how plastic is shaping crete's future

how plastic is shaping crete's future

August 27, 2018

For locals, the ubiquity of plastic greenhouses is a double-edged sword.

Ierapetra, a town on the southern shore of Crete, has everything you would expect of any seaside stop on this lovely Grecian island in the Mediterranean: sun, fishing, and endless impossibly blue waters.

It also has a coastline view that is spoiled by thousands of white buildings, squatting petulantly in the hazy coastal heat.

The buildings are, in fact, plastic greenhouses, introduced to Ierapetra farmers in the 1960s by Dutch-born Paul Kuypers.

They were quickly adopted as a way to increase agricultural output in a region where nearly yearlong sun means that the greenhouses do not have to be heated. Today, almost half of all Grecian greenhouses are on Crete, with the majority in Ierapetra.

They do ruin the view, but I soon found delight in their plentiful and cheap produce: tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and melons. 

For locals, however, the ubiquity of the greenhouses is a double-edged sword.

The greenhouses initially brought prosperity, prompting young people to leave nearby mountain villages to move to Ierapetra. As one local, a teacher whose school has closed for lack of students, explained, the mountain villages are now struggling to survive with declining populations.

Meanwhile, an ongoing drought in Crete has gutted the agriculture industry. Coupled with the aftermath of Greece’s financial crisis, people are finding that greenhouses are no longer sustainable sources of income. But the mountain villages no longer have much in the way of industry for people to return to.

So, as is so often the case, the solution to these dilemmas will fall to future generations. The question, of course, is whether there will be enough people left to find a viable way forward.