A speech delivered at a public meeting of the people in Arillas and the North Corfu Mayor, by our friend Barrie.
Good evening Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak at your meeting this evening. I am sorry that my Greek is not good enough for addressing you so I am afraid I must speak in English. Alekos has been kind enough to agree to interpret for me.
My name is Barrie and I, along with several others, volunteer to help with the recycling at ARC.
I realise that many of you do not understand why these strange people should wish to spend their time messing about with the village's rubbish; and, I guess, take the view that if that's what they want then we'll supply them with enough rubbish to keep them happy.
I would not presume to speak for all the volunteers so I shall try to explain why I do it.
First, though, there are three important points that I feel I should make clear:
1. None of us are paid to do this
2. We are not involved in or associated with any local political faction; or with the Municipality.
3. ARC is not simply a replacement for Municipal collection of indiscriminately dumped garbage, but a facility where items no longer required by their owners can be re-used by others who may need them; and where items can be sorted into separate categories according to the methods necessary for their transformation into other items - then transported to appropriate recycling organisations to be made into other things.
So why do I do it?
I'm sure we all remember the huge piles of rotting, stinking, rat- and bacteria- infested piles of rubbish lining the roads of Corfu a couple of years and more ago. I do not intend here to dwell upon the reasons for that: these are well-known.
I have chosen to live on Corfu because I love the island and its underlying approach to life. I like and respect the people. I think of myself as part of Corfu society. The island offers me unparalleled beauty, unpolluted air, excellent food - just by being Corfu. And I wish to spend as many of my remaining years here as I can. You permanent residents are indeed fortunate to have lived here for much if not all of your life: Corfu is a beautiful island and Arillas is one of its natural gems. I could move back to UK very soon and simply forget about Arillas's rubbish problems as quickly as Arillas is likely to forget about me. But that is not what I want.
So you will not be surprised when I say that I am saddened, and I suspect you are too, to see Arillas and its surrounding area despoiled; neither do I enjoy living with the unsightly and insanitary piles of rubbish that have been such an unwelcome feature in recent years. I realise, too (again, I'm sure you do as well), that piles of rubbish lining the roads and filling the quarries, not to mention the over-flowing collection bins, plastic bottles, bags, paper lying everywhere, or tipped into valleys and streams, tend to breed dissatisfaction among tourists who complain, decide never to return, and then spread horror stories among their friends after they return home. Clearly this is bad for the tourist trade upon which the life of Corfu, and specifically Arillas, depends. Tourists and visitors are not automatic money-machines: they are individuals with eyes, ears and minds of their own who have reasonable expectations. The first of these is a clean, sanitary environment and a reliable system for maintaining that.
I am saddened, too, that some people actively oppose ARC. Those people may disagree with ARC. That is their privilege and right. All I will say is that perhaps the time has come to stop looking back and to embrace the future.
It made me very happy then, when I learned that some prominent members of Arillas society – Dr Yiannis, Dimitris Kourkoulos, Alekos Christou – decided to start ARC. At last someone is doing something constructive and worthwhile. This is my chance to give a little back to Arillas in exchange for the good life she offers me. I am now 76 and retired. This means that I can devote some of my time trying to help to keep Arillas clean. It does not mean, though, that I wish or intend to spend what remains of my life sifting other people's garbage.
I am proud that I am one member of the ARC team who, in one year, have made Arillas the cleanest village on Corfu. I'm not going to burden you with indigestible statistics, but put simply we have sent for recycling over 160 tonnes of waste which otherwise would have added to the mountainous Temploni landfill; or even been dumped indiscriminately so adding to the ruination of the landscape.
But more than waste-disposal, important though it is, ARC operates a thriving clothing exchange – the Boutique - where people can bring clothes they no longer need but which might be just what another person is looking for. Re-use is a good principle to follow. Scrap metal is collected and used to make other useful things. We have a composting facility where vegetable waste can be turned into compost to feed your gardens naturally without the need for chemical fertilizers and without producing methane which so contaminates landfills. Many of you have your own garden and grow your own produce: could you think about having your own compost heaps? My grandfather used to have one as I'm sure yours did too. And he won many prizes for his vegetables and fruit. Because he cared.
There's more. Through the vision of a few Arillas people – and you know who they are - ARC is leading the way in showing that, with the right facilities, structure, management and will Arillas can be a zero-waste area. And this is important not only for Arillas but for the whole of Corfu. You may well have heard about the proposal by the European Investment Bank that they will make available Euros 8 million to an area which can demonstrate that it is able to become waste-free. 8 million. Just think what that could do for recycling and waste disposal on Corfu. It is a one-off golden opportunity. But first we have to show that we've got the will to make it work.
Isn't it the job of the Municipality to take care of our rubbish? We want to be able to just throw it away, let someone else resolve the problem so we can concentrate on our businesses without having to think about it. After all, we pay our taxes.......
Yes, the Municipality does have a responsibility for waste disposal and the cleanliness of the villages and beaches. But waste management and disposal is a complicated and difficult issue which governments worldwide are beginning to take seriously, prompted largely by Greta Thunberg. Your rubbish doesn't just vanish into thin air when you dump it. This is not a problem just for Arillas – or even just for Greece. It is a worldwide cause for concern. The 3 Mayors of Corfu and the local Councils accept that they must find ways of dealing with the problem on the island effectively and efficiently. They are considering a number of options for resolving it satisfactorily. But there are many factors to take into account, much money to find, and this will take time.
Meanwhile I believe it is the immediate responsibility of everyone living in Arillas – indeed everyone everywhere – to be as aware as possible of how much we use, whether any of the things we don't need can be re-used in a different way, and what happens to those things which we must dispose of. It's really not too difficult. It just takes a little thought and a little time and soon becomes part of daily routine. Do shops really need to put their goods into plastic bags? Wouldn't paper bags be more readily disposed of? Wouldn't you prefer your kids and grandkids to grow up in an environment cleaner and more hygienic than it is now? Or would you rather they drowned in a sea of plastic?
So what I want to encourage is wider understanding of the reasons for ARC's existence and what it is trying to achieve. Some people do understand and try their best to help. I am grateful to them. But I want particularly to encourage the co-operation and participation of ALL the residents of Arillas in the continued effective and efficient running of ARC. What do I mean by this?
Well, the sorting of recycling has many detailed aspects. For example:
Aluminium cans are treated in a different way from stainless steel and tin cans, so they must be separated.
Plastic containers containing traces of food cannot be recycled because the food contaminates it.
Grease-stained pizza containers contaminate a whole bag full of cardboard (although they can be composted).
There are seven different types of plastic, two of which are non-recyclable; the other five must be recycled using different processes so they too must be sorted from each other.
Used toilet paper, used babies' nappies and used condoms, each a notable feature of the waste reaching ARC last year, are not only a health hazard and disgusting to deal with but are also non-recyclable – and an insult to everyone at ARC.
There are many other detailed examples but I don't intend to list them this evening. All I ask is that you, members of your families and/or people you employ spend a little time at ARC – do a shift – so you can see for yourselves how it operates and apply this to helping it to grow and function even more efficiently. Send your kids along to see how it works in practice; and afterwards ask them what they learned. Perhaps, too, you could add your own constructive ideas on how things operate and how they could be improved.
I know some of you would like to demand: “Who are you, daring to come here and tell us what to do.” To those I will say that I am not telling you what to do. You will do what is right for you and I would not criticise that. I am suggesting to you, though, that there may be different ways of looking at the problem. I believe that everyone living in a community should contribute whatever they can to the well-being of that community.
I think I can sum up by saying:
Please let's work together to keep Arillas clean and to lead the way to a zero-waste environment.
Help ARC to help you.
Thank you for listening.