In December 2021, Tilos started a program with Polygreen to recover and recycle all waste with the aim of hitting net zero. Even with a population of 780 residents, significant changes and education were required to raise awareness and gain buy-in for the new system.
Prominent Tilos family member Eirini Chatzifounta joined the program to help educate locals on sorting their waste ready for collection. The process to engage the community involved knocking on everyone’s door between 4-6 times. This personal, community approach combined with commitment by the collection drivers to slow down, answer questions and be as helpful as possible has engaged the local community and inspired new friendships. Many elderly residents who don’t have a lot of contact with others now have the opportunity for a friendly chat with waste collectors several times a week as they weigh, tag and log their rubbish.
All public rubbish bins have been removed and bins within homes and businesses replaced with a three-bin system to collect recyclables (like aluminium, glass and cardboard); compostables and another for everything else. Without readily available bins, island cats can no longer spread garbage onto beaches and village streets as they search for food. Visitors to the island have noticed the difference commenting that Tilos seemed comparably cleaner than other islands they had visited.
The island landfill that regularly emitted smoke as it burnt has been shut down and replaced with a Centre for Circular Innovation. At the centre, organic waste is shredded and composted before being released back to locals for use as fertiliser. All recoverable materials are sold and shipped in bulk to recycling companies in Athens.
To ensure the system runs smoothly truck drivers and sorters at the recycling centre work to ensure waste is properly catalogued into 25 waste streams. At a small island like Tilos that relies on tourists, new alternative employment opportunities are a welcome change for the younger generation.
Australia has much to learn from the substantial environmental, employment, tourist and non-financial social benefits enjoyed by the Tilos community. Recycle rates have improved in Australia, however, it is conservatively estimated that households miss the opportunity to recycle or compost 2.44 million tonnes of the total 4.9 million tonnes of materials sent to landfill each year. Learn more about how you can help reduce this figure with our recycling tips.
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