and friends made our action known to a large part of society. There have also been environmental programs adopted by educators in the field of environmental education that encourage young people to join groups such as Tropa Verde. The action of the employees of the Municipality and the project team was also important, with the successive meetings with stakeholders in order to trust the action and the vision of the program and to contribute to its implementation.
Figure 2,3: Learning recycling in schools
The implementation of the program in the municipality of Pavlos Melas started 6 months ago and there are already many encouraging signs of its good operation and its offer. Some of the results are:
● 408 registered users
● 30 sponsors of the program with 28 different types of gifts
● More than 2.000 redeemed vouchers
During the first three months of the implementation of the program and after making some adjustments to annual basis, the program participation rates in relation to the national target are: Aluminum 2,28%, Paper 0,42%, Plastic 2,7% Frying oil 16,2%.
Also, it is important for people to know the environmental benefits of the program:
● Cultivation of environmental awareness in students
● Prevention of waste disposal in the environment
● Saving waste of natural resources
● Dealing the saturation problem at landfills
● Acquisition of know-how by the executives of the municipality
● Settle the foundations for the expansion of the system to the whole Municipality
Complications, challenges and future plans
During the implementation phase, there have been many obstacles and difficulties that we had to overcome. Initially, it was the fear and hesitation of the citizens and the businessmen for something new and considerable disputes arose as to how the program would produce benefits. Even the initial acquaintance of the citizens, especially the older ones, with the use of the electronic platform. The biggest obstacle that continues to this day to complicate the work of the program is Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences on people's daily lives. The main difficulties faced by the Municipality due to Covid-19 are:
● Inability to implement public awareness programs
● Reduced functionality of green spots
● Reduced sponsor response due to the suspension of the economic activity
● Citizens’ fear of getting out of their homes
Many of the above obstacles have been overcome but some still exist and are the main priority of the Municipality. These are:
● Creation of online information and advertising actions
● Exploitation of social media
● Implementation of events with the presence of sponsors of the program
● Attract more sponsors with new types of gifts and achieve the goal of 100 sponsors
● Increase the number of registered users to 3.000
● Increase of the disposed quantities by the registered users
● Creating a central green point
Their big disadvantage as the Municipality of Pavlos Melas was the lack of experience in innovative waste management programs. There was the decisive and valuable guidance from our URBACT Lead Expert, the continuous communication and support from the secretariat of URBACT, the cooperating company TEIMAS with the Lead Partner Santiago de Compostela (ES) in matters of technical support in the operation of the electronic platform. Even the online platform Basecamp of URBACT where all the cities post their material and allow the exchange of views was very helpful for the development and confrontation of difficulties. Lead Expert Yvan Corbat's faith in the potential of the program and optimism for its successful operation, made us believe in our potential as a municipality and work even harder to achieve the goals of the program. The implementation of the same actions in different European cities and the possibility of processing their results and discussing with our partners gave us the opportunity to analyze our strengths and weaknesses as a Municipality.
What we have learned through the program
The results accrued from the implementation of the Program functioned as a factor that contributed to the encouragement of the municipal team designated for the adoption of the good practice. The majority of citizens showed that they are willing to participate in environmental actions and take their share of individual responsibility, as well as entrepreneurs seemed ready to embrace and invest in an innovative new program for the social good. Citizens are ready to take on their individual responsibilities only when the local authorities show them how they should act and giving them incentives to do so. Taking into consideration that the best waste is the one that was never produced, the municipality will continue to invest to the continuation of the program and the further dissemination of its principles.