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Question time: Controlling Waste (Times of Malta 22/04/2018)

What measures need to be put in place to ensure recycled waste does not continue to drop?

Plenty has been said about the need to review our waste management strategies both on a national level but also at local council level. It is high time action is taken in the right direction following the footsteps of the National Waste Management Strategy 2014-2020. Malta’s wider waste management plan recognises the need to meet a series of targets not least to reduce the generation of waste and increase source separation so as to promote recycling and reduce landfilling. Malta is obliged to recycle 50 per cent of paper, plastics, metal and glass waste from households by 2020; landfill only 35 per cent (based on 2002 levels) of biodegradable municipal waste; recover 70 per cent of construction and demolition waste by 2020 and collect 65 per cent of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the national markets by 2021.
If we take municipal waste, mainly waste generated by households, including waste from sources such as shops, offices and other institutions, the real situation is a far cry from obtaining the above targets. Latest Eurostat figures show that in 2016 the Maltese generated 150kgs of waste per capita above the EU average. The pity is that only 20,000 tonnes from a staggering 283,000 tonnes of waste generated were recycled. The landfilling rate in Malta is more than 92 per cent. These figures show that as a country we have failed to take the right actions to reduce waste generation, reuse or recycle it.
In 2014, the Labour government had promised to take bold steps to reduce the dependency on the only engineered landfill at Għallis. Malta’s Waste Management Plan for the Maltese islands published in 2014 says that “an out of sight, out of mind approach can only lead to a more expensive waste management system and one where the cost of inaction is high”. It is exactly what has happened. Labour are now going to construct an incinerator over 5,000 square metres at Magħtab that will handle 114,000 tonnes or 40 per cent of waste generated per annum. The decision follows the commissioning of a study by former environment minister Leo Brincat, who in 2009 had criticised the Nationalist administration that “reliance on incineration is proof of the failure of the waste strategy so far, compounded with the desperate need to come up with renewable energy to make up for time lost in meeting targets”.
This government is proving that it wasn’t able to walk the talk on what it preached nine to 10 years ago. The only solution the government is offering is to spend €150 million to construct a large incinerator to burn all sort of waste. The message out there is that all efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle will go down in vain.
What we really need to ensure a healthy environment for future generations is to continue to reduce waste, reuse and recycle the resource. The most important thing is that everyone acknowledges his or her civic duty to separate waste at source. This with separation at home will immediately increase the amount of recycled waste being collected from each and every locality. We also have to think outside the box and incentivise citizens to increase recycling habits. 
The waste management sector must also be helped to ensure long-term sustainability and provide services with the best available technologies at the lowest of cost. At local council level, for example, we require a strong basis for changes to waste collection. First and foremost we need to change waste collection contracts. In order to ensure economies of scale, contracts should be issued on a rationality basis and for a longer period. How can a waste carrier invest in a refuse collection vehicle if they are awarded a three- to four-year contract only? Secondly, introducing organic waste separation is a good step forward. But how come biodegradable bags for this scheme have been out-of-stock at councils involved in this pilot project for the past five months? How can citizens be encouraged and incentivised to participate if they are not being provided the means to?

The full article can be found here.

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