Kefalonia, Greece to Become a Plastic-Free Island

By Tracy Russo

Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Dianna Cohen continues her collaboration with visual artist, PPC member, and Drifters Project founder, Pam Longobardi to launch Plastic-Free Island—Kefalonia, a pilot project which integrates social engagement and art-based activism to raise awareness about the harmful impacts of plastic pollution.

The goal of this multi-year pilot program is to shrink the island of Kefalonia’s own plastic footprint by offering strategies for measurably reducing the use of disposable plastics. By the end of PPC’s 10-year commitment to this project, Kefalonia will be able to share a “road-tested” template for integrating active-learning programming, engaged community research, and public-art activist projects all directed at raising awareness of the ecological crisis, and creating the public will to combat it.

Several island neighbors await the final template, which will be be transferrable to any island community or island nations worldwide who seeks significant reductions in plastic pollution.  While no place on earth is exempt from the negative impacts of plastic pollution, in a country such as Greece that depends economically on tourism, the urgency of a vigorous response is felt sooner and more keenly. Kefalonia Vice Mayor Evangelios Kekatos publicly introduced the Plastic Free Island—Kefalonia initiative to the island community on behalf of the municipal government. And Sophia Kagadis, the director of the Ionian Center for the Arts in Metaxata, once again offered the support and resources of the Center to the project.

First steps toward reducing the plastic footprint 

There are many stunning Greek islands—but Kefalonia is believed to the birthplace of the epic poet, Homer. Kefalonia is not alone though in the facing tens of thousands of pieces of plastic trash washing up on its shores: single-use water and drink bottles, shopping bags, cups, straws, cigarette butts, and polystyrene, to name the most common items. While some of the plastic waste may originate from the global cruise-ship fleet and other recreational craft, much of it hitches a ride on ocean currents in the Mediterranean Sea, and still more is deposited by the islanders themselves. No matter what the source, the plastic scourge threatens the health of Kefalonia, of the local and national economies, and the health of all inhabitants and ecosystems. 

Plastic-Free Island—Kefalonia sets first-year objectives 

Engage the local community in plastic reduction through education, art. Done. This year’s community participation exceeded expectations in terms of the number of clean-up volunteers, more than 100 schoolchildren engaged in educational and creative art experiences including the S.O.S. Ocean Children’s Program and the plastic pollution clean up at Fanari beach, and in terms of local business and government support.

Clear beaches of plastic pollutionDone. Building on The Drifters Project’s restoration of Kefalonia’s many sea caves and remote beaches, Plastic Free Island—Kefalonia shift attention to the coastline near more populated areas. Project directors Longobardi and Cohen led the cleaning of seven beaches on the island, with help from the local Pirate Divers’ Club, and kayakers from Elements Outdoor Activities. In cleaning of the following seven beaches, we found more than 5,000 pieces of plastic of varying sizes: Ammes 791, Spasmata 398, Crocodile 594, Fanari 1163, Assos 1471 and Lagoon 905.

Create continuous active-learning experience for young and not-so-young participants, according to Longobardi’s “forensic” pedagogyDone. Every clean-up involves a “forensic analysis” session at the “scene of the crime.” Following the “forensics” metaphor, participants studied the evidence they collected from the caves and coasts. Longobardi’s Masters’ students from Georgia State University in the United States developed data sets recording: the number of items found, and where; the categories of artifacts washed up: consumer items (cups, bottles, straws, bags, polystyrene packaging, etc.) and commercial/industrial (buoys, drift nets, containers, more polystyrene, etc.). Students from the University of Sydney in Australia also joined the cohort of Greek and American researchers.

Create large-scale public art to expose and communicate the problem. Done. Art made from locally found plastic pollution was front and center at a gallery exhibition hosted at the Ionia Center for the Arts. One highlight: A town-square “happening” where Plastic-Free Island—Kefalonia debuted the large-scale public art installation, Ouroboros, named after a mythical snake-like creature who is typically represented with its tail in its mouth. With 500 people on hand,  the Ouroboros “came to life” for the community that had helped to construct it. This spectacular performance-art event was the set-piece for a whole day of educational films and activities, including the premiere of a film trailer publicizing the future release of a fuller documentary on the Plastic Free Island project, that began on their own island.

While Kefalonians had participated in and heard about the project activities, project leaders used these last days to pull it all together: the holistic concept of Plastic-Free Island—Kefalonia was laid out before this audience, many of whom had been involved in small parts of the project.

Engage local businesses to participate in “plastic audits” and work toward plastic reduction. Done. It wasn’t only individual PEOPLE who were asked to think about their plastic footprints.  A dozen local vendors and businesses supported the launch of the Plastic-Free Island. Dozens of business owners were engaged in conversation about plastic reduction practices, and in an ongoing process to address their plastic consumption, to identify and work toward plastic reduction while identifying alternatives. To date we have several sector leaders who have signed on as Plastic Free Island—Kefalonia supporters: These include: The Restaurant—Milos in Ammes; The Market—Stamoulis in Argostoli; The Hotel—Irinna in Svornata. These businesses will need to achieve basic plastic reduction steps and goals to become formally certified as a Plastic Free Island—Kefalonia business.

While the PPC and The Drifters Project accomplished a lot this summer through their collaboration with the island of Kefalonia, only a few of the many exciting activities and conversations are even mentioned here! There was so much more. Take a look at the links at: www.plasticfreeisland.com and the photo gallery to see the scope of our program, and the passion of all its participants.

Previews on YouTube for the longer film coming late 2014:

PLASTIC FREE ISLAND~ in ACTION!

PLASTIC FREE ISLAND ~ GREENPEACE

PLASTIC FREE ISLAND – S.O.S./ CHILDREN PROGRAM

Find us on Facebook: plasticfreeisland Use hashtag #plasticfreeisland on Twitter

To support the ongoing Plastic-Free Island – Kefalonia project or to get involved, please go to: https://rally.org/driftersprojectkefalonia and plasticpollutioncoalition.org/donate