Tracing the Path of Greece’s Plastic Waste

by Alexia Kalaitzi, Giorgos Christides, Alexandros Avramidis

Following the waste import ban in China, developed countries had to seek new markets to export their plastic waste. Greece turned to Bulgaria and Romania.

In 2018, 1/3 of the waste imports in Bulgaria came from Greece, while according to the UN, last year, our country was the biggest exporter of plastic waste to Romania. But what happens to all these tons of waste when it arrives in the two countries? Activists and local organisations report that much of it ends up in questionable quality burns or in illegal dump sites, degrading the environment.

At the same time, Greece too imports waste from abroad for handling. The European Anti-Fraud Office claims that 30% of the waste exports around the world is illegal with the purpose of bringing profit to companies that operate the systems of other countries so that they may get rid of their waste easily and at a low cost instead of handling and recycling it.

Our team investigated the cycle of plastic waste in Greece, in order to reveal which plastic waste is exported and why, where it ends up, and who benefits from this trading. Through data analysis, interviews, and on-site research in Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, we managed to compose a rich story, accompanied by photographs and video, on an issue that has not been thoroughly approached to date.

“In researching plastic recycling, we faced a system driven mainly by economic rather than environmental criteria. It seems deliberately made to be so complex that it carefully hides its weak points.  By focusing on some of them, we have identified their serious impact on the lives of people in poorer countries in Europe and the environment.”

Alexia Kalaitzi, Journalist

“An absurd colonialist trade has been set up around plastic waste recycling”

Alexandros Avramidis, Photojournalist

“Plastic waste routes have become a commercial product and the environmental dimension plays a secondary role.”

Giorgos Christides, Journalist