Warriors' Path Blog

TASK 4 & 5 – I am NOT alone! & 5,4,3,2,1 GO!!!


I don’t need to say that it’s quite difficult to start change from scratch, especially if you are not very familiar with the place, the language, and the people. I spent the first night in Mykonos awake, and did a lot of research to find out if waste was a problem for them, or only for me.

Researching I learned some interesting stuff about the place. Today it is estimated that Mykonos is the home of 11,000 people, of these, 4,000 are foreign residents! During the summer months and the height of the tourist season the island supports over 50,000 holidayers, apart from locals and part-time workers.

This huge holiday business of courses responds for over 80% of the island’s work force. It was clear for me, that if I wanted to bring change about, I would have to target tourism! And the easiest way to reach tourism would be through one of the 135 hotels that are operating in the tiny island.

Trying to talk with some locals, I end up in a café where I met Dora, a French woman, living in Mykonos for her last 15 summers. Dora told me that when she first came to Greece, she knew that was the place she wanted to live for the rest of her life, so, she moved to Athens, and every year moves to Mykonos for the 5 months of the “summer season”, now she owns a café in the centre that is becoming more and more popular among the tourists and the locals.

I asked Dora many questions about her waste. Do you recycle? Where do you take your waste? Where all the waste of the city is stored? Where the water from the city comes from? I bombarded her with so many questions, that when I released, she had left the balcony and was sitting in my table, having a coffee and sharing her views on Mykonos waste.

Mykonos has very little natural fresh water and it relies heavily on the desalination of sea water in order to meet the needs of its population. Especially during the summer, a lot of the water used comes from Athens by ferry…  in bottles!  Imagine a 50.000 population of tourists drinking bottled water daily. Now imagine the amount of waste that it is produced during summer time!!!!

With not much space left in the island, a most of the waste still is sent to Athens (and other cities) by ferry as well. Mykonos is 6 hours away from Athens, so you figure the pollution this constant transfer also represents…

I remember Adonis told me he was selling plastic to craft shops… and walking around the center of Mykonos, all you can see areshops selling souvenirs. I talked with some of them, and realize that Adonis was right, there was a huge opportunity in bringing the shop owners together with the hotels, and so, that became my main action plan.

I went back to Dora to tell her more about my plan and ask for help! She completely bought the idea. In few minutes we made a small very simple “flyer” using her computer, and there I went… knocking on every hotel door I could, inviting them for a Coffee with Sustainability meeting, at Dora’s café the next day.

5,4,3,2,1… GO!!!

On the 32 hotels I managed to go, I tried to explain what we were trying to do, and to make it clear that we would talk about a way to reduce the waste (and the taxes coming along with it) as well as generating some kind of income to everyone involved. The same happened with the craft shops, which Dora was in charge of inviting!

The next day, we had our “Coffee with Sustainability” meeting, only 7 hotel owners actually showed up, and about 20 craft artists that own small souvenir shops around the island.

The meeting was very informal, fueled with nice Cappuccinos offered by Dora! We spent about 2hrs together. During this time I was able to tell a bit about Adonis’ story and to explain how Mykonos could use the waste as an opportunity.

I explained them how I saw the situation:

  1. Hotels need bottled water for their tourists. They produce a lot of plastic waste, and they need to get ready of it, at a very high cost since it has to travel all the way back to Athens to be recycled.
  2. Craft Artists need raw materials for their craft, quite a few of them buy plastic from Athens at a very high price when you add the price of the transport from Athens.
  3. The Recycling initiatives in Mykonos were not working properly, mostly because people understand recycling as something expensive (requires big machinery, recycling industries, etc), and not very profitable.
  4. Hotels workers don’t care much about separating the waste properly, which results in not enough recyclable waste in order to create a proper recycling facility in the island.
  5. Everybody kept only complaining about the waste situation to the authorities, but nobody took much responsibility in making something about it happen.

And then I introduced them my very simple proposal:

If Hotels could separate properly at least their plastic bottles (what could be easily done by creating 1 extra bag system in the maid’s trolleys). They could start selling it a very low price to craft artists from the island. This would reduce their waste taxes, and generate some income to the hotel. (Part of which could go to employers who are taking recycling serious – to motivate even more!).

Craft Artists would no longer need to buy plastic from Athens, and would be able to reduce their spending with raw materials. They would have to be more creative about how to use plastic straight from empty used bottles. But also would be spreading a good message for tourists about recycling. (Currently this is a very big market for Europeans!)

I had also to meet with some authorities from the City Council to discuss about my proposal, and to see what kind of support the town hall would be able to provide.

On and on, it took me about a week, to meet with officials, hotel owners; craft shop owners and artists, as well as to cafes, restaurant and bars. Most of the people felt it was a good idea, but was a bit sceptical about people in the island taking the separation process serious.

They believe this will be the biggest challenge for the project. Regardless, by the end of the week, I got enough people to try out a pilot, and see if we can make this work in Mykonos.

9 hotels who sign up for the pilot committed to:

–         Implement the idea of adding a special bag for plastic bottles in the hotel trolleys (used by the maids).

–         Clean, transport and sell the plastic bottles to the appropriate place where it will be properly stored (the place was borrowed to us by city authorities)

–         They will also train their staff members about the importance of recycling, and are discussing about the possibility of creating a joint training for hotel staff from different hotels on waste management and recycling.

The 15 craft shops who sign up for the pilot committed to:

–         Prioritize purchase of plastic materials from the recycling cooperative of the project.

–         Try to develop new products that will use more recyclable materials, and explore the opportunity of creating a series of “eco-friendly” souvenirs as well.

–         Try to organise workshops and trainings for local artists to build capacity and improve artists’ skills on the management and production of craft from recycled bottles.

Since I left Mykonos, I’ve been trying to keep in touch with most of the people I met. So far, Dora has been an incredible reliable ally! She has been visiting hotel owners and craft shop owners to check how they are doing, and motivate them to do more.

Considering that the touristic season is over. Lot of shops and hotels are closing down… to re-open only next March! Meanwhile, Dora and her new team of volunteers are trying to organise the workshops for the hotel staff and for the artists, trying to use the opportunity of their “Free time” to create their capacity and prepare their staff for the next season!


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