Zero waste : a 2050 target

Malta’s Waste Management Strategy for 2014-20 establishes the year 2050 as the one by which our society should achieve a zero waste target. In fact the first of four principles of Malta’s national waste policy is specifically: “to reduce waste and to prevent waste occurring, with a view to achieving a zero-waste society by 2050” (page 14 of Malta’s strategy).

It is pertinent to point out that the Zero Waste International Alliance has defined zero waste as follows: “Zero Waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

A Zero waste philosophy is thus a strategy and a set of practical tools seeking to eliminate waste and not just to manage it. The point at issue is how to go about reducing and eventually eliminating the waste that we generate.

This is basically a cultural change, waking up from our slumbers and realising that we live in a world where resources are finite. It is about time that we address our ecological deficit: from which there is no bale-out option.

There is one basic first step in the road towards zero waste which should be carefully planned and managed and this is a meticulous recycling strategy. Zero waste municipalities in Europe are continuously indicating that an 80 to 90 per cent recycling rate is achievable. The fact that Malta’s recycling rate is, at best, estimated at around 12 per cent, shows that there is room for substantial improvement: a seven-fold increase in Malta’s recycling rate.

How can this be brought about?

A first step would be to discard the apparently easy solutions which lead nowhere. Government’s proposed incineration policy, as a result of which 40 per cent of the waste generated will be burned, is a policy that seeks to manage waste and does away with the target of reducing and eventually eliminating its generation. The very fact that incineration is being proposed signifies a failure in the implementation of the waste management strategy just three years after its last revision, in 2014.

A second step would be to ensure consistency in waste policy. Malta’s Waste Management Strategy is aptly sub-titled ‘A Resource Management Approach’. By no stretch of the imagination can Malta’s proposed incineration policy be deemed to be consistent with such an approach. It is, in my view, just a panic reaction to the fact that there is no more space available for landfills.

The issue involved is very straightforward: can we deliver on our own target of a zero waste society by 2050? In planning to achieve this objective, each Minister has to be a Minister for the Environment, as each Ministry has a role in preventing or re-using the waste generated by the different economic activities. It is certainly a headache not only for Environment Minister José Herrera, but also for all the other Ministers, in particular Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Minister for the Economy Chris Cardona.

In analysing waste management strategy targets achieved to date, it is not only Wasteserve that should be in the dock. The Minister responsible for the Economy has a duty to give account as to what measures and initiatives are in hand to develop the circular economy. It is the point where the paths of environment policy and economic policy cross, and rhetoric has to give precedence to results achieved or in the pipeline to be achieved.

Likewise, it is about time the Tourism Ministry seriously addresses the waste generated by hotels, bars and restaurants. This is an area that has been neglected for several years and is creating considerable difficulties in various parts of the Maltese islands, especially those along the coastline.

It is about time we realised that the implementation of an environment policy is not to be restricted to the corridors of the Environment Ministry: it is an activity that should be carried out by each and every Ministry.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 26 November 2017

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