Natalie Fee founded Refill when she noticed back in 2015 the many plastic bottles that were washing up on the river banks of her native Bristol. Refill is a a tap water campaign that makes refilling one's own bottle easy and convenient by introducing refill points on every street. Refill has now spread to many countries, including Greece! Niki Helios came across the Refill Deutschland effort on Facebook during the summer of 2017. She contacted them, and the Refill UK team, before launching Refill Greece last November. The idea is simple enough - if you own a bar / restaurant / shop (any entity with opening hours) in an area where tap water is potable, you download the sticker from the Refill website (www.refillgreece.org) or the FREE Refill App available on the iTunes store, print it, and stick it on your store window. This tells passersby that they can enter your store and ask you to refill their water bottle from your tap, for free. The App also allows users to locate nearby Refill Stations. Refill is a great and simple way to do away with plastic water bottles, one of major contributors to the plastic pollution problem afflicting our oceans globally. In Niki's own words:
"Unfortunately since the 1990s, the number of public water fountains all over Greece has decreased and sales of bottled water have increased. This problem is growing, and we are trying through the Refill campaign to raise awareness about plastic pollution generally and plastic water bottles specifically. Many people don't know that plastic water bottles have limited "recyclability" (the toxins in the plastic build up with every recycling, making it unfit to be used to make containers for food/drink, so plastic from the 7% of plastic water bottles that are actually being recycled can only mostly be down cycled). There is a need to educate the general public in Greece about the harms of single-use plastic and we think Refill Greece is a step in the right direction. We are working together with Plastikourgeio in Athens and Plastic Free Drinks on Paros. Currently there are Refill Stations in Athens, Thessaloniki, Paros, Ioannina and Larissa. Our goal is to have a Refill Station on every street. Ofcourse our network of Refill Stations would grow faster if the general public were more aware of the problem that bottled water is spawning."
We are inspired with the efforts of Kristin and Marios Bac. Since the beginning of this year they have organised 4 massive beach clean ups in the Epanomi area and intend to continue to organise one every two to three weeks:
The Bacs own a travel agency in Germany called Five Senses Travel, and live in Thessaloniki. They are in love with their product - the natural beauty of Greece, and they want to protect it. They have created a new Facebook page called Five Senses Beachcleaner and encourage as many people as possible to come to their beach cleans. This is how they came across Plastic Free Greece and they reached out to us to help them spread the word on our social media pages, which we did with great pleasure.
They ask for all who show up to their beach cleans to wear gloves and bring trash pickers. They have a friend who has a recycling company who helps them after the beach clean ups to collect the garbage. Once he collects the garbage with his big truck, the garbage is taken to his facility to be separated and what can be recycled is, the rest is put in normal garbage bins to be sent to landfill.
We asked Kristin what it is they typically find washed up on beaches and here is what she said: "It is unbelievable, we find everything. Closed cans of beer, closed water bottles, drinking straws, bottle caps, styrofoam boxes, shoes, nets, fishing gear, umbrellas, clothes, furniture, garbage containers, innumerable plastic bags, car tires, bathtubs, broken and old boats, many empty plastic bottles. Worst of all are the dead animals we find. Last one was a dead sea turtle."
Their next beach clean will be on March 10th. If you live in the Thessaloniki area, we hope you will join them!
We need to start caring for our environment at an early age. Everything boils down to education. Ms. Elena Anastasiou, a kindergarten teacher in the sea-side town of Katakolo, Helia, knows this and showed "A Plastic Ocean" to her young students, organised for them to do a beach clean, and made a little video clip afterwards summarising everything they had learned.
If only everyone had such a teacher in their lives! THANK YOU!
We thank Yannis Varouhas who organised a very successful screening of the documentaries "A Plastic Ocean" and "Straws" in Argostoli. The event was open and free to all. The documentaries instigated a big discussion, led by local experts and concerned community leaders, with the public about plastic pollution, current recycling in Kefalonia, and what more can be done by citizens to confront this problem. In Mr. Varouhas' own words:
“The documentary screening, which took place at the “The Bee's Knees” bar in Argostoli last Monday, has incited great interest and mobilization of the local community about plastic pollution in the ocean. Yannis Varouhas’ presentation and Kostas Prentzas’ thought provoking speech were followed by two short documentaries ("A Plastic Ocean" and "Straws") grabbed the audience’s attention. The most valuable aspect of the evening was the subsequent open discussion; we consider this event to have been our most successful to date, as we had the opportunity to hear a lot of valuable opinions from our fellow citizens.
A pressing issue was brought to the surface, which we have repeatedly dealt with in the past: whether the Municipality of Kefalonia does indeed recycle properly. Despite the admittedly unconvincing answers that we have been publicly given by the municipal authority, our discussion revealed that there is a lot of mistrust among the citizens. We believe that all citizens should recycle, and at the same time all citizens have the right to know from the authorities how this is taking place.
It became clear to all of us that the destruction caused by marine pollution is almost irreversible. It is imperative that we stop burdening our oceans immediately so that there is enough time to eventually dispose of the plastic the oceans have been poisoned with. In the meantime, the efforts of individual citizens and collectives for voluntary cleaning during the winter months should not diminish; plastic should not find its way back into the ocean (our goal is to protect the sea, not to clean the island’s beaches just to attract tourists, as some people thought).
We have realised that our daily routines though small when considered separately, have terrifying results as a whole. That's why we have agreed amongst ourselves to ban single use plastic - plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic bottles and all disposable plastic that can be easily replaced by great and harmless alternatives! [...]
Our work on plastic pollution will not be limited to this intervention; we already have proposals from collectives that wish to repeat this intervention (in Lixouri for example) in other areas of the island. We are very optimistic and we will strive for change by joining forces with anyone who wishes to collaborate with us. Engaging everyone in society on the topic of plastic pollution is not a luxury but a necessity and obligation for us all. In the following link to our webpage you can find videos from the event as well as photos by Panagis Kavallieratos.”
Alexandra Logotheti, sent us pictures of the massive beach clean on Agkisitri that she and a group of friends organised last week. Agkistri is a small island off the coast of Athens, very close to Aegina. She announced she was going to be doing a beach clean on her Facebook page and was happily surprised to see that many chose to join her. It is shocking to see the amount of plastic trash that is strewn on the beach they love. Some of the trash has most definitely washed up from the sea, other trash has sadly been thrown there, in complete disregard for their island, by locals. All in all the group collected 50 large bags of trash. What makes these pictures even more poignant, is the beauty of the background - turquoise waters and pine trees that grow right up to the beach. We need to love our Greece more. This group is showing us just how to do it. THANK YOU!
ZaCLEANthos consists of a small group of volunteers on Zakinthos Island who clean up areas of the island that are littered, such as roads, beaches and olive groves. We got in contact with the group's founders, Vendula Vasickova and Liz Kokkinis. Here is what they said:
"Garbage collection and litter has been a huge problem in Zakynthos for years, last winter it hit its peak as bins were not emptied for over 6 months, rotten garbage overflowed the streets, beaches were strewn with carrier bags and plastic and the olive groves collected all the litter that was blown away by strong storms and flood water. Garbage collection started again over the summer period while the tourists were here but has now stopped again, we have piles of growing garbage again littering our streets.
Some locals have started to recycle, you can’t drink the tap water here in Zakynthos so the waste produced through water bottles alone is huge, but not enough people are recycling, if you look at the rubbish piles on the sides of the road you can see much more could be recycled. Unfortunately most people here don’t care, they throw rubbish out of car windows, leave litter on the beaches and throw unwanted household appliances wherever they can.
The ZaCLEANthos was formed less than 4 months ago but in that time we have organised 6 clean ups, collected over 50 bags of garbage and 25 bags of recycling. People are interested in what we do and our members are growing. We hope to set an example to others, encourage people to think about their actions and keep their neighbourhood clean."
It may take only 2 minutes, or maybe a whole morning - but every bit helps. Removing plastic waste from beaches is one DEFINITE way of making sure it does not end up in the ocean. Send us photos of your beach clean ups, we want to see you in action! We will gladly and proudly repost them to inspire others to do the same!
These are all great accounts to follow on Instagram for beach clean ups around the world:
@2minutebeachclean based in Cornwall, UK
@balloonsblow based in Florida, USA.
It is truly wonderful to come across inspired teachers such as Ms. Mirsini Sougioultzi and Ms. Vicky Triferi who teach at the 1o Γυμνάσιο (1st Middle School) in Xanthi, northern Greece. After watching the documentary A PLASTIC OCEAN, they wanted to create a visual with her 8th grade students to better understand the current wastefulness of Greek society. To do this they used single-use plastic bags to make two Christmas trees, the first was made with 400 single-use plastic bags, which is the number of single-use plastic bags consumed per person (including children) in Greece in 2016 (as reported by IELKA), and the second Christmas tree was made using only 40 bags, which is the per person EU target for the year 2025.
A picture is worth a thousand words. We really hope the newly introduced tax on single-use plastic bags in supermarkets will dramatically reduce this wastefulness.
At the top of our Christmas wishlist, and second only to our wish that the Greek government outright bans single use plastic, is for citizens to take personal responsibility for trash. You will say angrily, but it is the municipality's job to do this! To this we respond:
1) YES IT IS! DEMAND that your municipality does its job well. VOTE, LOBBY, BE PART OF THE SOLUTION. Complaining with no action will get you nothing. Don't just complain on Facebook or at your local cafe to your friends, take your complaints to your municipality and to your politicians.
2) PICK IT UP. The very act of picking up trash you may happen to come across as you walk on a beach or in a park shows your DEFIANCE of the status quo. You are better and you want to be part of a society that is better. If everyone did this, our society WOULD be better.
3) IT IS A WAY OF LIFE. A "clean up" does not necessarily have to consist of 100 people who have organised for days to meet at a specific place, nor is it just something you do a single day a year. It is an attitude. It is the feeling that you are part of a bigger whole and it is ok to bend down and pick up someone else's trash. It is not beneath your dignity, indeed it makes you, and the society you are part of, better.
Take a look at what this woman on Kos does on many days when she walks her dogs on the beach. She is one of many Nameless Plastic Heroes of Greece and we thank her!!!
We always come across amazing efforts! The Loutraki Dive Club (follow them on Facebook) is a volunteer group with a mission to protect of aquatic ecosystems and marine animals while increasing interest in aquatic tourism and scuba diving along Greek costal areas.
Nikos Baourakis, the President of the Club says: "The members of the group have systematically initiated sea floor cleaning and shore cleaning activities since August 2013 and to date we have recorded 120 clean up efforts, 870 member participations. Loutraki Dive Club has collected over 30064 kg or 28341 pieces of human pollution from the sea floor in total! Our initiative is to continue with our efforts and to intensify over time with more participation from both local and official organizations with a ecological, green agenda. Creating awareness to the issues of marine pollution so as to have more people sensitized to the magnitude of the problem that faces our oceans today. Positive impacts can result from greater awareness and appreciation of the natural world and our goal is to leave behind a cleaner marine ecosystem for future generations. Through the promotion of our actions, we aim to sensitize as many of our fellow citizens as possible so that they may also participate alongside us or organize their own clean up of coastal areas, seashores, streams etc. With this determined effort, we are hopeful for a better tomorrow for us, our children and all of humanity."