Greece is a beautiful country, full of litter and wild cats. If these two problems can be solved, paradise will be preserved.
Greece also is a member of the European Union, a fact that I didn’t fully appreciate until I spent a month there in the fall of 2019.
Leaving the Athens airport in a rented car, we sped down a perfectly paved highway to Kalamata on the southwest coast. I was struck by the excellent transportation system. A toll-road, yes, with many collection points, but well-maintained and offering excellent signage.
I was told that money from the EU paid for the highway. Great, I thought. Greece should definitely stay in the EU. Member countries are funded by the EU so that all are lifted to a certain standard of living -- that’s one of the guiding philosophies of the organization.
The EU also has policies regarding animal welfare and in this regard Greece is falling far short. No one can travel to Greece without being struck by the hundreds of wild cats in every archaeological ruin, municipal park, olive orchard or city street.
Enjoying a meal at an outdoor taverna? You will soon have one or more cats begging for a morsel. I liked feeding them and the restaurant owners seemed to expect that tourists would share their meals – throwing food on the floor for the cats was not frowned on. But it’s obvious there are too many cats to be cared for properly.
While in the tiny village Kardamili earlier this month, we went to a fundraiser to support a British couple’s efforts to feed and care for the feral cats in the area through an organization appropriately named Miao (Mani International Animal Organisation - visit on Facebook). Sad to say, there was hardly a Greek person in attendance at an otherwise crowded and lively party.
Cats are not a priority in Greece. They are just part of the background, the same way litter is an insidious part of the background.
More than a decade ago, the European Commission reported Greek authorities to the European Court of Justice for continuing lack of action for animal welfare. A commission statement added: “The decision to take this action against Greece follows persistent shortcomings identified in the field of animal welfare over a number of years. The standard of animal welfare in Greece remains below par and the necessary legislation has not been adequately implemented.”
I don’t know if legislation has been enacted since that time, but at least on paper Greece is being held accountable.
Social changes are slow in coming but tourists from Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, France and the United States are pressuring the many hotel, restaurant, B&B owners to recognize the dissonance in animal treatment.
Ah, yes, and then we come to litter.
First, the good news. The beaches we visited were gorgeous – truly postcard perfect. The blue Mediterranean was warm and the water clear. But across the street from a popular beach in Kardamili was an overflowing recycling dump.
"Most beaches are clean because they're tidied up by municipalities. But the big problem is on the seabed. It's is like a garbage dump," said a man familiar with the problem. In January, the European Union launched a major campaign to reduce plastic waste across its 28 member states.
Greece gamely started the 12-year program with three strikes: pervasive single-use plastic consumption, a garbage system neglected during a decade-long financial crisis, and the longest coastline in the EU – nearly double the length of India's.
Efforts to cut down on the use of plastic bags will be challenging. While Finns use on average four plastic bags a year, Greeks use nearly 300 a year. And only 16 percent of trash is recycled in Greece, compared with the EU's average of 44 percent. Nearly everything else ends up buried in trash dumps. Or not buried and defacing the streets and olive orchards.
A friend of ours who has lived in Greece for many years did her best to explain the litter problem.
“Why is there so much litter here? Because there’s no place to put it,” she said.
-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at firstname.lastname@example.org
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