In 1983, HELMEPA began a concerted summer awareness campaign starring the association's "Seagull", taking place every year since then, with the aim to spread the message for Clean Seas and Beaches to the general public. In this context, for the first time in Greece scouts and schoolchildren participated in voluntary beach cleanups, primarily in the region of Attica.
Since then, beach cleanups have been established as a key information and awareness tool for the prevention of marine litter pollution. Moreover, the adoption and cleanup of a beach constitutes the most popular activity of the "HELMEPA Junior" environmental education program, which since 1993 is offered to schoolchildren, 5-13 years old, in kindergartens and primary schools throughout Greece.
The association's Environmental Awareness Section coordinates in Greece two international voluntary initiatives: the International Coastal Clean-up Day and the European Clean-Up Day taking place in September and May respectively.
As the national coordinator of these activities in Greece, HELMEPA invites its member-companies, local authorities and concerned citizens across the country, to contribute to this initiative by devoting a few hours to cleanup a nearby beach, a section of the seabed, a river bank or lake, a forest area or park.
To facilitate the activities of the participants, HELMEPA provides them with supporting material (cleanup organization instructions, posters) and the special Trash Data Form, which should be completed and sent back. Moreover, HELMEPA contributes to the promotion of such voluntary activities throughout Greece and abroad.
The processing of the recorded information results in useful scientific data pertaining to quantities, composition and origin of waste, which are made public in order to raise awareness for pollution prevention.
By enriching the database that HELMEPA has established, the association is monitoring the trend of marine debris pollution in Greece and cooperates with national and international bodies (United Nations Environment Programme - UNEP/MAP, European Environment Agency, Ocean Conservancy, Algalita, etc.) on combating this problem in a more efficient way.
The International Voluntary Beach Cleanup for 2015 was organized and coordinated in Greece by HELMEPA between 19 September and 19 October at 11 regions of the country with “champions” those of East Macedonia-Thrace, the South Aegean islands and Epirus. A number of 5,049 volunteers conducted 104 cleanups on beaches and banks of rivers and lakes at a total length of 73 kilometers. They collected and recorded 9 tons of garbage of which 4 were recyclable material that were forwarded for recycling by the Hellenic Recovery Recycling Corporation that participated in the activities. 16 underwater cleanups were also conducted by 135 volunteer divers who removed 5 tons of garbage from the seabed. Among the waste items, they found 421 plastic and glass bottles, 238 meters of rope, 215 aluminum cans, 135 car tires, 112 metal pipes, 62 plastic bags, 42 anchors, 21 flip-flops, 18 vases, 6 toothbrushes and 2 waste bins.
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It is a sad observation that the cigarette ends remain the number 1 garbage item on the beaches. It is also dissapointing that once again the findings on the coasts included 1 armchair, 1 table, 8 plastic chairs, 2 carpets, 1 vacuum cleaner, 2 electric irons, 1 PC, 52 shoes, various baby toiletry items, construction materials, 3 sheep bells and a foreign flag!
As shown on the following table, 7 out of the 10 most commonly found waste items polluting the beaches are unfortunately plastics generated by recreation activities.
|Type ||items |
|Cigarette ends ||54,423 |
|Plastic bottle caps ||13,672 |
|Plastic bottles ||13,590 |
|Plastic lids ||8,027 |
|Plastic pieces smaller than 2.5 cm ||7,103 |
|Food wrappings ||5,084 |
|Plastic bags ||4,437 |
|Aluminum beverage cans||3,916 |
|Plastic food packaging ||3,582 |
Data that HELMEPA retain from the last decade show a dramatic increase of plastic garbage. In 2004 plastic represented 21% of the total garbage items while in 2015 this has increased to 50%.
In the voluntary initiative of the annual beach cleanups, the educational community took part once again with 54 public and private schools where kids and young student members of the programs “HELMEPA Junior” and “Cadets” were the major element. On the side of shipping, staff members of 11 member companies with their families took action while present were municipalities, protected areas management authorities, environmental and citizens’ groups, yacht clubs and fishing cooperatives. The whole initiative had the support of 20 Port Authorities and under the guidance of the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy.
To the local cleanup coordinators and the students, HELMEPA awarded Commemorative Diplomas.